HFH: Some Changes, Sometimes

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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.

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Once Free-Jon adjusted to the new house, he assumed the role of Super Brother. He’s become so responsible. He washes the dishes…

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collects the laundry…

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finishes his homework…

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and reads bedtime stories to his little sister. I don’t think she minds that he reads from his math book.

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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.

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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.

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Emma met us there, too. She, Elder, and Emelia entered the Virtual Tournament.

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Emelia held her own. It looked like she might win.

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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?”

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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.”

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When we got home, she raced to Auntie Tani.

“Tani,” she said. “I have adventure! I big ghost, now!”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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?”

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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.

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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.

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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?

 

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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!

HFH: Houseful of Kids

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I used to live in a houseful of hippies. Now I live in a houseful of kids. And it isn’t even the same house!

I’d have guessed that three kids and three adults was enough. And it was for a while. We were all happy: Me and Elder, Tani, Emelia, Free-Jon, and Roxie.

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I loved watching Free and Roxie play.

“I’m living in a cupcake!” Free-Jon said, goofy smile and all.

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Elder, often, was as much a kid as Free, Em, and Roxie.

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Emelia, in her own time-bendy way, has always been kid, teen, and grown-up, all braided into one.

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We were so happy, and I thought our life could go on that way forever. I said as much to Elder one morning, after the kids left for school and Tani left for work.

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“We should have another kid,” Elder said.

“Um, what?”

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He was serious. “Face it! You’re a great mom! I’m a pretty good dad! Free and Em and Roxie will be great big brother and sisters! And you know Tani wants to be auntie to a baby again. You can’t deny Tani!”

“You’re crazy,” I replied.

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But half an hour later, I stopped him in the kitchen.

“OK,” I said. “Least we could do is try.”

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He closed his eyes.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m dreaming of our baby. We’ll have a little girl, OK? With your eyes!”

“You’re a nut.”

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It took a few tries, and we had fun trying, and then one morning at breakfast, I said, “Oops. Eggs don’t taste so good.”

“Do you think?” he asked. I did. And I was.

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I felt nervous, though. I didn’t remember having such strong morning sickness with Free. I wanted to wait to tell them as long as we could, just in case it didn’t work out.

Elder had a hard time keeping the secret.

“Did you put cupcakes in that salad?” Free asked his dad.

“Um. Nope. Why?”

“Cause you’re grinning like you ate Joel’s happycakes.”

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Elder bear-hugged Free.

“You know you’ll always be my favorite Jon-Jon, right, son?”

Free was being squeezed too hard to let out more than a muffled yep.

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Then, in the second trimester, I couldn’t hide it any longer.

“I know you’re not that fat,” Emelia said. “When were you planning on telling us?”

“Um. Now?”

“Congratulations!”

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“Congratulations on what?” Free asked.

“You’re gonna be a big brother!”

“Oh. Cool!”

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But Roxie wasn’t so happy.

“But he’s already a brother,” she said. “He’s my brother.”

“Yeah, he is. And he still will be. And you’ll soon be a big sister!”

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She wasn’t happy one bit.

“I know what that means,” she said. “You’ll have a baby and the baby will be the center of your world, and I’ll be left to eat out of the cooler again, just like I always am. Forgotten.”

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We all spent a lot of extra time with her in the following weeks. She said it was temporary, and we’d forget her once the baby came, but she said she’d be a good sport and make the most of it, while she could.

And then came an even bigger change–at least, it felt bigger to me. Tani came home from work one day, excited, nervous, and a little sad.

“I got a promotion!” she said. “That’s the exciting part. But it’s a new job, in a new department. That’s the nervous part. And it’s in another city. In Brindleton Bay. That’s the sad part.”

Of course she’d take the job. She couldn’t pass up the opportunity. At first, she thought she’d rent an apartment and come home on weekends and vacations. It would be hard on Em, who’d developed a close relationship with Aunt Tani.

Then, Tani said she’d found the perfect house for all of us, up on a hill looking over the bay, with four bedrooms, room for the piano in the parlor, a fancy new kitchen, and plenty of room outside for the kids to play and for the garden. Maybe we’d even get a cat or a dog!

