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Lives of Doctor Wives: Survivor Saturdays - Housing Now and Then (subtitled: Dream a Little Dream)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Survivor Saturdays - Housing Now and Then (subtitled: Dream a Little Dream)

I’ve hesitated writing on this topic for a while now because it always seems to come out as extremely pretentious and materialistic - and anyone who knows me well knows that those are the two qualities I loathe most. It’s not (I hope) me at all, but after talking it over with my BFF/Survivor Sista, Gretchen (she and I went through the trenches together and came out alive), she agreed that what I have to say is good advice.

OK, here goes. Let’s talk housing, girls. Specifically, how crummy it can be when you’re in training, but how it is OK to dream and plan because you know that it will get better in a few (long) years. If you’ve been keeping up with Melisa, you know just how crummy it can be.

My experience wasn’t quite as bad as Melisa’s. We lived in a tiny condo during med school and internship, and we lived in a relatively nice house – about 1800 square feet – during residency and fellowship. Our first child was born during MS4, and I used to take her for rides in her little red wagon around the parking lot of our condo complex. The kitchen was so small that you couldn’t open the dishwasher and the refrigerator at the same time. But it was home, and truly some of our best memories come from that itty bitty apartment.

During residency, the size of both our house and our family grew. We added another munchkin to the mix – they shared a bedroom, and all four of us shared a single bathroom. The kitchen was slightly larger, but I could still rinse out the mop in the sink and stretch the handle across the kitchen to rest on top of the stove. We didn’t have a pantry, so we used the hall closet. But it was home, and we were happy.

My husband grew up in a small town in a house situated on 7 acres of woods, and he had a fantastic childhood among all those trees. Our dream for our family has always been to have something similar – lots of trees, lots of room to explore, and the “cool” house where all the kids want to come over and play. Early in our marriage, we dreamed of and prayed for our home to be a “safe place” where everyone was welcome, where kids could come and know they are loved and cared for – not only our own children, but all of their friends as well. Our dream started to take shape as we grew in our marriage and as our kids started to grow up, but we knew that the fulfillment of this dream (at least the “cool house” part) was years and years away. And that was OK.

Somewhere in the middle of residency, we went on our first of many Parade of Homes tour. Many cities do this. The individual builders within a local homebuilders’ association showcase some of their new homes in hopes of drumming up some business and getting their names out there. In any case, it is the perfect opportunity for young, poor doctors’ wives to dream a little bit and, most importantly, do some mental planning. We would walk through these gorgeous homes, notepad in hand, carefully observing all the amazing features, taking note of what we really liked and what we didn’t. I started a file folder with the notes I had taken during the tours, floor plans, and pictures from magazines of features I really liked. (Most tours won’t allow you to take pictures.)

We walked through one home with Gretchen and her husband – this house was something like 6000 square feet. It was enormous. Gretch and I commented to each other how it was just too big. You could “lose your kids in this house”! The next week, we were sitting in her tiny kitchen in her tiny house while all four of our kids ran laps through the narrow hallway, through the kitchen, into the tiny sitting room, chasing each other, yelling at the tops of their adorable lungs. Gretchen looked over at me with a sly smile and yelled above the noise, “Remember that house? YOU COULD LOSE YOUR KIDS IN THAT HOUSE!"

I struggled with this topic because I don’t want you to be discontent with where you are. These long years are going to give you some precious memories. I promise you will someday look back on this time fondly. (Even you, Melisa.) These years will give you time to grow in your marriage, to struggle together, to dream together. As I’ve said before, if you can survive these years, you can survive anything.

But I want you to know that it is okay to dream because it’s not always going to be this hard. Looking through magazines, watching home design shows on TV, going on home tours – all of those things can give you a little bit of hope to keep going, keep persevering, keep struggling. Gretchen likened it to the visualization that you learn in Lamaze to lessen the pain of labor. At the very least, it's a fun diversion from your present reality.

When Michael was nearing the completion of his training and signed on with his new practice, we went to our new city to search for a new home. From all of our years of dreaming, we had a fairly good idea of what we wanted, and we found a great house. After living there for several years and going on several more home tours, we had an even better idea of what worked for us and what we could live without. Armed with more than ten years of dreaming and a hefty file folder full of notes and magazine clippings, we drew out a rough sketch of our dream house and took it to an architect. After a very long journey and many evil thoughts involving knocking our city council over the head with a 2x4, we should start building The House on 2.5 acres of woods by the end of the summer, hopefully moving in next spring, just after our fourteenth anniversary.

So go ahead. Dream. Take notes. Be content where you are, but form your opinions. Build your marriage while you build your file folder. It might be a while, but someday you’ll have a little more freedom to spread out.

You may even get to lose your kids in your house.

I'll be blogging our house building journey for the next 6-9 months (or more - eek!) over at my blog, starting here. You're welcome to join me for this crazy ride! ...though I may cure you of any desire to ever build a house! ;-)



Blogger Tasha said...

Great to hear that it can happen. I've always dreamed of having a big floral and produce garden and keep collecting clippings whenever I can. Thanks for the encouragement!

August 1, 2009 at 7:15 AM  
Blogger Rachel said...

