Sunday, May 20, 2012

No Place Like Home

“If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with.”
L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

                I watch The Wizard of Oz a lot more often than the average adult probably does. Its characters and images and dialogue are a part of my childhood, a part of who I am. I remember every year, when it came on television, the whole family gathered around the television to watch. My greatest fear was always for poor little Toto. I figured that Dorothy could take care of herself just fine, clever girl that she was, but Toto was tiny and helpless. And Dorothy was a foolish child, wanting to run away like that, worrying her folks and endangering herself as well as her pup and her newfound friends. I guess that, even when I was very small, I understood the importance of home and family. I recognized from a young age the necessity of roots, of belonging. Thus I was always relieved when Dorothy finally made it Home.

                I don’t dislike traveling, and I would love to someday tour the parts of the United States that I have never seen, visit Europe, experience firsthand all the places I’ve read about-the ones that actually exist, that is. But In the end, I would always want to return home. Growing up, I moved around a good bit, but we settled here in Alabama when I was nine and I just don’t really see any reason to live anywhere else. This is the place where I made friends for life, met my husband, graduated high school, got my first job, attended college, and lost my father. It is where I can be near the waters of the Gulf and the bay, without which I could not survive. My memories are here, my family is here, my life is here. Home.

                Last week my son went on his senior trip to Chicago. It was the longest he had ever been away from home- a whole week-and it was the longest week of my life. He had a great time, enjoyed seeing the sights, serving with the Jesus People, and spending time with his friends. He got to see a Cubs game and eat Chicago-style hot dogs and pizza, visit fantastic museums, and tour the city. It was a wonderful experience, but by Tuesday, his Facebook status read: “Having a great time, but really missing home right now.”  He told his dad on the phone, “Yeah, I could live here, I guess, but my family and my friends and my dog are at home.”   Home means so much to him because for the first eleven years of his life, he didn’t really have one. Even before my children went into foster care, they were moved from place to place, from person to person. Now, at nineteen, fifteen, and thirteen, they still really prefer home to anywhere else. They go to camp, to sleepovers with friends, to out of town events, and they have fun, but in the end, they are glad to be home.

                I remember when we told Tony that we were adopting him and his sisters. He asked, “Is it real?” Home had become an unfulfilled dream, a promise never kept, and he could not believe that it was actually going to happen. People aren’t exactly lined up to adopt three older children, one with a history of destructive and difficult behavior. For every Tony, Rai,and Ally, there are hundreds more older kids who never find that place called home. They never become integrated into a family, a school, a church, and a community. They never get cards from friends and relatives celebrating the milestones in their lives, like birthdays and graduations. Tony has been stunned at the cards and letters he has received on this occasion of his upcoming graduation. He does not realize, even now, how much he is loved.

                My kids do know, though, that they are home. They know it every Sunday when they walk into church and are greeted by the friendly faces of our church family. They know it on holidays when they visit grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. They know it when Mama Nell takes them shopping or Mamaw does cooking and sewing projects with them. They know it when they ride their bikes down the sidewalks of our little town and people they know wave and smile. They know it when we sit around the fire pit in the backyard and roast hot dogs and talk about God and the future and the wonders of the universe. They know it at night when they get into their beds, surrounded by their pets and books and familiar things. They have lives and roots here. They don’t want to go far. They all say that they want to stay close even when they are married, with children of their own. They don’t ever want to roam permanently away from the big yellow house on the hill.

                Our house is nothing grand. It is ninety years old and in need of repair. It is not dirty but is certainly cluttered with the paraphernalia of five people who each have interests and hobbies and commitments, and not much time to keep things particularly neat or organized. It is home to five McKenzies and a menagerie of pets-dogs and rabbits and rats and goldfish and guinea pigs and turtles.The yard doesn’t get mowed as often as it should and there are a couple of old cars that need to be towed away. A family of armadillos lives under the house and birds nest in the chimney every spring, and toads live in flowerpots on the patio and geckos manage to get in sometimes, along with the occasional snake. There is a wonderful rope swing hanging from a giant tree, and another tree, the one we call Samson’s Tree, stands as a memorial to the Grand Old Bunny who lived in a hutch beneath it for many years. There are beautiful flowers of all kinds and there is a tumbledown  barn full of old junk and an enormous shed that is home to toys and bicycles and worn-out furniture and, sometimes, a few stray cats. Golden orb weaver spiders build their webs everywhere and squirrels play on the roof.

                Before they came home, our kids dreamed of this. They wanted a family with animals and lots of books. The littlest one fantasized that the electronic voice of her toy dog was the voice of her father. They took the same toys for show and tell every week because they had no others, and on Teddy Bear Day they had no fuzzy friends to take to the picnic. Ally still, at thirteen, sleeps with a mountain of stuffed animals surrounding her. They all have names and personalities. Ally has always been fond of family groups; all the toy animals she got had to be arranged just so, with a mom, a dad, and kids, and if one looked different, it was because he was adopted. These family groups spoke to her of Home. For Tony, Home meant, “Can we do something today, Dad? We’re gonna build that Lego pirate ship today, Dad, just you and me, huh?”  Time together-playing Uno or Wii Wipeout, watching a movie, cooking a meal-that is Home to my children still. They still want to hang out with their parents, at least sometimes. And to them, Home is our big red truck, the Dawn Treader. We have had many adventures in that truck, some of them unplanned, all of them special. When we’re together, we’re Home.

                Some people believe that whatever relationships we have in this life are just necessary illusions, that Love is not real, that these illusions make things bearable. I do not believe that. There is nothing more real than Love, than Home. God brought the five of us together and made us a family.

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When [someone] loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.

"Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand... once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

Yes. Our family is Real, our love is Real, and our Home is Real.  In recent weeks I have seen some families whose carefully manufactured facades of perfection are beginning to crack and crumble. We never had those facades in the first place. Our arguments, our failings, the wrongs we have done to each other, the stupid things we have said, have all been part of making us Real. There have been plenty of people who didn’t understand. There will always be people who don’t understand. Our lives are what they are, and our funny, messy old house is what it is, and I wouldn’t trade what I have for anything.

Not anything in the world.


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