Home fulfills

  • February 23, 2023

Last month, for the first time in 25 years, my husband and I spent the night alone in our house. Two nights, in fact. A weekend.

We moved into our suburban split-level on a June afternoon in 1998 with two toddlers and a pathetic assortment of graduate-school era belongings. I was pregnant with our third child, and we quickly added a couple more babies for a grand total of five. From move-in day, when we pulled up looking like an ivory tower version of The Beverly Hillbillies, until now, the house has been full.

Full of noise. At various times, we have exclaimed like the Grinch in the Dr. Seuss classic, “Oh, the noise! Oh, the Noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!” Our daughter sings loudly. Our boys game louder still, shouting into their headsets, “Dude! Come on!” Full of noise but also full also of things: shoes, smelly sports equipment, lunch boxes. Every holiday a whirlwind. Every spring a pressing, exhausting mix of graduations, sacramental celebrations, end-of-year concerts.

The resident population of the household has ebbed and flowed over the years. Summer camps and jobs, school trips: the tide has been pulling out for some time.  

And it isn’t as if my husband and I haven’t been alone ’til now. We have taken trips together, just the two of us. And we aren’t empty nesters, not yet. 

But a silence entered the house that Friday in January when the door slammed behind our son as he took off for a weekend with friends. A silence different in kind from when the kids were in school and out for the day. Like two cats carefully stepping out into fresh snow, we are poking around the house trying to get a feel for the new domestic terrain.

When she heard about the upcoming weekend in a childless house, our now married daughter asked, “What are you going to do?” I shrugged and said, “Oh, you know,” and we laughed. 

We didn’t stage an early Valentine’s dinner complete with rose petals and chocolate kisses. We have never been that kind of a couple.

I invited some friends over for dinner the Saturday night, we ate chili and drank wine. The next morning, we went to Mass. Our family once took up an entire pew. Now on a Sunday, the kids, their spouses and girlfriends are scattered in churches across the island of Montreal, up to Quebec City, and, in the case of our youngest, a city in England.  

There is indeed a new silence about us, but it is more (?) a species-separate silence than that of the early years of our marriage. 

Over the Christmas break we managed to get almost all the family members up to a cottage in the Laurentians for a few days of sitting by the fire, skiing, chess and reading for the rest. The snow outside was thick and lay heavily on the conifers. 

One evening, after a snowfall, a few of us went for a walk and my husband, predictably, took us off-piste. Without snowshoes we were heading through the woods on a non-trail where snowshoes would have been decidedly helpful. The sky had cleared and in the winter gloaming the white landscape was framed by a gentian blue sky. At one point, after 15 minutes of thigh-deep tromping, we stopped. To listen. There was no wind in the trees, no birds or airplane engines, no noise from the road, no car doors slamming — complete silence. But we stood in that place for a good five minutes because there was, in fact, something to listen to — the hush had weight and presence. 

Something new is created in a sacramental marriage, “the two shall become one flesh,” but that new creation doesn’t appear magically on the wedding day, as in a fairy tale. The princess twirling around surrounded by sparks from a wand, re-clothed in a diaphanous gown from the rags of her former life. The beast transformed by a mere kiss to a prince. Instead, it is after years of allowing oneself to be knit together, strand by strand, memory by memory, prayer by prayer, that this new, solid, formidable creature appears.

Our middle boy came back from his weekend away on the Sunday afternoon, our youngest will return from his semester abroad. They will, after a few months or a few years, slam the front door behind them and depart for good. The hush will fall on the house, but the home is not empty. 

(Farrow is a writer in Montreal.)

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