I agree with you. I am hesitant to talk to my friends about my house hunting excitement because I'm afraid they will think I am being pretentious. But to be honest, these are the dreams keeping me sane during this last year of my husband's fellowship. In fact, we are going on a second interview this weekend and will be meeting with a realtor to check out some of the homes in the area. Even if we don't end up there, the idea of looking at homes makes me so excited I can hardly stand it. I feel like I am finally getting a peek at the light at the end of the tunnel :)

August 1, 2009 at 11:24 AM  
Blogger JLee said...

I'm crying! Thank you for writing your post and encouraging me today! My husband is a MS3 and we're coming up on our 6th anniversary. We have a 7 month old and a 21 month old. Due to financial strain through this process I may have to move with my children to my parents house 1000 miles away from my husband and work full time. It has been crushing me to think of it. I'm encouraged though to know that some day we too could be sitting at our kitchen table looking over blueprints of goals finally realized. Thanks, JLEE.

August 1, 2009 at 1:09 PM  
Blogger Melisa said...

You are awesome. Now, Ms. Awesome, please let me move in with you. Just a wing of your house would be heaven compared to what I've been putting up with these last few months. ;o)

Thanks for another great post!

August 1, 2009 at 6:34 PM  
Blogger JumpingJane said...

Thank you for the hope. J and I are currently living in a run down apartment with one bathroom... and the cat lives in the bathroom bc of it's peeing problem. I dream of one day having a second bathroom where I dont have to shower with a litter box. (the cat came with the guy) :) I know its a long time off before having a wonderful house to live in (we are itty bitty pgy2s) but its nice to hear others happy stories. :)

August 1, 2009 at 6:42 PM  
Blogger Kathi Browne said...

Jennifer, You hit the nail on the head. I remember those days and I have vivid memories of my first home-aroma tour. Wow! We were so inspired, we added 400 sq ft to our 1000 sq ft home! I still laugh at how BIG we thought that house was. There's a certain guilt wishing for that fancy home, but there is also a sense of accomplishment (winning, even) when you finally own one.

I would like to add a piece of advice. Don't be in a hurry to buy the big home just because your fellow graduates do. I've seen several families get sucked into the pressure of having the doctor home right out of residency. Take a breath and sock away the cash. Be financially ready to build or buy, and take time to really find out what you want, what you don't want, and how to best structure financing.

I'm in the new stage of my life... downsizing! I still desire the big kitchen, but I'm longing for a house I can clean in under 3 hrs. I want to free up some cash to travel and pay for my children's college. If anyone is moving to Knoxville area in the next 3-5 years, I have a great 5000 sq ft home with a media room and a first floor master (ha, ha).

August 1, 2009 at 8:53 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

That's really good advice, Kathi, and I agree. Once you're out of training, you will definitely be able to "upgrade," (can I get a WAH-HOO?!?) but take a few years to live in a nice house, find out exactly what you like about it, get to know the area and the neighborhoods, save some money and find out where exactly you want to live before you build. That is more or less what we did.

Thanks for all the positive response!

August 1, 2009 at 10:16 PM  
Blogger Married to a med student - Marissa Nicole said...

Congrats on building your dream home - its nice to know that people do make it there!
We started in a one bedroom apartment and we've already upgraded to a two bedroom, so I can't complain too much (but I do long to OWN something).

August 2, 2009 at 3:53 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Yay for this inspiration! Congratulations to the two of you on achieving your goal. My DH and I have been fortunate enough to live in a nicer old home downtown for the med school years and this intern year. However, we have had to have roommates the whole time! I know that the next place we move into will most likely be smaller and shabbier, but I'm thrilled by the idea that it will be just the two of us (with three fat cats and perhaps a dog?). Our dreams are big, but for now we live humbly. I thrive on design blogs and Dwell magazine, and I love the idea of keeping a folder for all the bright ideas so that when the time is finally right, several years hence, we can jump in with confidence.

August 2, 2009 at 4:29 PM  
Blogger Kathi Browne said...

Laura, you just reminded me of some friends who were in med school with us. They didn't want to throw their money into rentals, so they bought in an old section of town where they could afford it. They intended to live there until they were ready for kids and then rent... turned out to be a brilliant idea and we all envied them for owning their own home (which they DID have to fix up a bit.).

August 2, 2009 at 9:53 PM  
Blogger Adriana said...

We love going on home tours...there is nothing wrong with dreaming. We live in a tiny 2 bedroom apt that the hospital owns and subsidizes. Sometimes when it is hard to share a bathroom with two kids and a baby on the way thinking about all the money we are saving towards our "dream" house is what gets us through it.

August 4, 2009 at 9:45 AM  
Blogger Kathi Browne said...

Saving is the key word and main motivator, isn't it? When M and I first got married, M wasn't good at managing money. I worked full-time and took care of the finances, so when he got his first big paycheck, I set up my whole paycheck to go into savings. He never noticed because our income changed so dramatically at the same time. When we found out we were expecting our third child, I proposed we get something bigger and surprised him with a nice chunk of savings. I was able to get those beautiful cherry cabinets I had always wanted.

August 4, 2009 at 10:05 AM  
Anonymous Michelle B. said...

Jennifer, I just love how encouraging your are. God is really using your talents and experiences to help others out there. Keep it up, it's even encouraging to me and I'm not a doctor and not married to a doctor, just a pilot.

August 4, 2009 at 10:05 PM  

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