If home means people, then what happens when children grow up and move out? This is a question Fiona Lloyd poses movingly – a question that hits me square between the eyes as I try to stay present in the moments of our lives, with our kids still at home. I read Fiona’s blog and jump ahead a few years in my mind, hopeful and determined to not miss the fleeting moments. Her post is not just for parents, of course. It’s for anyone who wants to consider what home is right here, right now.
Someone pointed out yesterday that it’s just over five months to Christmas. I reckon that gives me a good four-and-a-half months until I need to start thinking about it…but it’s a good excuse to show a picture of one of my favourite presents, anyway.
When our children were small, we had a delightful elderly lady in our church who used to come and spend Christmas Day with us. Her name was Dorothy, and she came every year for about 10 years. For Dorothy, the highlight of her Christmas was watching the children opening their presents: I suspect she was often even more giddy than they were. So every year, my husband would pick Dorothy up at eight in the morning and bring her back to our house in time for the grand opening ceremony.
To prevent the children from exploding with excitement while they waited, we got into the habit of giving each of them a stocking full of small goodies to be opened in our bedroom at some unearthly hour on Christmas morning. (Eventually we trained them to bring us a cup of tea first.) Then one year, they bounced in not only with their own stockings, but with an extra one they’d made especially for us, complete with chocolates and the present shown on the left. It’s one of my most precious Christmas memories; not just because of the gift, but because of the love (and the plotting and planning) that went into it.
When I think of home, my mind automatically drifts to incidents such as these: times when we celebrated being family together, with nothing else to distract us. These are my warm fuzzy moments, the ones that generate a sense of security and well-being, and make me feel I belong. In the idealised, rose-tinted world portrayed by the media, home consists of cosy family gatherings, preferably in a pristine house with perfectly coordinated soft furnishings.
The difficulty with real life is that it moves on. My children have grown up, almost without my noticing. As I write, my youngest is travelling round Europe with her friends, while her sister is packing up ahead of a two-month trip to Australia. My son and his wife are happily settled in another city, a good hour’s drive from where we live. They’re all busy building their own lives – which is as it should be – but it’s left me wondering what home means. If I cling to distant memories and expectations that are now well past their sell-by-date, I’ll end up disappointed and isolated. I’m someone who prefers certainty and structure in my world, and yet I’m realising that my definition of home has to be flexible in order to survive.
I’m fiercely proud of my Yorkshire roots. I’m also fortunate enough to live in a comfortable house which is conveniently situated on the edge of a large city, yet only 20 minutes away from idyllic scenery. For me, however, home is no longer simply a matter of geography. As I get older, I’m discovering that home is less and less about the externals and much more about how I am inside. The places where I’m most at home are those where I feel accepted for who I am, and where I don’t have to earn approval by pretending to be a different – and somewhat sanitised – version of myself.
I find I am settled and at peace with those who take time to show an interest in how I really am, and who offer me words of affirmation and appreciation. I think of family friends in Whitby who are always willing to extend their dining table to seat an extra couple of visitors, or Scargill House, where there’s a seemingly infinite supply of coffee and friendly greetings.
This realisation has also liberated my attempts to reach out to other people. Rather than worrying about the depth of the dust on my mantelpiece or panicking about whether my cooking skills are up to scratch, I can help others to feel at ease by offering words of encouragement and welcome. For me, home is not about a specific location, or even spending time with a particular group of people: it’s about being affirmed for who I am, and learning to extend that same sense of affirmation to those around me.
Fiona Lloyd lives in Leeds with her husband, where she pretends not to mind that her three children have grown up and are moving on. She spends her working days teaching violin in local schools, and her spare time doing as much writing as she can get away with. She worships at her local Baptist church, and is a member of the worship-leading team. Fiona blogs at fjlloyd.wordpress.com, and you can find her on Twitter at @FionaJLloyd. She is vice-chair of the Association of Christian Writers.