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SMITH: Keeping your house a home during quarantine

When I was a teenager, my parents had a beautiful piece of land that adjoined theirs, dissected by a valley lush with trees.

To get from one to the other, you had to battle the blackberry bushes and cross the creek, fingers crossed it hadn’t rained too much to leave it impassable.

I would make a peanut butter sandwich, and hike over, spending the afternoon on a quilt in the sun, reading and dreaming.

One day, as I looked out over the valley, I saw a vision of a happy home on that hill.

I took out my sketchbook and drew the layout of that house, rooms that flowed seamlessly into one another, large spaces with a lot of natural light.

I am currently sitting in the exact spot where I made that sketch, in a house that looks almost identical to that layout (I say almost, because our architect insisted on a few more load-bearing walls, my teenage grasp of construction being more romantic than practical).

It’s not a house, but a home.

I have long joked that between Amazon Prime and Kroger Click-list delivery, my perfect dream of never leaving Quisenberry Lane was ever-becoming a reality.

As the wise ones teach, be careful what you wish for.

This home is no longer simply my refuge. It’s also a school, a restaurant, a gym, an office, a library, a zoo, a movie theater, a concert venue, a park and the bar where everybody knows your name.

The open space that used to be a kitchen and living room is now also Izzie’s office, my writing space and David’s reading and heavy metal listening nook.

We practice social distancing, but even six feet apart feels occasionally stifling.

Further, this multifunctional space appears to have been decorated by a psychotic interior designer whose main theme is “piles.”

We trip over each other, over piles of books, dog toys, yoga props, discarded clothes and shoes. Life is a never-ending game of existential Jenga.

This house has always done well to contract and expand to fit whatever new life rhythms arise, but now we’re experiencing some growing pains.

My Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired open floor plan suddenly feels suffocating.

We’re alone, together, all the time. We’re asking too much of the space.

So I sketched and dreamed and planned. What would the new normal of our home look like?

We all need our own space to work, so I got online and found the sweetest little writing desk and a fur-covered office chair in hot pink. Nestled into the corner of Izzie’s room, it would give her the privacy and space she needed for schoolwork.

I called a family meeting, and we all gathered around the computer.

“Look at this adorable desk and chair!” I crowed, so proud of this parenting win. “Now you’ll have privacy and a space of your own when you work.”

I looked over at Izzie, enormous tears in her eyes that were threatening to fall. Her lip quivered. Her father and I glanced at each other in alarm, mentally communicating. What’s wrong? We waited.

Where my emotions burn hot and fast, my daughter is slow to react and process what she’s feeling. We waited some more, signaling that she was free to speak her mind whenever she was ready.

Finally, the tears spilled over, racing down her cheeks. In the smallest voice imaginable, she whispered, “I don’t want my room to change.”

We waited some more.

“Everything has changed. It’s just,” another long pause. “…….so much change.”

For a mindfulness coach, I can be so dense sometimes.

Because my daughter seemed generally happy, I hadn’t fully acknowledged how challenging quarantine was for her.

Teenagers thrive on social connections, and hers have been severed, her social life redefined, forced to experience her milestones through a tiny screen.

I thought about the trips that were canceled. The teachers she never got to hug goodbye. Her birthday celebrated with only her lame parents as guests.

So much change.

It hadn’t occurred to me that our nearness was her harbor in an uncertain world. She needed our closeness, and she needed to walk into her room and find that everything, at least in that tiny corner of her existence, was comfortingly unchanged.

If me tripping over her books is all she needs to feel sheltered when life seems to be hurtling out of control, then trip I shall.

I took a deep breath and emptied the online cart. “What if,” I ventured, “we buy these cute sheets with avocados on them? If you make your bed, it won’t change the look of the room, but you’ll know there are soft, silky sheets to slide into at the end of the day.”

She smiled and wiped the tears away.

“Perfect,” she answered.

Erin Smith is the owner of the OM place in Winchester, the author of “Sensible Wellness” and the online host of the OM channel.