The eternal search for our forever home
This spring, my husband and I found the house of our dreams: a 60-year-old, four-bedroom, three-bathroom, solid red brick, two-story Cape Cod in Norfolk.
The house was on a tree-lined road near the Lafayette River – a street so pretty, it brought to mind romantic comedies where everybody is attractive and witty, and the characters have to figure out only how to spend their time and good fortune.
The house was also outside our budget and in need of serious updates.
“Electrical, roof and kitchen – maybe plumbing,” our real estate agent said, ticking through repairs. He tapped his toes in a corner. “Settlement,” he added, raising an eyebrow in my direction.
“But it has good bones, right?” I said, sounding like a peppy HGTV host.
The project was beyond our means. That night, I complained to my husband, Roberto. We’d seen dozens of houses – from classic to quirky, flips to fixer-uppers. I kept hearing about a “tight” real estate market. That assessment felt true. By the time we saw them, houses had contracts and backup offers. We expanded our search. Inched up our budget. Nothing.
We also were picky. We’d purchased our first house five years earlier to get into the real estate market. Now we wanted to find our home, the place we’d settle into for decades, the place we’d raise our two young sons.
With each passing week, I added to my mental list of must-haves: Three bedrooms. Two bathrooms. Charm and historic integrity – but plenty of closet space. A mudroom for sports gear and rain boots. Lots of light. An open floor plan. Space for the boys to build Lego cities. A dining room for birthday cakes and turkey dinners. A yard big enough for a soccer goal. A dedicated writing area. A family room so comfortable that hard conversations become easier, and so welcoming that the boys will someday want to bring friends and loved ones there.
All of that, and no flood insurance required. No wonder we had trouble.
I know that a house – even a great house – won’t guarantee the things I’m after: a good life with my husband, kids who become happy, healthy, well-adjusted adults, and productive, fulfilling work.
By the time I graduated from high school, I’d lived in 10 houses in three states and two countries. None was perfect. Once, in cramped base quarters, my parents used a dining room for their bedroom. I’ve always thought I benefited from all that moving around. It forced me to see the world beyond my own four walls.
I sometimes envied friends who had lived in the same house for years, but I don’t think my house obsession is about creating something different from my youth. It’s partly that the world can be a scary place. As an adult, you see that more starkly. My older son starts kindergarten this fall. I’ll likely smile about it in the future, but this milestone feels incomprehensible right now – as if someone is asking me to cut out my heart, put it on a school bus and keep breathing normally in its absence.
A new house won’t alter that Luke is growing up, or that the climate is changing, or that people and places I love seem more vulnerable now, but finding that house, that perfect house, gives me control – or the illusion of it. The quest distracts me from other worries.
Our search continues. In the starter house that was never meant to be our home, we bump into each other, curse our tiny closets. And we build block towers. Loop train tracks. Read about dragonflies. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I grab my phone and search new listings – hoping again for something more – but I try to remember, every day, how much I already have.