A student came to see me in my office the other day. She looked worn down and weary.
"I just want to go home," she told me, hanging her head. She is having fun in college, and making friends, but because we're nearing midterms, the stress levels are rising. Thoughts are turning to home--to the sanctuary and safety net it provides.
We've been talking about Home, with a capital "H," since last week. In my freshmen composition classes we're reading Joan Didion's On Going Home and Anna Quindlen's Homeless. Both of these authors talk about how, as a society, we've cheapened the value of home as home, so that we're constantly moving on in search of a bigger, better place to be--more square footage, a better investment, a monstrosity of a home that is way more house then a family could ever need. "Homes," Quindlen writes, "have stopped being homes. Now they are real estate." My students agreed with Quindlen's statement, and most of them also agreed that Home is where they came from--a childhood home, no matter how rocky and unstable--a place they retreated to when times were tough, or where they knew they could get kind words and a safe place. One student told me that, even though her childhood home literally no longer exists, when she's asked about Home, her mind instantly goes to that place, where Home remains intact and timeless in her mind's eye.
The other day I looked over my Facebook friends and realized that some of them put down their childhood hometown in their profile, and others put down the town they live in now. When I first filled out my profile, I put down my childhood hometown, then changed it to the town I live in now--but not until I had pondered it a bit. I'm still not sure what "Hometown" on the Facebook profile means, and I still have a feeling that it's the place I came from, not the place I live in now.
For me, when I think about Home, I think about three places. One--the place I came from--is larger, and superimposed in a way over my other main Home. Home for me now is the house where my kids are growing up; a place that's not perfect by everyone's standards, but it's perfect for us. But always there's the larger Home, the place I came from, and a place that I'm still fortunate to go back to and find. I also think of my grandparents' apartment in Greece as Home, too, even though it's empty now, filled with their many things. They--the heartbeat and soul of the place--are gone now, but in my own mind's eye they're still there, sitting in their favorite places, and time has stopped.
I hope my kids will grow up with a strong sense of Home. I imagine us in 20 or 30 years still in our house--the place where my kids grew up. When I think about Home, I think about Sunday mornings and these:
(always a staple at our house on Sundays)
I think about shoes kicked across the front hallway; and the hammock on the back porch where T. and I will lie and talk about the clouds; and my kitchen, where we've spent so many good Family Cook Nights. I think about the family room, and my kids elbowing each other out of the way for a spot on the warm hearth in the winter, and the dog curled up in her bed outside our bedroom. I think about our bed, where we've had so many late-night whispered conversations over T.'s sleeping head. I think about my children's rooms--L.'s room messy and crammed full of all his precious collections and things; T.'s room a magical sort of place, peaceful and happy--the perfect reflection of who she is. I can also cast my mind back to my childhood Home and think about another place where I felt safe and loved, my teenage self hunched over my desk, or further back still to when I was a child, sick in bed, and waiting for my father to tiptoe in and check on me.
But above all, Home for me is the place I like to be best--just as it always has been. It holds everything I love, plain and simple; it's my beginning and my end.
How about you? What does Home mean for you? What do you hope to pass on to your own children about the meaning of Home?