Catherine Kraemer family

The Kraemer family, from left, Matt, Grace, Catherine, Phoebe and Emilia. 

“Mom, can I have this?” I heard Emilia say. And before I even turned around, I knew exactly what she’d be holding: a wooden wine bottle gift box – roughly the size of a guinea pig coffin, with a sliding lid. I knew she’d gotten it out of a trash pile I was amassing.

“I want to make it into a house,” she said. I sighed and reluctantly agreed.

We are moving. We’re trying to move. And as I gather up our belongings, sort, box and purge, Emilia has been following me around, rediscovering old toys and pulling out treasures. While she unearths new crafting opportunities, my own discoveries have been less tangible and more sentimental.

With every drawer I dump and every cabinet I raid, I’m beset with a realization both obvious and surprising. So much life has happened here.

When Matt and I got engaged, he was already living in this Dundee duplex. His roommate moved out, I moved in, and the rest is nine years of history. Two years of child-free backyard barbecues, of intimate conversations fueled by wine and lit by citronella. Three pregnancies, three new babies. Hundreds of dinners, baths and bedtime stories. Dozens of arguments, thousands of hugs, forced and genuine.

In this tiny galley kitchen, I’ve made infinite mediocre meals and messy birthday cakes. Over and over, I’ve listened to “Fresh Air” while watching the girls play outside beneath a fading sunset. Over and over, I’ve listened to “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” while scrambling Saturday morning eggs, echoes of Matt and Emilia laughing in the living room. So many of my favorite memories involve NPR and this kitchen and the happy sounds of my family.

In this living room, on this broken brown couch, we’ve read books and watched cartoons. This is where Matt introduced his young daughters to "Jaws," a little prematurely but so sweetly, fast-forwarding through the gory parts and explaining the mechanics of robotic aquatics. This is where I’ve slept next to newborns and underneath sick babies. These days, this is where Matt and I spend our Friday nights, with a beer and a movie and each other.

This house comes complete with a fairy godmother. She shares a wall with us. She loves our children. She’s been to birthday parties and baptisms. When I went into labor with Phoebe, she slept on our sofa and announced to two sleepy sisters that there was now a third.

This cluttered, cramped and creaking house has been the site of so many hard days, good days, simple and uneventful days. It has been the source of so much bliss.

It’s good to change, but it’s hard to go.

Because we are leaving Omaha, we are all at once saying goodbye to places and people. To our sitter, our teachers, our co-workers and neighbors. To friends who’ve become family. To doctors, dentists, a therapist, a hairstylist who doubles as a therapist, a grocery store, a neighborhood, a school, a dozen playgrounds, a phase of life.

The knowledge that we will be back to visit our friends, to grill in backyards and stroll Underwood on warm days, is comforting. Also comforting is knowing that we are leaving a house, but we are taking home with us.

One home is a movie cliché in the truest sense. It’s where the heart is, where our family is, where the joy, the chaos, the messes and the memories are. It’s wherever those little happy moments happen — NPR and pancakes on a sunny Saturday morning.

The other home is more tangible. It’s a small, wooden box, rescued from a trash pile — fit for a rodent funeral or a fairy home. It’s Emilia’s now, and it’s coming with us as we move onward to our next adventure.

***

Catherine Kraemer writes twice a month for Momaha.com. She and her husband, Matt, are the parents of three young girls – Emilia, 6, Grace, 3 and Phoebe, 1. Originally from St. Louis, Catherine lives in Omaha and works at a local advertising agency.

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