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Selling the Family House

It’s finally happened. We are selling our house. We moved in 26 years ago, and our oldest son was born a year to the day later (plus an hour and 41 minutes, if you want to get technical). He is 25 now, and his brothers are 22 and 18. My nest is not just empty—it’s on the market.

Once, our carpets were covered with building toys, game pieces, and paint and marker that missed the paper. There were doodles (some in permanent marker) on the walls. I kept a supply of glue sticks, poster board and every color of pencil known to humankind. I filled all available surfaces with photos, and even hung some from the ceiling.

What was I thinking? Maybe that if I kept the stuff of childhood, their childhoods would always stay with me, too?

The plan always was to keep the house until everyone graduated high school. As this year approached with our youngest’s high school graduation, my sons expressed unhappiness.

Eldest made melodramatic statements at holiday time about “the last Christmas at home” when he came from New York, where he’s been living since he graduated college. He got to Depression (the fourth stage of grief) almost instantly, though he did have a decent stay at Anger. Middle, who graduated college last May, was into Bargaining—he wanted us to rent it out and swore he would take care of everything if we’d do that. Youngest, well, he was quickly into Acceptance, since he was off to college this fall. He had to live through the cleaning out and the fixing up, though. We left his room—a visual definition of the word “detritus”—until the very end.

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I spent the better part of four months on cleaning and discarding while painters made the place look like new. I got rid of furniture, sports trophies and childhood artwork saved carefully in portfolios. Never mind that my sons had not played with LEGO or K’NEX in years—I’d kept it anyway. What was I thinking? Maybe that if I kept the stuff of childhood, their childhoods would always stay with me, too?

For each item there was a decision: Trash? Recycle? Give away? Sell? I called Eldest about the 3-foot-tall stuffed Tasmanian Devil he won at the pier when he was 9. Now it’s in a closet at my new home. It turns out he’s even more sentimental than I am.

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The house was emptied, and new purposefully generic furniture was brought in by “stagers.” Weird geometric ottomans in light colors. Pillows everywhere. Brightly colored vases with stems too narrow for any flower. Photographs on the walls that you can buy at any frame shop. White everything—bedspreads, couches, pillows. None of it would have lasted a week in a house with three boys, not to mention the dogs, lizards and the occasionally escaping hamster.

In June, Eldest and Middle came home for Youngest’s high school graduation. Other than the photos I had sent them as I went though and boxed up each room, they hadn’t yet seen the house in its newly minted guise. They each toured the house. And then, separately, they came to me and said, “It’s not our house anymore.” Acceptance. It was exactly what I had felt when the movers carried our stuff out and I headed to my new home.

My sons are lucky. Unlike so many families, we never moved when they were growing up. They’d told me tales from their friends—parents turning a child’s bedroom into an office or (worse) moving to a new city. I dreaded the day I knew would come. I knew they loved the house. Heck, we loved the house too. We still love it. It’s still there, just the way it was, in photos and videos and, most important, memories. And we’re all there together. Toys, books, pets and messes included.

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