coming home: the power of a clean kitchen

This morning I woke up and walked into the kitchen and I found that it was clean. The counters were polished and clear, the dishes put away, the floor swept. I sighed – and a deep, rich contentment washed through me.

It was still dark when I sat down with my tea to ponder this tiny, perfect miracle: this clean kitchen.

These days, I am busy beyond my boundaries – and this is good, really good busyness- the kind people pray will happen – but it leaves little energy for housework. My husband, an artist/inventor/architect, is busier than me – and no more inclined to housekeeping. We keep up, in a loose and general way – and while it’s not scary messy, I always wish it were different. Which is where this story really begins…

You see, our family has lived in this rented house for 15 years; and for all of that time, I’ve been putting off settling in, waiting until we move into a different house – the perfect house in which I always imagined I’d raise my children. For years, I’ve been building that house in my imagination, envisioning upholstery fabric and window treatment; every bright and cheery corner:

  • the breakfast room off the kitchen, flooded with sunlight
  • the airy family room with plump down cushions where we all cuddle in our sweats and pjs, munching healthy treats and watching fabulous films
  • there are two bathrooms stacked with fluffy white towels
  • and a guest bathroom, a jewel box, wallpapered in French Country blue; the sink, sitting atop a grainy brown-green slab of granite, is a beautiful bowl, hand built by my friend Jane Herold,
  • the kitchen, wallpapered in Pierre Deux Soulieado, has white country French cabinetry made by Smallbone with Mackenzie Childs drawer pulls; there’s a Viking range (of course) and Le Creuset cookware; the wooden stools that we pull to the counter are upholstered with a tasteful red and white stripe that coordinates beautifully with the Soulieado.

Of course, my perfect house has gardens – raised beds bursting with organically grown tomatoes; kales, runner beans; in the shade there are iris from my mother’s garden; and, running all the way around the house, my masterpiece, a tangle of perennials, climbing roses, hydrangea, peony.

During all of this time, we have lived in a sweet old farmhouse with a kind and and understanding landlord who has let me paint and wallpaper the kitchen; tear up the floor tile; remove redundant doors between living room and kitchen. She’s let my husband build a home office. Several years ago, she gave me permission to dig up the side yard and put in that vegetable garden.

It’s a beautiful arrangement. The landlord maintains a stable of horses in the vast acreage behind our home; her daughter keeps a summer cottage here.  We cherish the ‘we’re all one big happy family’ feeling – and take care of our own home repairs, replacing rundown appliances, patching the roof.

In a very real way, we have all of the experiences of home ownership without the mortgage (and the investment value). It works for all of us. And yet, this other house visits me – in early mornings, in the shower, as I fall into bed – this dream, this phantom limb of a home calling me. And all the time that we have lived here, I have also lived there.

So anyway…

Yesterday afternoon, I cleaned up the kitchen. Rather than putting off the scrubbing in lieu of a blog post, a column deadline, an urgent email – I put on an apron and started doing the dishes. Midway through, arms up to my elbows in soapy water, I caught myself humming. (I really do like doing dishes, I remembered.) And then my son came home from work and I pointed him toward the skillet he’d used to make paella the night before.  As he took up the sponge; I pulled out the vacuum.

About an hour later, after the polishing and putting away was done, my son and I were driving to a family gathering in Long Island when he said, “Let’s do that all the time. Let’s live in the house as if we like living there.”

And I felt something shift inside of me. Something big and deep and wide.

As if we liked living there. Our children have a way of reading straight through our posturing and excuses; a way of seeing to the bottom of the wishing well.

Which is how I found myself sitting, at sunrise, at the polished kitchen counter with my morning tea, contemplating a little miracle. And that’s when that other house quietly, simply, easily slipped across the boundary between someday and today and shifted right into now. This is my home, I realized. Here, where my family gathers, retreats, visits, rests. This is my slice of the world – right here in this kitchen. 

It’s perfect.

I flashed back to a moment, a few months ago, when I was sitting beside my mother in a darkened theater watching “The Descendants.” In the film, a family was deciding what to do with a sacred land trust; at the same time, a mother was dying. People were saying goodbye; people were negotiating real estate deals. People were losing everything. People were about to become very wealthy. I was crying a lot. My mother, sitting beside me, kept looking at me. I was holding, on and off, her hand.

Today, I suddenly got it. I saw why that film got to me with its message of “cherish what you have today”. I saw how, with a simple act of devotion to this kitchen, a bit of scrubbing and a pot of white tulips, I had  finally honored the place that has honored and nurtured and held my family for 15 years. This home.

Today, I came into present time and accepted things as they are. I am already home.

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