Perfect house, perfect life?
Moving up the property ladder, they discovered their mental baggage came with them.
"I want the perfect life, not the perfect house," my husband Larry said, mere months after we moved into the 100-year-old Victorian that we spent two years and every cent we had transforming from 1970s dingy to 2000s crisp. "Let's sell the house before the market gets worse, take the money and be whole again," he said. Who could have imagined that this house – stripped to its core and painstakingly rebuilt – would not have made us whole?Skip to next paragraph
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Three years earlier, we lived in what we once considered the perfect house. Located in Chicago's trendiest gentrifying neighborhood, we bought it before we had children and rolled our eyes when friends pointed out its six levels, banisterless stairs, and slate-covered yard. It was too big, but Larry had felt claustrophobic in the two-bedroom house we were living in at the time just around the corner. "If I can't move to the mountains or ocean, I need more space," he said with such conviction it seemed a matter of move or die.
"When you move, you move with you," I said, worried that a new house wouldn't cure what was ailing him. He didn't listen and I suppressed my cautious nature. Suddenly, we were living in the "too tall, too expensive" house in the very neighborhood where prostitutes used to walk by and wave but now strollers and suits rushed past. The naysayers, once fearful of our "sketchy" side of town, had nothing left but praise for our pioneering foresight. I didn't feel like a pioneer. I felt nauseous from the huge mortgage and the realization that we (the same old Larry along with me, his reluctant accomplice) had indeed accompanied us from the small to the tall house.
After years of decisionmaking, followed by years of trying, we had twin girls. The tall house was no longer perfect. The babies' room was two levels above ours, the kitchen three down from theirs. Attempting to rid himself of the claustrophobia that refused to be left behind, Larry trained for a marathon only to prematurely destroy his hip. There were now too many stairs for both him and the toddlers. Even the neighborhood had lost its sparkle – an abundance of chic cafes and boutiques, not one quality school or inviting playground.
Larry left his job and got a new hip. In search of the ideal life, we escaped the frozen tundra that is Chicago in January for a sabbatical in Santa Barbara, Calif. The girls played on deserted beaches while we fantasized about living surrounded by the mountains and ocean if only we could find the perfect house. We rented a hilltop cottage with an improbable view, frogs that croaked all night, and a landlord who drifted aimlessly in and out of the surreal scene. We brought few possessions but didn't need much in a land where a wardrobe of coats wasn't required and where everyone, even the homeless, appeared content.