There's No Place Like Home(s)


Cowboy has always enjoyed visiting houses. Big, small, cluttered, clean – it doesn’t matter. If they have four walls, he wants to go inside. We even spent years touring empty houses - model homes. Builders throughout Houston and surrounding towns were happy to make our acquaintance. To be fair, I told each of them we weren’t in the market; we were just window shopping. All of them happily obliged.

As we walked through perfectly staged houses, I dreamed of remodeling our own home, and I took note of many decorating ideas. Not that I ever implemented the changes; my daydreams consist of other people doing all the work. When it was time for Cowboy and me to leave any particular model home, I walked away happy for my small house payment, content with what I had. Okay, not totally content. I’ve wanted one more room added on for 19 of the 21 years we’ve lived here. But, again, I like saving money too much to do anything about it. So, I was quasi-content.

Until we walked into a house designated as a “Texas Big Home.” With over 4,000 square feet of awesomeness, including a dance studio, a wrap-around porch and balcony, and a state-of-the-art home theater with red velvet curtains, it was a house made for me. But not made for my budget. As we surveyed each room, wide-eyed, Cowboy kept telling me “stay” in sign language. He didn’t do that in any other model homes.

“You want to stay here? You want this house?”

He nodded.

“Ah, it’s awesome, isn’t it? I want it too, Cowboy. But we’d need to win the lottery.”

He signed “stay” again.

I sighed. “Well, if we moved, we wouldn’t have our great neighbors. And you wouldn’t go to school with your friends. You want to go to school with your friends, right?”

He nodded, then signed “stay” again. Brick and mortar, and a home theater, are stronger than the bonds of friendship.

In my mind, I was relocating the House of My Dreams to the street where we live now, to replace our existing home. Of course, we’d have to buy the house next door and have it leveled to make room for The New House, but it could happen. I don’t limit my imagination like I do my spending.

As we left that day, I told the agent, “Of all the houses we’ve toured, this is by far the most amazing. We love everything about it.”

“Well, come visit any time,” she replied.

So we did.

As we rounded the corner to our Pretend Home, on our fourth visit, I gasped. There it was in the front yard, for all the world to see; the For Sale sign had been replaced with yard art; strangers were living in my Fantasy. Heartbroken, I contemplated knocking on the door to see if they’d like company. Or to ask if we could move in. But I didn’t see that ending well, and I didn’t want to be the inspiration for the next Lifetime Channel murder mystery.

“Well, Cowboy, someone bought our favorite house. We’ll have to find others now.” He was fine; I wished I’d never laid eyes on the beauty. That “better to have loved and lost” line is overrated.

Between trips to model homes, we spent countless hours drawing houses and looking up addresses on Google Earth. It felt a little creepy to look up addresses of people we hardly knew, but it was a godsend when I was too busy or tuckered out to indulge my son in another tour.

As Cowboy got older, we stopped going to model homes. He returned to his first love - houses with people living in them. If dogs lived there too, that was even better. An available swimming pool upgraded the visit to Paradise.

When Cowboy was in elementary school, he’d bring me our church telephone directory, point to the people he wanted to see, and bring me the phone so I would call and ask if we could visit. I called seven families one weekend, looking for someone available. If you haven’t received a call from us yet, just give us time, and we’ll get to you.

When he’d exhausted the phone book list, he turned to other resources. One day, when he was eight years old, he handed Flash the obituaries page from the Houston Chronicle, pointed to a grandfatherly looking man, then gave the phone to Flash. We spent quite some time explaining why we couldn’t visit the Great Hereafter.

While I was reading Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who! aloud one night, Cowboy started pointing to one of the pages.

“Those are the Whos, Cowboy.”

He continued pointing, then signed “house,” in the same way he’d pointed to phone book friends and told me he wanted to go to their houses. For the next 15 minutes, I tried to explain why we couldn’t drive to Whoville. Rather than realizing our need to limit home visits to earth, as well as to the non-fictional realm, Cowboy probably thought I was being uncooperative. He could be quite persistent and insistent back then.

This summer was the setting for a monumental occasion in Cowboy’s house-hopping history. For the first time, Cowboy and three of his best friends spent an entire weekend together. A lovely elderly couple, Mr. and Mrs. Ziegfield, loaned their lake house to the kids to have a Post-Graduation Celebration Weekend. And we parents chaperoned.

My friend Tommy, who is friends with the Ziegfields and had asked if we could use their lake house, told me before we went, “I want the kids to have their own space, moments when it’s just them, doing their own thing. Just like all teenagers.” Because the four teens have special needs, it’s not always easy to find ways for them to do this. At home, adults are always in close proximity. But at the spacious lake house, with an open loft on the second floor, the kids could get further away from us, while we were within hearing distance if they needed us.

While we adults were relaxing downstairs, we could hear Cowboy, Casanova, Daphne, and Paige upstairs. When I walked up to get something out of my purse, there they were, lying around, two on their phones, and two giggling at each other. Whatever they wanted to do, they were doing together. Without us. My heart still smiles when I think about what an amazing accomplishment that was. The girls weren’t bickering like sisters, the boys weren’t picking on the girls, and there was peace in our little corner of the world. Sometimes miracles come in the form of stillness and hushed tones. Throughout our stay, there were many moments of revelation when we could see how far our kids have come, as well as plenty of time playing water volleyball, going down the water slide, floating in the lake, and canoeing down to the dam.

We know each other’s kids so well, that we didn’t have to explain their actions to each other. Most of them have been in school together since they were three years old. We didn’t have to run interference for fear of someone’s being offended by our children’s behaviors and symptoms. We watched each other’s kids as if they were our own. And, in a way, they are our own. It was one of the most healing and freeing trips I’ve ever had with Cowboy in the presence of others. My mom-radar was in chilled-out mode; I felt safe and joyful. I was with my tribe; they are family.

At night, when the kids drifted off to sleep after a day packed with fun, Tommy taught us new card games, including Oh Pshaw. We danced, and belted out Motown tunes. We shared secrets that shall forevermore be held as secrets, and we ate until we could eat no more. I even (gasp) went without lipstick for hours at a time; naked lips are usually reserved for illness.

When Sunday afternoon rolled around and it was time to leave, nobody wanted to go. “We need to start a commune. We could live like this forever,” I said. Everybody agreed.

“Maybe this could become a tradition,” one of parents said, as we all walked to our cars.

Indeed. It’s been only three months, and I’m ready for our next retreat. In the meantime, we’re trying to get the gang together more often. Our friendships were further solidified that weekend as we celebrated not only our kids’ achievements, but how we parents survived the early, often hellish, days when our children were first diagnosed with life-altering challenges. We’ve all come immeasurably far on this special-needs journey. It won’t matter if our next weekend is at a lake house, a tree house, an igloo, or a grass hut. Because, as Cowboy knows, houses with friends in them are the best houses of all. As long as we’re together, we’ll always be home.

A portion of this post was published in At the Foot of the Cross copyright © 2011 by Sagemont Church.