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Lives of Doctor Wives: Survivor Stories: Great big dreams, itty bitty living space

Monday, February 25, 2013

Survivor Stories: Great big dreams, itty bitty living space

by Jennifer Hunt

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.  

We lived in a tiny condo during med school and internship. 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.  I had to step around rubber ducks and foam letters every time I took a shower. The kitchen was slightly larger than our last one, 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.

Sometime 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 7000 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. 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 — or this cramped.  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. Houzz is a fantastic resource with thousands of pictures and ideas from architects, builders, interior designers, and home owners. You can create “ideabooks” with pictures and notes, like Pinterest for houses. (Here are some of my favorite things in our home.)

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 pictures, notes and magazine clippings, we drew out a rough sketch of our dream house and took it to an architect.  He had to tweak a few things to make Point A meet Point B, but his plans are almost exactly what we sketched. We moved into The House on 2.5 acres of woods just after our fifteenth wedding anniversary. (The entire saga and more pictures are here.)

Two years later, I still walk through my home with giddiness. It has all the warmth and comfort that we dreamed of for so long. It is perfect. We’ve hosted parties for soccer teams and choirs, a huge 40th birthday celebration, New Year’s Eve parties, and holiday dinners. We’ve had friends and family stay with us, each finding the unique rest they needed. Last weekend, our house was filled with seven giggly, energetic, and VERY LOUD 8th grade girls for a church retreat — many of them coming from homes that are very far from safe and comforting. For one weekend, we gave them a fun, safe place to be loved.

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.



Blogger Joanna said...

Beautiful post & much needed as we are moving for his rotations... Perfect timing for this post!

February 25, 2013 at 3:55 PM  
Blogger B&K said...

Great post!! Sometimes I feel bad for wanting bigger and better. It's not necessarily a big 7000 sq foot home but boy 1700 would be nice ;-) I'm dreaming for something confortable where we all have a bit of space!!

February 25, 2013 at 10:34 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Thanks for sharing!! I have been looking at apartments/homes in our top choice cities for residency and have been feeling gloomy about the size for the price... but... you are right... we are making great memories right now. We will never forget the time when our washer and dryer were in the kitchen and served as counter space!

February 26, 2013 at 11:21 AM  
Blogger Judith said...

Awesome post :)

February 26, 2013 at 8:01 PM  

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