Tonight, I turned in the keys to my two-bedroom ranch apartment. I’ve spent the past month moving, and I’d been looking forward to and dreading this day. No matter how exciting, change can be unsettling.
I moved a few times as a child, and seven times during college. I know how to pack. But this time, my feet felt a little stuck at first. I was getting divorced when I moved to the apartment, and that move scarred me in a way that I didn’t expect it would.
This home was the place that I needed, not the one that I wanted. The kids shared a bedroom. I didn’t have a bed for the first couple of months.
“I’m going to miss this place,” my nine-year-old daughter said.
Me, too. It was the place of so many milestones I never expected to experience.
This was the place where I hobbled in with a broken toe, unsure of what living without another grownup in the house would be like for the very first time.
This was the place where 5 o’clock dinners and early bedtimes no longer existed, where seeking imperfection wasn’t a lofty goal, but a means of survival.
This was the place where I said goodnight to my children’s baby pictures during those first nights and holidays they spent with their dad as I transitioned to my new life as a single mom.
This was the place where I bawled, remembering that for seven years, I worked from home so that I wouldn’t miss their first steps, their first words, their first new foods.
This was the place where I attempted to fill two roles at the same time – both mom and dad – and failed miserably and succeeded gracefully.
This was the place where the Easter bunny left a monster truck building kit that I assembled so poorly the wheels broke off. My son cried. I purchased a replacement kit, and the second one worked. My son, now 7, insisted that we keep both of those trucks. He loves the one without wheels, and enjoys retelling the story of how his mom messed up the first one.
This was the place where Elizabeths reigned. My neighbors on both sides for most of my time here were both named Elizabeth. There were three of us in a row like tic tac toe.
This was the place where I learned how to ask for help, and didn’t feel bad about it. Please help me tie your brother’s shoes. Please load the dishwasher. Please don’t laugh – okay, you can – when I cover the clogged toilet with a garbage bag while successfully using a super plunger, and you-know-what sprays on the floor.
This was the place where I prayed. I prayed to be able to provide for my family of three. I prayed for people who were helpful. I prayed for people who judged me and for those who said I was doing it all wrong. I prayed for a pantry filled with food, and it was almost always full.
This was the place where I felt so proud when my son came home from school, wearing a Star Student sticker, and when his artwork was featured in an art show. I beamed when my daughter was named Student of the Month and Student of the Quarter. The tears in my eyes when they accomplished those things were in part the relief I felt that the naysayers who said they would be hurt by being from a broken home were mistaken.
This was the place where I witnessed my children exhibit courage, compassion and honesty in ways that make me so honored to have contributed to the beautiful people they are today.
This was the place where I wrote, “Thank you!!,” on every rent check, even when the price increased and even when the apartment flooded because I always was grateful we had a roof over our heads.
This was the place where a friendship turned into something more. I decided to be brave and to love, and the result was the ability to feel a kind of love I didn’t know existed. I feel that I have just scratched the surface of it.
This was the place where we began blending our families. During those first hand-trembling attempts at making dinner for five, I tried my best to make sure everyone’s glasses were filled to the same amount and that everyone’s bellies were full.
Above all, this was the place where I proved to myself that I can do it, whatever it is.
When I remember that apartment, I might still wince when I remember the pain, but I’ll smile at having accomplished these achievements, unexpected, impossible and beyond amazing as they were.
Later this evening, a brief storm rolled through … and then, a rainbow appeared.