For the past two years, I've been harping about needing more space. We live in a two bedroom, one bath house generously estimated to be 1300 square feet by a tape ruler happy appraiser. It may not be tiny by San Francisco standards where people share stories about receding into the bathroom for quiet time, and it didn't feel that way when I bought it as a single woman in 2005. It has a decent sized living room/dining room/kitchen area, and I used to love cramming my friends around the kitchen island to ooh and aah over whatever concoctions I had prepared for them. In the winters, I dragged in boxes of firelog from Safeway and lit up my fireplace, the way any reasonable person would in 40 degree weather. (California has made me soft, if not environmentally conscientious.) When Jeff moved in with some of his stuff and Sherlock in late 2006, it felt manageable still. He just had to pack away most of his tools and furniture in the storage unit in the South Bay and make himself comfortable on my chaise lounge. And for the past couple of years, it seemed there was enough room for my orchids, Sherlock's Kirkland pads, and Jeff's over-sized speakers, even if we had to shut the door to the clutter-filled second bedroom when our friends came to visit.
It was only when we started planning to have a baby that I became obsessed with the idea of a larger house. Suddenly, the place started feeling claustrophobic. There was no room for everything. Everything meaning the baby's crib, changing pad, play area, the baby's clothes and toys, my clothes, my books, my plants, Jeff's gadgets, Jeff's bikes, and Sherlock. And then when I started preparing for my parents who were planning to stay with us after the baby's birth, I became adamant that we had to move. Immediately.
My urge to move verged on hysteria. My constant refrain became, "We have to move. No, really, we have to move." It drove me to tears at times, this sense of desperation. I wanted a proper nursery for our soon arriving baby, with stickers of jungle animals on the walls, his mini trousers and sweaters hanging on mini hangers, his cardboard books arranged alphabetically on a decorative bookshelf, and his toys in color coordinated bins. But in addition to what I wanted for the little guy, I wanted the rest of my house in order with my furniture arranged just so and my clothes and books placed according to their categories. I wanted a picture perfect house, perfect enough for the perfect baby we were going to be welcoming. And I envisioned us in it, all of us, me, Jeff, our baby, Sherlock, and my parents, sitting around comfortably around plates of symmetrically cut fruit, not crowding each other out, getting along perfectly.
Throughout my pregnancies, including those two that ended in miscarriages and the latest, we spent much of our downtime looking for a new house. We went out every weekend to look at open houses, driving up and down the hills of San Francisco, popping out of the car and into the houses, and popping back into the car with glossy fliers in hand. During the weekdays, we were constantly surfing redfin and other real estate sites, lusting after photos of houses that seemed palatial compared to ours. The housing market was on the decline, we constantly heard, and we waited eagerly to see listing prices drop.
And a few did, but not enough. We couldn't justify paying $900 a square foot, no matter how beautiful, how expansive the view, especially when we kept anticipating the prices to drop. We may be many things, but we're not suckers, we told ourselves. We made a couple of low ball offers but they didn't stick. So we kept looking and looking as I got bigger and bigger. And then the baby popped out.
My parents were scheduled to arrive the day before I was to be induced. Jeff dragged up his old futon from the storage unit and set it up in the second bedroom. We put the baby's crib in our bedroom and made plans to move it after my parents went back to New York. We asked a friend to help us move the wardrobe into the garage. I removed most of my clothes from the second closet to make room for the baby's things and folded them into plastic bins. I boxed away most of my books, read or unread.
When my parents arrived, they kept banging their legs against the futon frame in the small bedroom. When we re-arranged the room to minimize the bruises, my dad had to get in bed before my mom did and could not get out without consulting her. When we sat in the living room, we sometimes had to pull one of the dining chairs over to the couch so that we could all have a place to sit. Sometimes, my dad just sat at the dining room table while Jeff, my mom, and I fussed over the baby. We all bumped into Sherlock when he was scavenging in the kitchen. When my parents announced that they would return to New York earlier than they had planned, I cried. I thought they were uncomfortable in our little house.
Almost two years after we started looking, we are still looking for a new house. And during these past two years, we've been living in a state of impending relocation. It took more than a month for me to decide to put the stickers of the jungle animals on the walls of T's room because I wanted to save them for the new house. Then there is the garden that's been overtaken by weeds that we plan to clean up right before we move. And the list of things to repair around the house. Just easier to address them at once after we move out, right? The last straw was the painting dangling less than three feet off the floor that Jeff hung on a pre-existing nail. Just needed to put it somewhere for now, he said. I'm sure Sherlock appreciates the view.
The other day, I realized that our search for a new house has become a metaphor for my life. Me, looking for a space to fit everything in, a house large enough for all of us: me, Jeff, our baby, and my parents. Me trying to find a space where I can be a wife, mother, and daughter at once and a Korean and an American simultaneously. Trying to find a place where I can feel settled, with all my things in their place.
For me, becoming a mother has been a process of unsettling. Starting with the upheaval of the mundane: clearing out the closets, packing up my books, re-arranging the furniture, undoing life as we were living it to make room for the little guy. Then there is the re-structuring of our time -- compressing all of the daily tasks that used to occupy our days into a two-hour window while he naps and devoting the rest of our time to tend to his needs. More importantly, though, becoming a mother has forced me to identify and re-examine the values and priorities that I thought I had in place. It makes me see everything in a new light: families, relationships, frailty. All of life's sediments kicked up into the air.
Maybe I just need more space to re-group myself.
I don't know what it is about becoming a mother that makes your home singularly important. I am that bird fluttering about, looking for perfectly sized twigs for the perfectly sized nest.