If you know me and my family personally, you might wonder what ever became of our dream to buy land and build a home. A place where we would live closer to the earth and closer to each other but not closer to pristine lawns, crowded driveways, and restrictive HOA requirements. Because of a funny series of events, I named that dream Emily.
Which makes sense because my husband and I knew the name and gender of our first three children before each one was ever conceived. That knowledge was just there. Baby four had always been such a “maybe” that, apparently, he felt the need to keep us guessing the entire way through as to whether he would ever even join our family.
Back to Emily (and I think I’m the only one who has personified our dream and given her a name). She nudged us as a tiny idea when our first baby was six months old, so that was 2009. We revisited the idea seriously two moves and a different state later in 2015 when we had three kids. That’s when I drew out a couple of (horrendously unskilled) sketches during a church meeting in the autumn of that year.
The links I provided earlier take you to posts that reference this dream. It seemed impossible to me back then. My parents’ experience when they built a home had been rather stressful, and they cautioned me every which way when I would show them my sketches or describe land we were looking at.
My husband had seen his parents build modest homes twice. The experience, as he recalled, had been rather straightforward. It hadn’t occurred to me that a custom build might be very different from a build in a suburban development where they don’t really want your input on how to improve their cookie cutter house plan.
In May of 2018 we had reached a point where we either needed to let go of the dream (by going rural with a capital R or by succumbing to HOA fever), or we would need to cast a wider net. Finding land in Northern Colorado where I had grown up, in or near a large town, and outside the reach of a (demonic) HOA proved ever more illusory.
While pursuing this dream, I had simultaneously been detaching myself from the nightmare of self-doubt. My husband, who had been helping me along both journeys, decided to risk my sanity and began looking at land in the Pacific Northwest, where he had grown up.
My relationship with that area back then was about as great as my relationship with myself: “You’re so beautiful and full of promise, but you’re so often gloomy and forlorn that I can’t imagine why anyone would want to spend their life with you.”
Then like a potential parent who had gone back and forth in their mind but just hadn’t quite decided they’re ready to take the leap, I threw my arms around my husband one night and said, “I’m ready! Let’s do this.” And that’s when I began living a new version of insanity.
So. Trying to keep it short. We moved seven weeks later to the Pacific Northwest. We considered a few options for where to look: closer to the coast where land cost less but good weather and civilization were in short supply; right near my in-laws in a suitable home where we could borrow their land for all our small-farm purposes; or a place we loved and could call all our own.
We exhausted the first two options. The path of most resistance would become our constant companion.
A friend of mine, who had followed a similar trajectory, compared the land search to dating, so I adopted her language and found it most useful.
When we put on offer on land, it was like we had proposed marriage. We almost proposed to one parcel that was just awful because at least it was bordering the community we had fallen in love with in our dating period. It was kind of like wanting to marry someone just because your parents already liked them. Not a very great reason.
That’s when we met our builder. Someone my husband knew through his parents, so he had made the initial call. And because my self-doubt had increased exponentially with our move, I relegated myself to childcare provider whenever the builder and my husband were talking. It had been my dream, but now I couldn’t see my way into carrying that weight.
I stayed aloof enough that I only shed a couple tears over the engagement that fell through in October 2018. It had been even closer to our beloved town but seriously, it was all wrong for us. Thank goodness we had an out because of the horrible water quality. It was like finding out your fiance was so broken that you would spend the rest of your life being drained by them. Better out than in, I always say, before tying that kind of a knot.
But at least the possibility of finding our land soulmate had bolstered our confidence that the right house plan was out there somewhere. I guess that’s like searching baby name books before you’re even dating someone. I never did that.
OK, so I did do that, but so what? Don’t most ambitious depressives do weird things like that?
Anyway, I found that millions of wrong plans exist and that looking at “just one more” began to feel addictive. We did eventually find the plan closest to our ideal house and began making some changes to it so that it was semi-custom. It would have been nice to just search for a house plan called “Emily” and have it jump out our screen at us, but the hunt isn’t always that easy.
