Our house towers on the corner of a street lined with yew pines, perfectly trimmed hedges, and modest bungalows, just two blocks from Marine Street Beach. Its oak beams soar to the sky and jut out horizontally like branches of a mature redwood in Muir Woods. Its sides are lined with glass, thick enough to withstand an earthquake, angry fists, or carelessly tossed frisbees.
Some might call it a glass house, an encasing for something precious. It is as exposed as the primate exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, yet as protective as the Popemobile. It’s imposing enough to draw the attention of random passersby, and gracious enough to elicit their praise.
To enter, you walk up four cement steps book-ended with miniature pumpkins, past the red-hued garden rose, toward the imposing glass wall, and push past the heavy wood-framed glass door now decorated with gooey spooky ghosts, purple and orange pumpkins, bats, goblins, and tombstones, all pasted haphazardly and reliably asymmetrically, all at eye-level with your crotch. As the door swings, it jams abruptly, jarred by a small green translucent superball left forgotten at the perfect spot to trip an unsuspecting guest, and you are forced to sidestep the tiny green specks that appear to sprout out of the wood floor.
When you walk in, you are intrigued to see in the center of the living room a cylinder staircase the size of a trunk of a giant sequoia, rising from floor to ceiling, not unlike the winding spiral of the Guggenheim Museum.
To the right, you see a pair of brown velvet chairs, angled just so as to invite intimate conversation without kissing knees. They flank a stand of flowering orchids, as if beckoning a queen or at least a special guest to grace its seats for a photo op. Instead of a royal romp, it currently hosts a reclining Darth Vader draped in a flowing black cape with his arm, mid-air, brandishing a florescent red lightsaber. With him, a Minnie Mouse plastic tote bag overflowing with Duplo Legos on a field of spit balls yet to be soaked in spit.
You follow the trail of crusted dribbles of milk and streaks of mud, past a grove of Fisher-Price Little People, each figure seated on a chair in a perfect circle, as if gathered for an annual summit, to the plush rug in the center of the grand room. There, you find a toddler’s table, surrounded by three chairs in primary colors, two standing, one fallen. The table is more covered than not, by a singing Cinderella there, a dancing Belle here, a leaping Luke Skywalker, and an exploding droid ship. A crust of Crayola Air-dry clay adds unexpected texture to the table's surface, and drying glitter glue, unexpected dazzle.
Under the table lies an unruly collection of construction paper, like a pile of raked leaves, some tossed after one or two mis-spelled words, others filled with a chaos of colors, all works in progress. All are invariably wrinkled or grease-stained, and many discolored with age and torn at the edges, as if they have been tossed from here to there, never to find a permanent home, yet too precious to be discarded.
Like fallen foliage, plastic plates and teacups, half-torn workbooks and board books, crayons and markers, tiaras and hair-clips, pieces of corn flakes, and missing puzzle pieces clutter the rug. Along the wall sits a child’s kitchenette fitted with a refrigerator, a microwave oven, a stovetop, all of its doors ajar and exposing a coffee maker, a blender jammed with waffles and sausage, and baskets filled with enough plastic food to last you a winter.
Around the room, princesses lie about, like damsels in distress, waiting to be rescued by either a prince or a fickle toddler. A plush Snow White left behind on the rocking horse, an Elsa doll with her tiara fitted askew on top of the toddler piano, a red-headed fair mermaid wedged behind the drum set. While heroes are aplenty, they have all been corralled by the five-year old for the great battle brewing in his bedroom.
The discriminating eyes might spot the row of cookbooks and novels tucked behind glass cabinets in the far corner, secured with child-proof latches, and the delicate hand blown glass ornaments perched behind the display of Lego Star Wars vehicles on the uppermost shelf. Portraits line the walls, all evenly spaced, one of a wedding, many of the children at various ages. Here and there, post-its of various sizes, colors, and orientation, scribbled with indecipherable messages, speckle the wall.
Sometimes, on days when the chaos feels insurmountable, I think about the 900 square foot one-bedroom apartment I used to lease just a block away from the San Francisco Bay in my late 20s. There, my row of orchids lined symmetrically along my window sill, my column of New Yorkers perched on my night table, and my collection of literature sat undisturbed until I reached for one. My floors stayed clean, my counters free of clutter, my refrigerator never over-stuffed. I miss my chaise lounge where I spent many evenings, uninterrupted, with nothing other than a book and a cup of tea.
But I am reminded that it is in my current house where I hear the crunch, crunch of my daughter as she nibbles on her Persian cucumbers, where I wash the dirt out of the crevices of little toes at the end of the day, where my children, my husband, and I rest and sleep to ready ourselves for another morning. It is in this house where my two year-old learns to say please and thank you and to make bubbles with her hands before running them under the water.
It was in this house where my then four-year-old son scrutinized his sister for a long time as she sat on the potty before straightening up to ask, “Mom, why is her butt in the front?” This same child startled us months later by asking why everyone has to die . . . because he doesn’t want to die. As he cried, we held him and comforted him the best we could.
In this house, we don’t pray, but we hug. Yet, despite the imperfect balance between chaos and order in this house, I cling to some undefined faith that here, we’ve found a haven from the harshness that nature can be, while abundantly reaping its fruit.