"Do you ever think maybe we're not cut out for this?" I asked my wife this weekend as we stood outside our shed.
We'd spent the afternoon doing some of the chores around our house that had been too-long neglected. (There are many.) She was attempting to change the oil filter in our riding lawn mower in the hopes of getting it working again after weeks of trying to charge the battery and having no success and finally revealing (with the help of a hired handyman) that mice had constructed a penthouse apartment and buffet in the engine. I was cleaning the bajillion spider webs off the front porch, a project prompted by an unacceptably large eight-legger dangling wildly from the porch roof and almost hurling itself into Navah's surprised face. I was also cleaning out the side of the garage where I had seen a mouse a few days before, organizing the garden tools and gas cans and sweeping out the mouse droppings.
After having to call a neighbor to come over and help us figure out the lawn mower's oil filter, Navah got that running and mowed the lawn - first with the riding mower and then with the regular mower in all the places the riding mower can't get. As we prepared to put both into the shed, I used a stick to remove the five large spiders crawling around the edges of the door.
We stood in the doorway of the shed, and I made one of those inarticulate noises that signifies to anyone nearby to jump and move away from where they are as a mouse ran down the back wall of the shed. But we steeled ourselves and continued to work on getting the mowers into the space. I held the shed door open with my foot (in case of more spiders) while Navah drove the riding mower in. And then I screamed, terrifying the mouse that was attempting to run out of the shed, who instead ran back into the shed, causing Navah to leap up off the seat of the riding mower and join me in my cowering position outside the shed, pondering my question about whether we were cut out for this.
She raised her eyebrows. "Owning a house or living in the woods?"
"All the time, " she said. "I'm pretty sure we should move into an air-tight, perfectly sealed condominium."
We laughed, sort of.
It got me thinking about what we have and what we want.
We lived in - for all intents and purposes - an air-tight, perfectly sealed condominium. In Washington, DC. We lived on the 9th floor of a nice building, in an apartment with a wall of windows that looked out on the city. I don't remember ever seeing a bug, much less a mouse. We had nothing to care for - the building superintendents took care of it all.
And for a lot of our time there, we talked mostly about moving to Vermont. About living in the country and communing with nature and how tired we were of the concrete jungle.
And when we lived in our (mouse-free) apartment in Burlington, where we didn't take care of a yard or handle any maintenance or pay when anything broke, all we wanted was a house of our own with some land in the country.
So here we are. With our lovely house, and our big yard, and our lawn mowers, and our shed, and our spiders, and our mice.
The things we have and the things we want.
Neither of us would trade our house for that apartment back in DC, but there are more than a couple things about it that look awfully good these days. And, of course, we didn't really appreciate them while we were there. We didn't know how nice it is to live in a house not plagued by mice. They'd never been a problem. We didn't know what it meant to deal with appliances breaking and window frames rotting and mailboxes getting blocked by an ice storm. We knew that home-ownership brought responsibility, but we didn't know what that really meant.
In truth, most of the time, I don't want to live anywhere other than this home. I love that it's ours and that we're friends with our neighbors and have hiking trails around the bend and a garden out front. But I do hate the spiders and the mice and the fear of something breaking and not knowing how to fix it.
I remember shopping for an Easter dress with my grandmother. I was about 14 years old, and I can still see the two dresses hanging on the wall of the dressing room. One was a flowery pink and the other was navy with white polka dots. They were completely different and totally lovely, and I had the terrible realization as I looked between them that no matter which I picked, I was going to wish it had been the other when I got home.
I hope that I'm beginning to grow up a bit in my thinking, to recognize that I could always want something more or different, that the good life happens when you want what you have. And not necessarily because you have everything you could ever want.
The lesson strikes me as a life-long one - something I'll be working towards for the duration. And what a beautiful home from which to contemplate it.
Just don't ask me how it's going after a mouse runs by.
p.s. I don't dislike mice, per se. It's just that they're always a surprise (hence the shrieking), and I know they carry disease and can't be in our home (which was a major issue last year around this time), so they cause me anxiety - in part because they're actually quite cute and I hate to harm them. But this is how I feel about spiders.
p.s.s. Reading through this post again has me thinking about all those who live in a state of complete housing insecurity - in shelters or on the street or in fear of eviction - or in dwellings that are not really fit for their health and safety. My brain reminding me to have a little perspective.