More Than Walls

Filed Under (To Get To The Other Side) by Estee on 02-02-2010

momLeaving We are moving, Adam and I. Thirteen days and counting. Leaving the home I built with Adam’s father (literally — I’ve uncovered stacks of my working notes while building the house I am moving out of) and I ache. My back aches from moving boxes, my feet ache from running up and down stairs, and well, the heart is complicated.

Houses are more than what they contain. They are more than walls. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t drive back to the homes we grew up in, or show our boyfriends and girlfriends where we went to school. We wouldn’t go back to tree where we carved our names, or try to find the homes our grandparents lived in to imagine what history had happened to bring us to this very moment. We traverse back all of the time. We try hard to conjure up the memories, the conversations, Fred Flintstone and Campbells Tomato Soup, or maybe the sounds of children running in for lunch. Even though we can’t relive them in actual time, the moments live within us.

I remember when we started planning to build the house I will say goodbye to next week — the first day we ripped down the old structure that stood on this land before we built; Adam was a baby then and I had taken a walk from the other white home we lived in — the one I’ve written about in The Perfect Child, with black shutters and a huge maple tree, to witness the first dent the demolition crew made. We were building something and I was exhilarated.

It took us eighteen months to build this house we lived in since 2005. Every week, I’d walk Adam over in his stroller — getting him used to the new place; already worried about that thing I always talk about: “transitioning.” We walked by. Then we walked in. Then we could walk up a ladder that took the place of stairs. Then we could walk up stairs until finally, we played ball in the kitchen that was still being built. My mother accuses me (in the nicest possible way) of living in the future since I was a very young child. As Adam’s mother I imagined all the games we would play in this house, the guests we would have. I don’t knock imagination in the age of the Power of Now. We can breathe life into things!

When Adam was three, we moved in. Leaving Rosemary (the white house), was difficult too. It was the home Adam’s father and I began to build our family life and where I became a stepmother. It was the place where I brought Adam home two days after he was born — April 13, 2002. I will never forget how it began to rain and that strange feeling — that the house I left was not the same house to which I returned. Adam, of course, changed all of that. The moment I put him down in his car seat in that front hall and I was overcome with the new life that I now cannot imagine living without.

I returned to Rosemary with toddler-Adam asleep in the back of my van soon after we had moved into this home which I am about to leave. I had to run in to fetch the bassinet my mother had refurbished for him — the one I also slept in thirty-some years earlier. It was “heaven’s bed,” or a “Himmelbett,” as they say in German. My German grandmother made it by hand just for me. Adam also deserved to lie under the same protection of the heavens and the angels.

As I walked into Rosemary it was about to storm — still so quiet and dark. I stood lingering and silent in each room. I had to think about everything that had happened in those rooms and all of those conversations. Although it was empty, the walls seemed to be whispering among the dust balls — remember when, remember when….

imagesWhen I was ready, I wrapped my arms around the bassinet and put it quietly in the back of my van, Adam still sleeping soundly, the thunder just beginning to gently roll towards us. I sat in the car and looked one last time. It was hard, but I had to say goodbye. I put the car in reverse and decided not to go back for awhile. A couple of years later, the new owners demolished that house and built a new one. I still drive by.

Saying goodbye to homes and a life I shared with someone is an important ritual. Just because some things don’t last does not mean we must abandon them in our hearts, our minds or with sour words. We must honour an ending as much as a beginning, for all our stories have them. I believe we have to approach such goodbyes with gentle regard for all of those days, nights, hours and years. All of those words spoken; all of those hopes and dreams. We build. We move. We demolish. We build again.

I have created a new home and it’s also lovely. Adam loves his new room, and I have created another piece of Himmel over his reading nook, where he has only visited but looks about curiously and tries to find his comfort.

Like everything else I do, I will get this done. I will say my prayers and my goodbyes as I stand in each room listening to what the walls say. Then I will take a rock from the backyard that Adam loves so dearly — where Adam’s father brought home his first big trampoline; where the grandfathers worked so hard to put it together. Our backyard was Adam’s haven and we spent many summer afternoons swimming and playing. At first, that rock will be difficult to look at, so I may put it away. I have a feeling, however, it will later become something I will need to look at. Something to cherish. I have to remember. For all those years were worth it. They are my story and, while it may come with some ache, I am proud of everything that was created over the past thirteen years. While my imagination is already working on my new home (and yes, my future as well as Adam’s), this is my way of saying goodbye.


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About Me


I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (, and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.