Around that time, our builder invited us to his daughter’s wedding reception at their home so that we could see his work. When I thought of a backyard reception, for some reason that also meant we could wear less formal attire than for an indoors gathering. We crashed that wedding party looking like we’d dropped in after a day garage-saling. I think we gave them a card with “Happy 7th Birthday!” scratched out…
However, and this is the part I treasure, it turns out this daughter was named Emily. I’m not a sign seeker, but at this point in the whole process, I could sure use a sign that we were on the right track. This one took the cake (as did my children, who couldn’t keep their grubby fingers off the dessert table before the cake was cut–we really were those people).
Tearing myself away from a wedding. Back to the dating scene.
While looking at some land one day in a tiny hamlet, which bordered our intended town and would require climbing gear to safely navigate it, the selling realtor said, “Wait, you want to build in that town?! Well I have land for sale there!”
We decided to ignore the price and, because it was Saturday, I needed to be on the phone for a while anyway (the Health Department wanted to figure out how our toddler had gotten E. coli), and we liked tromping around on land that wasn’t ours, we went for a little look-see.
“Love at first sight” and “way out of our league” pretty much covered it. No detail escaped us. The home site, the options for animals, orchards, gardens, workshops, recreation areas, and a hill for sledding (this location occasionally gets snow) traced themselves into tidy realities all around us. And did I mention a view and foliage only rivaled by the fanciful domains of mythical creatures? My kind of place.
And the smell of decaying leaves in the autumn! Talk about nostalgic. I had spent that exact time of year raking leaves with my grandfather thirty four years earlier when my family lived with my mom’s parents for a few weeks while between homes.
They had lived “in town,” but they had trees with rope swings; a huge garden and a compost pile; a workshop that, as far as I could tell, existed only for the delectable scent of engine grease; an open lawn for volleyball; a view that set your heart racing; a semi-dangerous canal; and the sound of livestock right down the road. In other words, heaven.
All of that in one scent. Oh, and throw in the smell of a wood-burning stove. You also wouldn’t go amiss with a giant utility sink welcoming us back from our muddy adventures. Those were days when self-doubt had not yet reached me. A place to explore and wonder. My own Garden of Eden.
Hmm…it wasn’t until I began writing that last section that I realized what a role my early years had played in this whole “perfect land” image. Blogging as free therapy. Gotta love it.
Back to the land at hand [“She’s rhyming again. Please, oh please, don’t let her write another one of those confusing poems”].
Then we went and looked at the parcel of land in this little development that was only a little outside of our budget.
Rocky, flat, barren, no shade, no leaves to trample. The perfect site for a warehouse at best. We tried to talk ourselves into it. This land was the one with no personality but was at least a sure bet for staying committed. Or getting you committed out of sheer boredom.
Over the next week or two, after notifying dozens of people that we may have exposed them to E. coli, we readied ourselves for Thanksgiving because what’s a little Salmonella among family? (go to 6:40). Torrential rains had arrived. Our builder met my husband in a downpour to look at the two sites and said, “You want that first plot. If I were building my own house, I would buy that. If you think you can’t afford it, consider that getting the other land [our broken engagement] to a point that you could build on it would have made it the same price while still being all wrong for you.”
At least that’s what I think he said because I got the report from my husband. I had counted myself out from the discussion because I was merely the person who stayed home with kids (and out of the rain). This way I also couldn’t feel foolish again when the land didn’t work out (remember I went through the embarrassment of a broken engagement or two–I seem to jump in feet first without checking my depth, which, interestingly, is also how I broke my foot at age 22, my only broken bone so far).
[Sorry for the tangents. Can you tell I haven’t been getting enough sleep?]
My father always gave the advice of “long courtship, short engagement.” My husband and I knew within two weeks of meeting that we would get married. For logistical reasons, like he was in army training on the other side of the country, we were engaged for six months before we got married.
