Essay: Looking Back Home

Words by Sloane Citron

Words by Sloane Citron

Recently I was given a job that I did not relish, a challenging one if you are sentimental and nostalgic like me. While such traits yield a certain warmth and retrospect, they make looking forward somewhat arduous.

We are, apparently, since I was not made part of the process, going to remodel our home. We built our house in 1996, raised four children there, harbored four dogs and a multitude of pets, hosted several adult children and their spouses, and now have seven grandchildren bouncing off of anything that can be bounced off of. The home shows the patina of one well-lived-in. Since the marks, gouges and damaged windowpanes (think BB guns, golf balls and rocket projectiles) remind me of the happy times when my children lived here, I’m content with how things are. Change has always been anathema to me.

Our four children, two boys and two girls, occupied three bedrooms growing up. It would have been four bedrooms, since we were designing the home, but our oldest son Josh, to his everlasting credit, wanted to continue to share a bedroom with his little brother, Coby, despite his seven-year seniority. The girls were excited to not share a bedroom.

Although the three older children are now married with their own homes and children, and our youngest owns his own home in Tel Aviv, their rooms look every bit like they have gone away for a weekend. There are posters on the walls, dresser tops lined with trophies and toys and closets filled with their possessions.

But now it was my responsibility, somehow, to empty out the rooms, eliminating, if you will, the physical memories of the short years which constituted that wonderful time in my life when I had my whole family in the loving embrace of these walls and roofs and safety.

My kids have done little to help me in this chore. I would have liked them to figure out what they wanted to keep, what was memorable, so that I would not make any mistakes. When my own father cleared my room when I went off to prep school, he threw out all my yearbooks and other cherished goods. The trauma of that still haunts me and I don’t want to revisit that on my own children.

But they have given me little choice. I know they are all terribly busy with careers and their own responsibilities and have little extra time in their weeks. Somehow, I think they trust me, since they know with my nature I would err on the side of caution and not randomly discard their childhood treasures.

I tackled Ari’s room first, pulling everything out of the closet, from under the bed, inside the drawers and in an armoire. My daughter has always been better at acquiring things than getting rid of them. Squirreling goods away at her childhood home was a safe middle ground. After a couple of hours, I had things narrowed down, though I must admit there were some items that I had no idea what to do with, such as my mother’s fur coat that she had given to Ari 20 years ago.

Next, I went after Tali’s room (now claimed by her daughter, Liav, when she sleeps over) and had an easier time of it. I had given her fair warning that I was going to give away everything in her closet since the last time she had looked in there was prior to her giving birth to three children. Since she and her husband Sam have been together since they were 16 years old, it was fun finding the keepsakes of their relationship from Menlo-Atherton High School through Stanford and UC Berkeley.

Finally, the boy’s room, the real tearjerker for me since so much of myself was wrapped up in it. There were small baseball bats from their first Giants games, a signed Steve Young poster on the wall, a little basketball hoop and ball from when we played countless hours at night. You get the idea.
After I had completed the task of clearing out the kids’ rooms, I carefully placed all their belongings in plastic containers from Target. Since Coby is fully ensconced in his home in Israel, I’m going to take his belongings with me on my next trip.

With our dog, Chase, recently passed and now the emptying of these rooms, I guess I must face the reality that the beautiful life I had raising these kids in this home is over, nothing but memories left. For many, it is a wonderful fresh beginning, but for some of us, it is a tearful goodbye. But I’m lucky. My grandkids are plenty destructive and I’m sure in no time there will be gouges, marks, perhaps even a broken window or two, creating new memories to cherish in our remodeled home.