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  • Lindsey Norine

An Ode to Our First House

These walls are more than drywall drilled to studs and covered with paint. The original hardwood floors aren’t just a tree cut down, planed, and polished 75 years ago. There is more here. The spaces between walls and above the floors have held magic.

The floorboards creaked as I paced the living room, waiting for Carter to get home. He took an extra ten minutes at his event, but it felt like a week. He finally opened the noisy back door—it tended to stick due to having been painted by each of its many owners. I danced to him, considering how to say the words I had been longing to say for years. I had given him this news twice before.

“You look happy,” he greeted me.

“It’s because I’m pregnant.” It tumbled out before I could craft anything more significant.

His smile smoldered into a belly laugh and we rejoiced. Happy tears splashed down my cheeks. My smile falter as they turned to fearful ones.

The rooms seemed expansive when we first moved here. The storage room yawned the full length of the basement. I was sure we would never accumulate enough belongings to fill it. The flower beds were spotted with a couple plants I hoped I could coax to come back another year. The oversized garage had a verbose work bench across the back wall, full of impressive pegboards to hold our quite un-impressive tool collection. But it was the third bedroom that seemed, by far, the most daunting.

We unpacked our second-hand furniture and the items we received as wedding gifts, along with fear. An unwieldy, awkward object, we tried to tuck the fear away into multiple closets, but we couldn’t quite shut the door.

Grief, too, would make appearances around unexpected corners, knocking my elbows, catching my heel.

The previous owners had painted every single room with glossy paint. These seemingly nice psychopaths left a note of which paint colors went where—a polite waist of time. Every room had new paint within a week. All but the third bedroom, which was a terrible shade of brown. I didn’t have the heart to paint it a more palatable interim color. Maybe I would get to choose a nursery color soon. Better hold off.

A few days after telling Carter I was pregnant, I taped a sheet of paper to the poop-reminiscent wall and looked at it often. “10 Prayers for Pregnancy after Loss.” I took to stopping to read one out loud to myself whenever I went past. I began journaling prayers in a chair in the corner, desperately pleading with God to allow me to rock my baby in this spot.

Six months later, I painted the room a soft, satin gray. Carter was out of town, but I’m a good painter and I was determined to do it myself. My lower back and hips groaned as I stepped on the chair, gripping the windowsill to push myself up. I didn’t consider stopping, though I could see why some would say a woman in her third trimester shouldn’t do this.

The back door squealed again at the first anniversary of our move-in, as we brought Vera over the threshold for the first time. I looked around with new eyes, wondering what the rooms felt like to her. I balanced the car seat holding her tiny 7 lbs on the crook of my arm and walked slowly from room to room.

“This is where we live, baby girl. You’re home.”

It no longer felt too big.

She moved across the hall a quick year and some odd months later. This time Carter had to do most of the painting. A soft lavender. The scarcely used guest room would be her new big girl room.

When Barrett came home, I did the same gentle waltz through the house showing him the lay of the land. This time there was a 20-month-old to break the reverence of the moment, clumsily pulling down books and whining for a snack.

The living room—once tastefully decorated—now featured a baby swing, bouncer, nursing gear, piles of laundry in multiple stages, and an explosion of toys to keep sister distracted while we tended to brother. We split the massive storage room, walling off a playroom to give us a change of scenery. Every square inch of the house was in use.

We were full.

The pandemic raged four months later. I pounded the stairs up and down up and down, working to recover from my pregnancies with the gym closed. It was a remarkable difference from trudging the stairs heavily pregnant and in severe nerve pain, taking breaks and clutching the railing for support.

Dozens and dozens of teenage students have come down these stairs for their first voice lesson, relieved they found my house and nervous to sing for me. About a sixth of them have tripped up the stairs on their way out, the steepness of the stairs built in the fifties surprising them. I missed their footfalls letting me know it was time to switch from mom to teacher. I sighed and wriggled behind the piano to settle into my complex online set-up.

I would log about 400 lessons via Zoom before their voices returned to me.

The singers are back now, occasionally losing their pitch due to the din of noise upstairs. They laugh good-naturedly at the crash, followed by a brief pause and then screaming. When I finish teaching and come upstairs, I am greeted by my favorite voices of all. Tiny bare feet tromp over to me, two sets of hands reaching up.

Carter and I smile over them, exchanging a shared look.

It says, “They are wild. They are wonderful. I’m tired. I’m so glad this is ours.”

Both of our tiny babies have grown to be 30 lb. toddlers. (Yep, they are the same size. Vera is a peanut and Barrett is a tank.) Their feet found their first steps on these floors. Their voices have grown articulate, squawks becoming words that form full paragraphs. The sheer force of curiosity of these two magnificent creatures has filled the square footage and poured out of the windows onto the streets.

It is time. We need more space.

When the closing papers are signed and it’s finally, FINALLY, time to go, I will walk the floors one last time. I will thank each room for what they have held. Carter will be too kind to roll his eyes as he buckles the kids into the van. I’ll sit next to him and halfheartedly hide the tears welling.

“It was a good house,” he will say.

I’ll nod and respond, “It held magic.”


Photos below from our listing, mostly so I can remember. And to prove it was once entirely clean, more proof of magic.

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