Six years ago, we moved into our dream home. It sits back from the road atop a hill, it has a unique layout, and gives us plenty of space for a family of six. It sits upon three acres of land. We have two ponds, a woods, and our nearest neighbor is close enough to wave to but far enough away to be out of earshot. That means there is somewhere to run to in an emergency but no people close enough to hear our daily lives and think, with the way I shout, that every day there is an emergency in our house.
We bought our first home in 2003, during our first year of marriage. At that time, houses were selling within twenty-four hours of being on the market. We would look at a house in the morning on the day it was listed and it would be sold by the time we inquired about purchasing it in the afternoon. The house we ended up buying was not on the market. I knew the owner, as he was a neighbor of my parents, and I knew that he lived at his girlfriend’s house and that the home was basically empty. The house was in need of much repair, but he offered it to us at an incredible price and, in Everybody Loves Raymond style, it was part the neighborhood I grew up in. It was a familiar and comfortable place to put down roots.
My parents were great neighbors. Every home project that Jason tackled, from the exterior to remodeling room after room, my dad was there working along side him. He’d make a cup of coffee and walk his familiar path from his front door to ours, sometimes stopping first to raid his garage for the right tools. At times I was a bit envious of how often two of them were together, and the amount of laughing I heard as they put a tremendous amount of effort into making our home what we wanted it to be. When Jason’s work schedule became demanding and progress on the house slowed, my dad would generously cash in a favor or two with one of the contractors he worked with, so that a couple of guys would show up to hang drywall or paint a bedroom.
My mom was also generous. She gave us a place to shower when our bathroom was under construction, invited us to dinner when there was too much dust in the air for us to cook, and even allowed us to hold birthday parties at her house when the various states of demolition made our home unfit for entertaining.
Both Jason and I had grown up this way, with our parents buying homes that were in need of love and attention. The smell of wet spackle conjures up memories of my childhood, and I can close my eyes and see the inside of a Hechinger’s store. Both of our dads have a wealth of construction and remodeling experience, and they are continually happy to share their knowledge with us. I say “us” because I do pay attention when they explain things, but Jason is the one that does the work. I wish I could say that I was helpful during those years, but basically I stayed out of the way. It’s not that I didn’t want to help, but I was way too afraid of making a mistake and setting back the progress. I had zero confidence in my ability to be an asset.
Back in 2009 Jason left his job to work at for start-up company. Within weeks, we discovered I was pregnant with Baby #3. Our current home was lovely, but not big enough to accommodate another baby and a home office, which he would be needing on a daily basis. Furthermore, Baby #1 would be in Kindergarten the following year. If we were going to move, it was a good time to settle into a house that we could grow into.
Our realtor and friend, Lynne Norris, gave us a list of tweaks and improvements to make before listing our property, which we took to heart. She staged our house to look as though someone with a sense of style and functionality lived there (because that was definitely not the case.) We thinned out our possessions, storing most of our things in my parents’ garage. Within 9 days of listing the property, it sold. We were about to be homeless.
My parents came to the rescue again. Baby #1 was 4 years old, Baby #2 was barely 1 year old, and the four of us plus our two cats took up residence with my parents and their four, yappy Pomeranian dogs. I was taking progesterone to sustain the pregnancy, and that knocked me out every night. Jason would work a long day for the start-up and then spend the overnight hours trying to keep Baby #2 from waking the entire house, since the change from his nursery to a new bedroom never really resulted in an adjustment.
Right before Christmas Lynne sent us a listing for a home that met all of our requirements. There aren’t many properties to look during a snowy PA December, but this house was empty and less than 15 minutes from where we were currently living. I felt compelled to email her right away to set up a viewing.
As Jason and I went up the driveway, I sensed my instantaneous connection to the place. When we entered the house, I felt at home. Three rooms into the tour, and I knew we would buy it. The amount of natural light, the beauty of the grounds, the layout that modestly hides the spaciousness from the street view, everything about it said we should be living in it. The house was unique and dated, but we could move in immediately and not need to change a thing.
We are not risk-takers. We research all major purchases. We keep to our routines and schedules. We rarely chose a spontaneous option, whether it be to eat out or go outside without shoes on our feet. I recognize that our orderly ways border on rigid. In the months before my breast cancer diagnosis, we were considering major construction to our home. An architect drew up plans to our specifications, and we interviewed contractors. Knowing that this time we were in a position to hire professionals instead of chipping away, weekend by weekend, at what we wanted to do, was exciting.
That diagnosis put our plans on hold. What it did to our bank account means those changes are on hold indefinitely.
Our home meets our needs. We are lucky in the sense that my medical bills haven’t put us in danger of losing our home, as is the case for many other cancer patients. You would think that having insurance through an employer would mean coverage that doesn’t place financial burden on a patient, but that is far from the truth. As well versed as I’ve become in our healthcare policy, I receive surprise invoices frequently because of loopholes. For instance, the pharmacy of the cancer center I receive care through is considered part of the hospital that I use, so I can’t directly receive medication through the cancer center unless I am hospitalized. I was scheduled to receive an injection in January that I am still trying to get insurance approval for, and now it is March. All because of paperwork nuances that no one–not the insurance company, the pharmacies, the cancer center, even the doctor–seem to be able to figure out. Currently, I can receive the medication only if I pay the thousands of dollars it costs out of my own pocket. The medication is medically necessary, but no one knows the magic words (I tried “pretty please,” it was a no-go) to have it approved. Oh, and I’ll need it again in six months.
On New Year’s Day, I told Jason that my plan for this year is introduce boldness to my life.
“Through your New Year’s resolutions?” he asked, with a bit of trepidation, afraid of what I may suggest next.
“I don’t make New Year’s resolutions,” I told him. “My goals go week to week. I can’t handle the commitment of long-term.” That’s probably the last thing a husband wants to hear his wife say, but he knew what I meant.
A major medical diagnosis like cancer throws your world into a tailspin, and when the motion pauses you, you are left pointing in new directions. Some days I fear the unknown, but most days I steady for the unexpected.
“So what type of boldness do you mean?” he asked.
“Well, for starters, I’m going to stop fearing rejection so much and begin to market my writing,” I told him. “Modest goals, like a submission a month.”
“Okay,” he told me, “that sounds like a good way to roll it out.”
“And what about these windows?” I looked to the sliding glass door and two storm windows that sat in the heart of our house, separating the family room from the sun room. “We keep saying we want to remove them. Let’s be bold and do it!”
We have been married for 13 years. He know that “let’s do it” translates to “I’m going to nag you until you do it.” My excitement at the idea wore off on him, though, and he ripped those suckers out! The openness of the family room now is an improvement, and the amount of light is even greater than before.
Jason has been working, weekend by weekend, on installing recessed lighting, drywall, and trim. It might seem as though the difference is subtle, but it has changed the feel in the center of our home. I’m trying to embrace boldness in other ways too. My attempts may seem laughable to some, but it’s progress for me. I’m dressing myself in brighter colors (Baby #1 puts my outfits together), networking with other writers, and trying new activities (right now this mostly means *gulp* group classes at the gym.) I’ve decided I can’t wait for everything to be safe and secure before I try to reach out and grab it. If I don’t make the changes now, what if I’m missing out on more openness and light? I can’t control everything in my life, but I can certainly shape it, then go from there.