Sometimes you just have to write…
If you haven’t read Big Stuff #1 yet, it’s here.
I wrote in the last post that there was Big Stuff happening in my life that I hadn’t written about yet. This is Big Stuff #2:
We’re in the middle of buying a house. And it makes me feel like one of the luckiest people in the world that we’re able to do this.
The thing is: we already have a house. It’s a pretty typical Dutch row house, but on the big side, with five bedrooms, built in about 1980, so it’s not particularly pretty, but it’s big. When we bought it, we had two small children, and just wanted lots of BIG. So despite its lack of charm, it’s served us well.
Our daughter and foster daughter went off to college, and we took in an “extra kid,” so now it’s us and two teenage boys. They’ll be out of the house within five years or so.
And we’ve always had a plan. Since we first met, when we were both doing development work in Malawi, it was clear to both of us that we would do something similar again: make ourselves useful somewhere in the world. Once we had kids, though, we didn’t want to drag them around the world while we pursued our own goals. We wanted them to develop roots and make their own decisions about where in the world to build their lives. So we put it off until they’re grown, with the idea of moving back into development work when we “retire.”
So that’s been the plan for years: when my husband retires, I’ll retire early (if we can afford it). We’ll sell our house, buy a much smaller one for just the two of us, sign up with some NGO or other, and only spend summers in the little house.
Even though my husband won’t retire for another ten years or so, we started looking at houses because of the recession. The prices for these charming, tiny houses in the center of our city have dropped considerably. We contacted an agent and started viewing houses.
And a few weeks ago we found a house we fell in love with. It’s an 1880 former coachman’s house, set in a row of five houses in the interior of a block so there’s no road access at all; it’s not even on Google Street View. It’s quiet and cut off from the hubbub of the city, yet only a couple of blocks from the center of town. It’s got a living room with a very high ceiling which has the original painted design and plasterwork. Upstairs has just one big room, though we’re planning to add a dormer window and divide it in two. The front faces south and has a small garden with fruit trees. We love it.
There was the usual back and forth of offers and counter-offers, but our last bid was accepted, the mortgage has been approved, and we’re just waiting for paperwork now. Our plan for the moment is to do some work on it, furnish it, and rent it out as a short-term rental to visiting doctors or professors, who often come here for just a year. Then, when our kids are out of the house, we’ll move in there ourselves and sell this house.
This is Big Stuff because it makes it all real. When I first came to Holland, the deal I made with my husband was that we’d stay for eight years, the same length of time that he stayed with me in the US, and then I’d decide if I was still willing to stay.
More than 15 years later, we’re still here. Somehow, buying this smaller house makes it real. It makes it permanent. Somehow, I can’t change my mind anymore. Even though we intend to work in other countries, here is where we’ll return. I meant for the kids to take root, but I’m the one who’s taken root instead.
I’d love to hear your reactions: do you feel rooted to a new place? Or stay rooted to where you came from? How long does it take for this transformation to happen?