Daughters of the Dirt / Sarah Higdon

a grown-up fairy tale

by Wendi Aarons

We bought our first house six years ago; pre-kid. And for the first two years we lived in it, things were very, very calm. Quiet. Serene, really. Nobody was home much, things worked the way they were supposed to work and the house was even treated to frequent cleanings and fresh paint jobs. In the house’s mind (which is located by the water heater), these were the salad days. There was nothing for it to do but just relax and sink into middle-age. Then Sam and Jack came along.

Suddenly the walls were under attack, the carpet was fighting to stay its original color and the hardwood floors were so wet they thought they were back in the Oregon rainforest. Now the house found itself always occupied, always used, and constantly, constantly noisy. Screams, cries and giggles filled its rooms, even in the dead of night. Toys beeped their way into previously unexplored corners. Every window had tiny finger smudges and every toilet was perplexed by their sudden new importance. (“A ‘potty success chart’ in my honor? Really?”) The house became upset and angry. It felt betrayed by its owners. Why did they have to bring in these little intruders? The house didn’t want them. And, after all, it was there first. So the house decided to fight back.

Floors suspiciously became uneven under a brand-new walker’s feet. Doors screeched to pinch chubby little fingers. Closets that once seemed roomy now seemed packed. Even the walls got into the act and invited scary shadows to flicker Midnight Monster shows so terrifying, they propelled Sam out of his bed and into ours. Sure, you can live here, the house seemed to say, but I’m not going to make it easy on you. In the end, the house proved a worthy opponent against the two little boys. So worthy, in fact, we started to think maybe it was too old, too unreliable, too small. So we sold it.

We moved with Sam and Jack into a trophy-wife of a house. It was new, bigger. The walls were pristine, the carpets spotless and even the shadows on Sam’s wall seemed more friendly. Admittedly, it was a little weird to be in a house that had no history and no memories. If our other house was a cranky middle-ager, this house was a week-old puppy. The big backyard beckoned for play. The sunny, bright playroom yearned to be filled with loud, obnoxious toys. It was all a blank canvas just waiting to be introduced to Crayola and Pepperidge Farm. We were nothing if not its perfect match.

And our old house? It finally got what it wanted. A crumb-free existence. A life of peace and quiet and emptiness. Nobody slammed its cabinets or spilled juice on its tiles. No “Dora the Explorer” blared from the TV. Nobody sat sulking in its laundry room “until he’s ready to be a good boy.” Once again, the house could just sit and think and look at the trees and the grass and settle.

And the house was never more miserable.

Then one day, a moving truck pulled up to the house. A young couple moved in with their stain-free furniture, delicate artwork and cat. The house stood up straight, gave its shingles a shake and tried for a welcoming smile. Then it looked for the kids. Listened for their tiny, wonderful voices. Waited to feel their sticky fingers exploring its walls. Strangely enough, it didn’t find any. Stranger still, even though it was occupied again, the house still felt empty. And then, in the house’s mind (which is located by the water heater), an idea formed. With all its might, the house gave a small shake (“Just the house, settling, Dear”) and knocked a forgotten baby toy out of a cabinet to land at the couple’s feet. They smiled, looked at each other and said, “Must be a sign.” The house creaked in contentment. Hi, it said to them. I’m your house. Live in me.
Wendi Aarons lives in her new Austin house with her husband Chris and sons Sam and Jack. She is a former copywriter who also spent many years toiling in the film industry in Los Angeles. She has recently written for Parentwise: Austin and Esther's Follies. She does not plan to move again unless it's by court order.