The outside of our current home is not nearly as impressive as the feelings were inside the most humble place our family has ever lived. Neither Amy nor I came from money. In our early days of marriage, consultants told us that it would be best to declare bankruptcy. Had it not been for some very forgiving hospitals, bankruptcy might have been the required solution. Yes, in those days we lived in cheap rental units. Even so, Amy has always had a talent for making home feel like home, regardless of how much money we had.
Our first son, Mike, toddled around a house where new covers were sewn for old couches, given to us as gifts. Frames from thrift shops were used to hold pictures of our growing family and favorite places. Mike didn’t know we were living from hand to mouth. He did know he was never hungry and that his parents adored him. His house was clean and his mother was living out her dream of being a stay at home mom and making home feel like home. A Malamute Husky puppy and orange Tabby cat were his first siblings and they never slowed down.
Amy’s efforts at making home feel like home held us together while we hoped for the best and prepared for the worst.
By the time Mike was in kindergarten, he had two little brothers who delighted in helping him torment the dog and cat while knocking over the old frames with newer pictures, and wreaking havoc on the makeshift couch covers that were becoming worn. Amy never missed a beat, though, in making home feel like home.
Just before Mike entered the first grade, another brother joined our family through adoption. Jack was a month old and had Down syndrome. We knew that he would need open-heart surgery by the time he was six months old. At that time, we moved from Utah to Michigan and another cheap rental unit, where Amy and the boys set about making home feel like home. Jack was in a coma after his surgery and we spent the next week wondering if he would make it or not. Stress was at record levels and emotions ran high. Time was spent with Amy and me taking turns, back and forth between home and the hospital, an hour-and-a-half away. That was a time when we noticed what we had more than ever. Amy’s efforts at making home feel like home held us together while we hoped for the best and prepared for the worst.
Two moves later, we were in a place that families like our usually only dream about. I taught my boys how to fish in the pond surrounded by a hardwood forest in our back yard. The old farm house was modest, but Amy went to work making home feel like home with country styled table cloths, dried weeds and flowers, and a new set of used picture frames. Our family business started to show significant success and the house began to fill with new furniture and picture frames but it didn’t feel more like home than it ever had. When Jack was ten, we were back in the mode of adding to our family. We went to work remodeling the house and getting it ready for three social orphans from Russia.
Making home feel like home for those children required much more thought and planning than it did with children who had always lived in a loving home and family.
Since Amy had grown up in a dysfunctional family, she knew what we were up against as we brought home children who had never experienced a place where people worked at making home feel like home. She decorated the bedroom for the girls with swarms of butterflies coming from behind headboards, going up walls and across the ceiling. A fruit basket was kept full so that our new children would always understand that there was food in the house and that they wouldn’t be facing starvation again. Making home feel like home for those children required much more thought and planning than it did with children who had always lived in a loving home and family. It was tough. Helping the new additions to feel secure in their new family took time. But when Amy’s goal is making home feel like home, she always eventually succeeds.
As our two youngest daughters joined us, we learned that they had older siblings who were also social orphans in Russia. It took a year-and-a-half more to bring home two teenaged sisters. These two older girls had horrific histories and having lived in their nightmarish first home so much longer, permanent damage had been done. The oldest struggled with a string of challenges and disorders. Due to abuses suffered in the orphanage, she had never been “safe.” Even so, in those institutions, her life was never in danger, unlike the home she lived in before entering “the system.”
Amy’s best efforts at making home feel like home were met with hostility and maximum resistance.
That oldest daughter believed that there were only two types of people in the world; those who abused and those who bore the suffering of abuse. She was no longer abused and vowed to never return to the other group. Family members suffered at her hand. Amy’s best efforts at making home feel like home were met with hostility and maximum resistance by that young woman who suffered from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and other disorders suspected though not diagnosed. To her, home was a place where your life was in constant jeopardy. Institutions, while being places to be loathed, were at least places where you could survive. Threats to remove her from the home to an institution type setting were met with hostility, though the primal part of her brain screamed for the threat to be carried out so that she might be in the only type of place that she had ever felt safe. After more than a year living with our family, it simply wasn’t safe for that daughter to remain in the home.
After getting our oldest daughter into a placement that could give her the specialized help that she needed, Amy and I focused on two goals. The first was making home feel like home, again. The second was continuing to work with our oldest daughter so that she could overcome feelings of abandonment, yet again. Making home feel like home happened first. Reactive Attachment Disorder is brutal and it took years for our oldest daughter to improve to the point where therapists for our other children felt like she could visit in our home. Her progress has continued and now, even that daughter craves what she feels when she is in our home with her family.
Growth in our family business continued and I began making more money than anyone deserves to make. I live in a “house on the hill,” with unbelievable views. It’s nice. But the feeling is not better than any place I have ever lived with my family; because of the efforts we take at making home feel like home. Now we sit on leather couches with Mike’s son, my first grandchild, and he chases our orange Tabby and pets the Siberian Husky.
I spend work days in my home office that is decorated with pictures of our family from the times when we had very little, until now. Maybe Forest Gump said it best when he gained riches; “That’s one less thing to worry about.” For me, I’d rather have money than not. But I’d give up every dime if I had to choose between that and living with a family that works at making home feel like home.
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