I didn’t want to see it again. I was quite happy letting my husband be the one who would let in the occasional handyman, plumber, or real estate agent. But this time, there were no other options, so it was me walking the 43 steps to the third floor of the vintage building where we are the owners of a condo. Our previous tenants had moved out and I needed to change a few minor fixtures to get it ready for a showing.
I remembered the 43 steps. Call it muscle memory – 43 steps up, 43 steps down. One baby strapped in an Ergo on my chest, a toddler on my hip, a preschooler holding my hand, and a grocery delivery service on speed dial because, well, 43 steps. I fumbled with the keys, not remembering which key opened which lock, but when I heard the click of the brass tumbler releasing, the three years we had been gone disappeared and I stepped into my home.
When we moved out of the condo into a single family home just down the block, it was relief. The condo was full of stress. “Quiet down.” “No running.” “Don’t drop that.” “Don’t wake up the neighbor.” Near the end my anxiety was so high I have no doubt the loudest thing in our home was me, begging them not to make noise so I didn’t have to hear the complaints of our neighbor to the south. But now, as I walked into the foyer, and ran my hand against the stucco walls, waves of nostalgia washed over me and I stopped to catch my breath.
These 100-year-old wood floors which creak and groan with each step were what two of my babies learned to walk on. Up and down the hallway, over and over, their chubby baby legs padded along, faster and faster until they would run into my arms.
This kitchen is where we baked each day. It is where I made meals for friends. Each carrot chopped, onion sautéed, garlic clove roasted, and loaf of bread came with a prayer. It fed our friends when they were hungry, when they were mourning, when they celebrated, and when they just wanted to be with family. I looked out my kitchen window each morning as I drank my coffee and started the day with a prayer.
Oh, the living room with its 9 foot ceilings and french doors that led to nowhere but the treetops. There were the nights when my husband was at school late at night, and I found myself on the couch, a baby asleep on my shoulder and a girl resting on each leg. I’d sit there, unable to move, until he got home and helped me move them to their beds. When Sophie had the croup, this is where I stood all night, her resting against me in the Ergo as I swayed her to sleep, keeping her vertical while I watched Season One of Downton Abbey (it was a long night). And when Lucy had that really bad ear infection, this is where I stood all night, her resting against me in the Ergo as I swayed her to sleep, keeping her vertical while I watched Season Two of Downton Abbey (it was another long night).
I wandered into the bedroom and saw the spot where my writing desk was. It was there I put my first blog post out into the world. I’d look out my window and right past the neon Golden Arches I’d see the skyline. I’d see the Sears Tower and take a deep breath, reminding myself I now lived in the city.
I opened the closet door, and there, in red permanent marker were marks showing how tall my babies were. They were so small, even though at the time I was certain they were growing up so fast. And they were.
I stood in that condo and all that I could feel was regret. Regret for the ways I let anxiety drive my parenting. Regret for feeling exhausted and not nurturing relationships. Regret for not having the energy to engage the way I wanted to. Regret for pushing back the voice in my head that would whisper, “Maybe it’s PPD. Maybe you should tell someone.” Regret for not taking more walks. Regret for not going up and down those 43 steps more often. But most of all, regret for not realizing how much I would miss that place. I brought two babies home from the hospital and through that door. Good or bad, it has a hold on my soul and I cannot separate the memory of those years from the reality of that space.
I finished the work I needed to do and took another look out the living room window. I realize now why the girls would sit there with blankets and pillows, just staring into the tree. It was absolutely breathtaking. I closed my eyes, as if taking a picture. I wanted to remember how lush the tree was and how that room felt so peaceful. I walked out the door, turned the key to lock, and walked down, counting to 43 once again.