I always wanted life to stay the same, once my dream of living in a big house with all my friends came true. Then I met Elder, and my dream changed. We had Free. Some of our friends moved out. Emelia came to live with us. More friends moved, until the only adults left in the big house were Tani, Elder, and me. We adopted Roxie, and then we all moved out here, to this new home on the bay, a home that fits like it was made for us.
Now that we have Caroline, the kids out-number the grown-ups.
But I was OK with that. I was ready to accept this as the new dream.
Tani is such good aunt to Caroline, and having her around made four kids almost manageable.
Once Free-Jon adjusted to the new house, he assumed the role of Super Brother. He’s become so responsible. He washes the dishes…
collects the laundry…
finishes his homework…
and reads bedtime stories to his little sister. I don’t think she minds that he reads from his math book.
I wonder where my wild child has gone.
That is, until I watch his sister! She has enough wildness for a tribe of hippie kids.
She gave us a real scare when we took the kids to the Game-Con in the city. Aya, who was working there as a volunteer with her game club, invited us, and we looked forward to an afternoon with the gang.
Emma met us there, too. She, Elder, and Emelia entered the Virtual Tournament.
Emelia held her own. It looked like she might win.
I cheered Emelia on while Caroline played at a Lego table nearby. I turned back to look at her, and she was gone. Nowhere in sight.
“Caroline!” I called.
Elder jumped out of his game, and we both scoured the plaza for her. At last, a Princess Leia cosplayer walked towards us, holding Caroline’s hand.
“Missing an ewok?” she asked.
Elder scooped her up. “Where did you get to?”
I was a little more firm.
“Caroline,” I said, “you really mustn’t wander off. When I ask you to play near me, I mean to stay near me.”
“But over there,” Caroline explained, “not over here. I have to go. So I go. There. You here. It’s OK, Mom. You no worry.”
When we got home, she raced to Auntie Tani.
“Tani,” she said. “I have adventure! I big ghost, now!”
Of course, Caroline wasn’t the only one to have misadventures. Emelia had become obsessed with the science station. Somehow, she created a combustible compound and set the thing on fire.
I grabbed the fire extinguisher and dashed over.
“Get out, Em!” I yelled. “Run to safety!”
She remained, finishing her notes in the smoke while I put out the flames.
It was such a different dream–but I loved it. I was ready for this to go on forever, or at least until the kids graduated from high school.
But Tani changed everything.
“I think I should move out,” she told me.
“What?” I couldn’t believe it. “Why? Tani. I thought we were going to share a home forever!”
“I think it’s best,” she said. “Simplest.”
“But you can’t. I mean, you can. Of course, you can. You can do whatever you want. But Tani! Weren’t we going to grow old together? In the same house?”
“Everthing is different now.”
She let it drop for a few days, and I thought that maybe the whim had passed.
But one Sunday, after breakfast, she followed me as I changed the sheets on the beds. Everyone else was outside, playing in the morning sun.
“I really do need to leave,” she said. “Things are getting complicated.”
“I know we have a lot of people in the house,” I said, “but you’re such a help, Tani. Besides, I’d miss you.”
“It’s too hard!” she said, plopping onto Roxie’s unmade bed.
“Are you sad?” I asked. I sat on the floor facing her. “What’s wrong, Tani?”
She told me that she’d developed feelings for Elder, and she wasn’t even sure it was one-sided, anymore. She was picking up on a spark between them.
I tried to tell her it was okay. It really was okay with me. I must not be wired like most people. I know that Elder doesn’t belong to me. I trust him. I know that even if he were to share affections with someone else, it wouldn’t lessen his feelings for me. We can love more than one person. I tried to explain that to Tani.
“I’m not made that way,” she said. “It’s not OK with me. It hurts every time I see him with you. Every time I’m alone with him. And even if I could work my mind around it–around sharing him–with you–which I can’t–what would other people say? What would the kids think? What would their teachers say? Their classmates? Besides, I’ve got an important job in the community. I can’t do it. I’ve got to be a role model. I guess I’m not really a hippie, after all,” she confessed.
We let it go for the time being. That evening, I noticed her forced smile while Elder elaborated on his latest theory about time and the missing mass in the universe. She looked unhappy behind her clenched grin.
“All right,” I conceded. Caroline slept, and we sat whispering in the room she and Caroline shared. “If you feel it’s best to move, go ahead.”
“It’s simplest,” she said. “And I’ve already found a place! It’s just down the hill, by the wharf! It’s so cool. You’ll love it. Emelia wants to come, too.”
What? I had only just come to accept that Tani would move out–but Emelia? She had traveled through space, time, and hard-drives to come live with us.
I asked her before bed.
“Do you really want to move out with Tani?”
“Of course!” she said. “Tani and I are that close! And you don’t want Tani to be alone, do you?”
“No, but. Maybe Tani should stay?”
“It’s a really neat house,” Emelia said. “And it’s just down the hill! We’ll be over every day! And besides, I don’t really want Free-Jon to grow up thinking of me as a sister, know what I mean?”
I did know what she meant. She and Free had a rare connection–they’d found each other across the impossible. If I had a connection like that with someone (which I do), I wouldn’t want him to think of me like a sister, either (which he doesn’t). Family, yes–sibling, no.
So it was decided–just like that.
A month later, I sat with Emelia while she did her homework on her last night in our house.
“You sure you’re ready for this, Em?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said. “You’ll see. We’ll all get closer through this, not farther apart.”
She turned back to her assignment. I hoped she was right. We’d stayed close with Emma, Forrest, Aya, Alex, and Gray, even though we didn’t all live in the same house anymore.
We’d stay close with Emelia and Tani, too.
I guess family is more than sharing a roof. I hope so. I don’t know how I’ve come to find myself living such a traditional life, a wife and mother, with a husband and three kids. It’s not what I dreamed, all those years ago.
But dreams can shift sometimes, can’t they? And maybe it was the spirit of the thing I was after: that spirit of a house full of love, full of friends, full of freedom, to love, to be, to choose. And I can have that in a house full of family, can’t I?
Author’s Note: This concludes A Houseful of Hippies. The story will continue in a sequel, Houseful of Kids. Watch for the first chapters to be released in Summer 2018!