Apparently the same pattern would attend our marriage to land. We proposed within two weeks of meeting it, and then spent exactly one year trying to get it to walk down the aisle with us. Our betrothed just had all these loose ends to tie up. We couldn’t proceed with the formalities until the land’s father (the bank) and mother (the county) were satisfied. Would we ever get their blessing?
At one point, seven months in and unknown to our builder, we began dating again. But this time not with land. Just a house. Any house. Something to give us a hint of excitement again. But they all reminded us of the house we wanted to build. We ended the fling before it got too serious.
Finally, exactly one year to the day, we closed on our land purchase. At last, we were married.
And then the baby hunger really set in. But dang it if those parents weren’t still interfering and placing unreasonable demands on us. It felt like an eternity, but eventually we got along well enough with the parents to consider bringing a baby into the family.
I can’t even remember when we broke ground. December? January? Because that’s when I stopped wanting to write about it. I had always wanted to keep a blog about our adventure. Now I just couldn’t.
Maybe that interest had dried up from wasting so many tears over the hardship of changing my life circumstances so dramatically. Maybe we were just plain too busy. I’ve even told myself it’s because I don’t want to look like I’m bragging or completely out of touch with reality by celebrating anything so non-vital to our world’s welfare right now.
But I realized the other day that sometimes when a much hoped for baby is at last conceived, that time of development becomes precious. They are no one else’s baby yet. They are still an unknown to the world while being completely real to the parents. Their existence is sacred, and maybe it just feels cheapened to have the whole world following your baby’s every sign of progress.
And perhaps because I have been through four literal pregnancies, I knew how fleeting this time would be. And so we kept it mostly to ourselves.
As time went on, and I saw things happening, I still oftentimes felt like I was on the outside looking in. My husband got into woodworking last summer, and just like that, he could build cabinets for our home and save us thousands of dollars. I thought more and more of how my husband was breaking his back for this dream home, and I was just trying to not break our budget with all the tedious choices for fixtures and finishes and all that. Not even stuff I was all that interested in. Just the fru-frus.
I wanted to be part of this baby’s development in a tangible way. I resented how much my husband could contribute while I just tended to purchases and housekeeping. I made the food. I ran the laundry. I kept the kids alive. I gave my opinions on things. I felt included but not necessary.
I had a few meltdowns over it. My most recent was last week. And then it just dawned on me a couple days ago: this whole experience might very well be what it’s like for a future father to watch his wife carry their baby.
Yes, he provided a necessary ingredient, and yes, he can offer support and love and gratitude all along the way, but he cannot truly cause that baby to grow. It is both the mother’s privilege and her burden to carry the baby.
I used to worry about my husband and how he was managing all the demands this home build was placing on him. He was working full-time to support our family and our dream. His down time was spent on building cabinets. In fact, just one day into the COVID shutdown, he and I spent a night in the emergency room when cabinet building led to a smashed finger. I wished I could just cut boards and build things for him while he healed, but my attention span is so scary short that trying to use a table saw would result in fingers that were also scary short.
All I could do was be there with him. Like he was there with me in the emergency room when my body tried to cut my last pregnancy short. I could feel at once helpless to change anything and capable because I could ease his burdens in other ways.
Some burdens are shared differently even though we shoulder them together. Now when my husband eats his giant bowl of Cheez-Its with a tall glass of milk, I think how cute it is that he still has cravings in his ninth month. I no longer worry that his lack of exercise (due to the shutdown and the cabinetry) has led to a middle-aged middle. I mean, who doesn’t put on weight with pregnancy?
And now that he’s feeling the crunch of so many projects he wants to finish before we move in and he begins the work of really living the dream, I remember how I felt in that last stretch(mark) when I knew that my life was about to forever change. It’s just a sign that this new life really will emerge soon.
So hang in there, folks. This baby is nearly here!