“But is it the right time to move?” I asked. I was in the third trimester, and I was huge and tired and already starting to nest.

“You can nest in the new home!” said Elder.

So, we packed lots of our stuff, and some we left in the old home, for Emma was going to move back in.

The last morning there, I looked around the kitchen. So many memories! So many dreams.

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Was it what I wanted?

Of course it was! The new kitchen was glorious! Bright, roomy, with top-of-the-line appliances and a windows that looked out over the bay.

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Roxie loved the house most of all.

“Thank you for my new house, Elder!” she said.

“You’re welcome!”

“This is my house,” she insisted, “but I’ll let all of you stay!”

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Em and Tani loved the house, too. Em’s favorite room was Tani’s room upstairs in the back corner. She called it the girls’ room, and it’s where she, Roxie, and Tani spent hours sharing secrets and making plans.

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But Free was not so happy. He missed our old house.

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“The wind smells like seaweed!” he whined. “I can’t breathe.”

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But a few days later, he raced home from school.

“I’ve got a very important job,” he said. “Teacher told me I was the one who gets to lead fractures class, because I know them best, since we had them at the old school.”

“That’s fantastic, Free!”

“Yeah,” he said. “So. I guess it’s a good thing we’re here. Else how else would the kids learn about halves and quarters?”

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My favorite part, of course, was the garden. Not that I did much gardening during the few weeks after we moved in! I was so pregnant, so huge, so tired all the time.

But the garden provided a great spot for napping.

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And then we had Caroline, who had my hazel eyes, and Elder’s blond hair. She was a lovely baby–happy, smiley, laughing. And Roxie was the happiest of all, since being the big sister was the most important job.

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And now, here we are–in a houseful of kids, and even though it’s a new house, it’s become our home.

Now, we’re preparing for the next change, for Caroline is insisting on a kitty, and she’s not willing to settle for a plastic one!

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HFH: More to Hug

It didn’t take long for Free-Jon to decide that it was ok to have a sister, after all.

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Tani said the kids made friends while dancing.

“Just move like this,” Free said. “Let the music lift your arms up!”

“Like this?” said Emelia and Roxanna.

“Just like that,” said Free, feeling pretty happy to be able to teach somebody something.

“You’re the best big brother,” said Roxanna, and Free was all smiles. It’s hard to resist a little sister’s adulation.

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We want Plum Day to be special for the kids, so Tani, Elder, and I got up early to decorate the house.

“So much has changed, Tani,” I said while we waited for the kids to get up. I was thinking how it was when we first moved into this big house, and about all who’ve left us since then: Alex’s dad, both of Tani’s parents, Dr. Jasmine. And all who’ve moved out of this house: Gray, Emma, Aya, Forrest, Alex. And all who’ve joined our big extended family: Elder, Free, Emelia, Roxanna, Liam, Desiree.

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“It’s awesome,” Tani said. “It’s what life’s all about! And you know, what’s important never changes. Friendship and family!”

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Roxanna was the first kid up.

“Mom!” she said, wrapping me in a huge hug.

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Then she hugged Tani, then Elder, and as soon as Free was up she tackled him in a bear hug.

“Good morning, Freezer Bunny Wolff Tea!” she shouted.

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I kept an eye on Emelia, wanting to make sure she wasn’t feeling left out. I mean, she just joined our family a short while ago, and since then, her favorite friend Aya moved out and Roxie has moved in.

But Emelia is doing great. She’s loving being a kid. And I feel I can trust her reslience: she’s seen more in all her travels through time and space than I can even imagine!

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And she and Free will always have those adventures that they shared together, just the two of them.

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On Sunday morning, we all headed over to Oakenstead so we could meet the other Gooding kids. Alex, Forrest, and Aya had found Dr. Jasmine’s old Plum Day decorations stored in the attic and really made the place look like festive.

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“You must be Desiree!” I said to the cute girl in braids. She seemed like she’d stepped out of a fairy tale, with her sweet smile and a sparkle of magic in her eyes.

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“I’m Liam” said the third Gooding kid.

