I was the happiest I'd ever been.
I had two beautiful kids, and our life was full of joy. I felt confident in my identity and philosophy of mothering. I loved my home and neighborhood. I had found a homeschool co-op that gave me a beautiful sense of belonging and allowed me to spread my wings as a teacher. My first son was over most of his preschool-age meltdowns, and my younger son was the kind of kid who was so happy he'd knock himself over from giggling.
My husband wasn't so happy, though. He had a job he was skilled at but did not enjoy. It provided for the necessities of life, but seemed to be sucking the life out of him. I missed him.
He had asked me several times if I wanted to move, and I’d always said no. We'd been living in our house for two years. It took me a year to get cozy, but once I did, I was content.
Except for that blasted kitchen.
It was the size of a handkerchief, and doubled as an entryway. You practically fell down the stairs when you walked in, and there was no place to set down your coat and purse. It was the reason the last owners of the house, as much as they had loved the neighborhood, left.
I don’t remember in what order these decisions were made, but three life changes commenced at about the same time:
My husband got a new job.
I got pregnant with baby #3.
I initiated a househunt.
It might seem out of character for me to have been the one to get the ball rolling to find a new house. I typically wait for change to find me, not the other way around. But what was in my character was a people-pleasing streak and self-sabotaging fear of disappointing my husband that ran so deep I’d do anything to put a smile back on his face.
One evening, after I’d been to the store, my husband found me in the kitchen trying to prepare three dishes to take to a church function. Pots were bubbling on the stove, dirty dishes appeared to be crawling out of the sink, and not an inch of our tiny countertop was visible under the rubble. The floor was still covered in the grocery bags I’d brought home, some empty, some full of food I hadn’t put away yet. My husband hit his head on an open cupboard door as he tried to pass through. The wood splintered, and so did his patience.
“I can’t live like this anymore! Something has to change.”
So I gave the green light, and the house hunt he’d been asking for took off.
I knew deep down that it wouldn’t solve much. Because I would still be the same. More square footage just meant more rooms to spend money furnishing and space to make messes in. But that’s another chapter. At the time, we both had hope that ample square footage would offset the unhappy byproduct that came from coupling my desire to please (and therefore over-commit) with my endless creative impulses: hopeless disorganization.
We started searching. We walked through at least fifty homes, dragging our little boys along in the car, trudging through snowy driveways during nap time. Neither of us could budge on our criteria (which were diametrically opposed), so no house was good enough.
After months of futile effort, I put on the breaks, and told him that the search was off.
He kept searching. And the next day found a house. The house. His dream house, he told me.
I looked at the listing, and laughed. And then began legitimately wondering if my husband was losing his mind.
It met about 5% of my criteria, and 110% of his.
He set up a showing. I humored him and went along. I laughed out loud again when the realtor asked what I thought. I smiled, never more sure of anything in my life, than the fact that I would never consider living in such a house.
If you could call it that.
It was more akin to a 1970’s mortuary or reception center.
It was almost four times the square footage of our current house.
It had a bizarre layout with twenty rooms, long hallways with dozens of dismal brown interior doors, wallpaper I have no words for, and white carpeting everywhere. The electrical system was operated on a satellite system. I got lost during the walk-through.
Needless to say, this was not an optimal design for a family of young children.
It had been built, owned, and maintained by a nearby college to house their president, and was designed for entertaining. They had had enough of it and decided it would be cheaper and less of a hassle to just provide a stipend for the president’s living expenses.
My husband said he wanted to put in an offer. It was priced ridiculously low, which I took to mean there was something very wrong with it that would pop up during the inspection, or that we would be priced out in a bidding war. Since I knew it was a hopeless case, I said, “Do you want me to say no now or after you put in the offer?” “After,” he said. “Because then at least I’ll know we tried.”
It was on the market for one day. We were faster than the twenty other showings they’d lined up for the following day, we offered their asking price (and only asked that they throw in the parlor grand piano), didn’t ask for them to do any repairs or updates, and apparently that was good enough for the college who wanted to be rid of it as quickly and painlessly as possible.
So at $57 per square foot, the Winchester Mystery House was now ours.
That’s when the crying started.