Last weekend, I trundled the kids into the car and we made the five-hour trek north to see their father and to search for the next place we'll all live together. I prepared them as best I could: It will be a long day, at times boring. Wear comfortable shoes that slip on and off; we'll be doing both a lot of walking and taking our shoes off as we step inside homes. Pee before we leave the hotel. Bring a snack, but not a messy one. No whining.
It never occurred to me that we might not find a house, although my husband and kids, I later learned, were less certain. We met the real estate agent in her neighborhood, which also contained some of the homes in which we were interested. We gamely piled into her car and set off.
The first house, which had looked almost perfect online, was a disappointment in real life. The second house had been added to the lineup by the agent, and showed great promise. The third was equally terrific. We moved on to a couple of less impressive offerings, and then to the one with a neighborhood pool (yay!) and a dripping air conditioner in the attic that leaked into the second floor, saturating the floor (boo!). My husband explained to the kids what an "automatic DQ" is.
We saw a couple more places that were wrong for various reasons. Just before lunch, we headed to a house I had found online a couple days before, when my husband broadened our search. He'd done a drive-by and was unimpressed, but I was stoked. Among other things, there was a deep Southern front porch with a swing, and a sunroom with skylights. A walled English garden in back. The house had soul, I could just tell from the pictures online.
I was not disappointed. I wanted a first floor master bedroom, and there was one, painted a pale robin's egg blue, looking out over the beautiful front porch. I had thought from the pictures that there was no hall closet--a big drawback. But it turned out there was, cleverly concealed as one of the wall panels. The kitchen was a little smallish, but beautifully appointed, with a tile backsplash and granite counters. It also had a pantry with amazing little shelves for spices, canned goods, and bigger items. What looked like a massive antique desk was built into the kitchen wall. Behind the was the sunroom, overlooking the English garden. Off of that was an office, that could be used as such, then converted to a first floor bedroom when my sister comes to live with us in several years. Upstairs, bedrooms for the kids, nearly as large as the master, and a bonus room in back for hanging out with friends. Storage galore. A first floor laundry. Instead of a formal dining room, which we rarely use, a great room with space for a dining table and family room furniture. I could feel my husband getting on board with the idea of this house.
The place looked like a lovingly restored home from 1886, but it was actually built in 1986. Obviously by someone who cared, and who knew what he was doing. It was everything I had dreamed of.
And it was in the wrong neighborhood.
It was a tiny, pretty subdivision of fewer than 30 houses, with a larger, soulless subdivision only a few houses away. In the absence of a cohesive neighborhood with planned events, like the one where the real estate agent lived, we might have met nice neighbors and made friends anyway. But we didn't know. And there was another problem--the schools that served this pretty little neighborhood were BAD. And private school is not in the budget.
Still, the house was so amazing it was in the running for a while. It quickly came down to houses two and three, and my dream house. While we drove around, part of my mind worked on how to convince my kids that having neighborhood friends is overrated, a solid education isn't that important, and that getting mugged in the school hallway is character-building.
I prayed a little for clarity. I grumbled to myself that it wasn't fair that I should have to give up my dream because the kids didn't like the house. It felt too old-fashioned for them. I told myself when they grow up they can pick their own damn dream houses.
And then, without knowing how it happened or even really meaning to do it, I let the house go. It was out of the running. We were down to the two houses in the agent's neighborhood, which the kids liked a lot and which had better schools.
In the end, the kids preferred House A, which had a flat, fenced backyard and a huge hammock in a stand. My husband and I were inclined toward House B, which had better storage, a first floor master, two-story family room, and hardwood floors. Not to mention a huge bonus room on the second floor where the kids can hang out with the friends I hope they'll make. We went with House B. We made an offer and it was accepted within a few hours. The kids mourned loudly for their lost hammock, and we told them: Tough. We made the best decision for our family.
There's no front porch. No sun porch, and no screened porch. But there's a pretty deck with railings on which I can hang window boxes for an herb garden. It overlooks the sloping lawn, which has a spot in back perfect for a stone fire pit. The kids are big enough to help build it, and hopefully we'll meet neighbors who will sit around it with us. Maybe the friends we've had to say goodbye to in all these moves will visit us and sit there, too.
Maybe the best dream houses are the ones where you build your dreams together.