And he started telling me, in a very precise manner, his strategy for earning high score every time at blic-block. Elder hung on his every word!

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When Roxie ran in after playing on the monkey bars, she greeted Elder with a hug.

All these gifts that Dr. Jasmine left us! A big home and three kids!

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I felt a rush of gratitude. So much has happened here in Oakenstead! This is where I first saw Elder, during our first Plum Day celebration. In this very room I first met Elder’s mom. Here’s where we had our wedding. Elder always said that he felt that Dr. Jasmine was like the guardian angel over our marriage–she’d been the one to encourage me not to give up on love. And now, her home had become an extension of our own, as our family of friends spread through town, always growing to include more people to hug.

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HFH: Two Calls from Two

Emelia and I lingered at the breakfast table. This was our first Saturday morning together as a family, and we didn’t want to rush it.

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But our leisure was interrupted by a phone call.

“Mr. Two!” I said when I heard that familiar accent. “We haven’t heard from you since S-GAS! How have you been?”

He had no time to chat. This was a business call.

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My stomach dropped when I heard his officious tone.

“It’s Mr. Two!” I mouthed to Emelia.

Last I’d heard of Number Two, he was the solicitor for Emelia’s mom, Fey Johnson, who’d gotten into some trouble the S-GAS keynote speech events.

I put Mr. Two on hold for a second.

“Do you think this is on your mom’s behalf?” I asked Emelia.

“Nah,” Em said. “That version of my mom doesn’t even know I exist! That version of my mom only knows me as a rebellious teen who wants to speak her mind once and for all!”

“You sure?”

Emelia nodded.

“Sorry about that, Mr. Two,” I said, returning to the phone. “So what can I help you with?”

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It turned out that Mr. Two was calling to help us out! Well, he was just taking care of business related to his job as an estate representative, but it had the effect of helping us out.

“You mean Dr. Jasmine left her place to us?” I said, incredulous at his news.

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“Absolutely true, in entirety and actuality,” said Mr. Two.

All of Oakenstead had been left to us! We’d held Aya’s birthday party there, for we’d been told that we could use it while the estate was being settled, but we had no idea that the estate would be settled on us!

“See?” said Emelia. “I told you it had nothing to do with me!”

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While it doesn’t have anything to do with Emelia’s custody, it has a lot to do with all of us! A whole new house that’s ours?

Forrest, Aya, Alex, and I headed over there in the evening to look it over.

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It still feels to strange to me to be in that empty home. With all the furniture removed, the echoes of memory ring even louder through those barren rooms.

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“It sure is big,” said Forrest.

“I like it,” said Alex. “Imagine it filled with all of our stuff!”

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“Remember my birthday wish?” said Aya.

“I remember you said it would be like ‘a big huge happy-storm that would change the course of everything,'” I replied.

“That’s right!” she said. “And it feels to me like this is it!”

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We all talked it over. I really didn’t want to leave our home, and neither did Tani. I also hated to think of us splitting up.

“But remember when Gray and Emma moved across the street?” said Elder. “That turned out for the best, didn’t it?”

I had to admit that it did. I remembered what Gray had told me when they were deciding to move.

“Don’t think of it as your space shrinking. Look at it as a chance for your space to increase,” he’d said.

And it had worked out that way. We were over there a lot, and they were over here a lot. So it really was more like expanding, to make room for more people to join our circle, than contracting and having folks leave.

So, Alex, Aya, and Forrest moved into Dr. Jasmine’s house. There was plenty of money in the estate for refurnishing. And now we’ve got three housefuls of hippies in town.

And with Free and Em running around, our hippie house also feels like a house full of kids!

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Shortly after they moved out, Mr. Two called again.

“Yes, they’re all settled,” I told him. “Thanks for checking.”

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“Most delighted to hear it,” he said. “Now that frees us to move on to the next piece of business.”

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“You have the new domicile established, which puts you in the perfect position to receive the children.”

“The children?” I asked.

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“Yes! They are waiting for to be brought home from the orphanage. If you act quickly, you’ll have three more children home in time for Plum Day!”

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