JANE GREEN bids a nostalgic farewell to her family haven

The bittersweet heartache of selling an empty nest: It’s the rambling home where they raised six children. But now, as the youngest leave, top author JANE GREEN bids a nostalgic farewell to her family haven… and embraces a future fizzing with possibility

None of my kids were supposed to be around much this summer. The eldest one is working in the city an hour away; the others all have holiday jobs lined up.

And yet, as I sit here typing this, there are four boys sitting around the kitchen table making each other laugh, a daughter upstairs in her room finishing the packing for her summer job, another daughter lounging by the pool with a friend, their toes swirling circles in the water as they chat and scroll through their iPhones.

All six children are home, and this mama’s heart feels full.

British author Jane Green pictured at her Connecticut home, which she shares with husband Ian Warburg, and six children

In this house we have hosted graduation parties, countless barbecues, and endless dinners in the garden

Our home sits on a tidal creek in coastal Connecticut, on America’s East Coast, the place I left my old life in England for some 20 years ago

This will be the last summer we do this. The last summer we spend in our gorgeous old house — a summer cottage that was built at the start of the 20th century, that has been ‘winterised’ over the years. It has been the happiest family home imaginable.

But now, we have decided to sell up and leave. A family home needs a family . . . and soon this family will be gone.

In this house we have hosted graduation parties, countless barbecues, and endless dinners in the garden. In winter, we always dragged in a Christmas tree that we cut down ourselves from a farm up the road, and spent nights cosying up by the fire playing games. Pre-pandemic, on summer evenings, we’d see up to 14 teenagers squeezed in and around the hot tub like sardines.

While I love it when the house is filled with people, I also — as something of an introvert — love it when it is quiet, when I come down to the kitchen in the morning to find that it looks exactly the same as when I went up to bed the night before.

With six children home — four from my first marriage, two from my husband’s, all of them now in their late teens and 20s, we are what they call joyfully blended — that simply doesn’t happen. I have no idea what happens during my sleeping hours, only that I come downstairs every morning to a sink piled high with dishes and glasses.

The children are very good at cooking, and very bad at cleaning up. They all appear to have a severe allergy to the dishwasher. This drives me potty, but I know I will even miss the mess when they are all gone.

And they will soon be all gone. Back to jobs, real life and university. And then, in just under two weeks, the last of the children — twin boys — will finish school, and in September they, too, will be off for good: one to start a gap year, one to St Andrew’s University in Scotland. Leaving my husband and I alone.

We have decided to sell up and leave. A family home needs a family . . . and soon this family will be gone

As family life ends, I know I will have to define myself all over again. I have found myself, these past few weeks, re-evaluating everything in my life, aware that I am now about to step into the second act, and it is likely to be entirely different from the first.

I find myself wishing I had pushed them towards independence a little less, wishing that they needed me a little more. I will always be their mum, but my mothering days are gone, along with this house.

Our home sits on a tidal creek in coastal Connecticut, on America’s East Coast, the place I left my old life in England for some 20 years ago.

We love our house. We love that when we moved into this house in February 2015, with all the kids in tow, it hadn’t been insulated, so when the wind blew, it creaked and groaned, leading to us calling it Creaky Cottage.

It has been the happiest place we have ever lived in, and I truly thought that we would stay here for the rest of our lives. So why are we now leaving it?

The process of the children leaving had, naturally, been gradual. One by one, they flew.

But last year saw a rapid reversal. At the start of the pandemic, all our kids came home together. One flew back from London, others from around the country.

Suddenly all six children were home and safe, and we were back to cooking for eight every night, playing games, trying to take our minds off the unknown; what was going on in the outside world, what would happen, when would our lives return to normal.

Slowly, as last summer progressed, the kids started taking off again, back to their lives. The house grew quiet again. And tidy.

We found ourselves sitting in our family home but without the family that filled it. And my husband Ian and I started to think about what we might do when it would be just the two of us. It struck us all at once that we were entering into a completely new phase of life, one that might look very different. We weren’t sure what we wanted to do, perhaps travel. (We have not had a family holiday in years. Travelling with eight people is chaotic, and expensive. But travel for two sounded idyllic.)

At the start of the pandemic, all our kids came home together. One flew back from London, others from around the country

It has been the happiest place we have ever lived in, and I truly thought that we would stay here for the rest of our lives. So why are we now leaving it?

Or perhaps fulfil a dream of buying a small farm somewhere close, something with a small, old house for the two of us, but the potential to add a barn, a guesthouse for when the kids come home — a place that could accommodate partners, spouses, grandchildren.

As much as we love our home, this is not a home that we can easily lock up and leave. It has gardens that need tending, and, as with all old houses, things need fixing. Regularly.

This is a home, I thought, that needs a family. It needs someone else to fill it with children, with laughter and barbecues; someone else to sit on the dock with a glass of wine watching the sun set.

With five bedrooms, this is a house that comes alive with children, with feet running through, with noise and laughter.

As much as we love our home, this is not a home that we can easily lock up and leave. It has gardens that need tending, and, as with all old houses, things need fixing

With five bedrooms, this is a house that comes alive with children, with feet running through, with noise and laughter

The property market over here is at an all-time high. Seven hundred young families moved to my smallish town to escape the city during the pandemic.

One of those families should live here, I thought. It is time for other people to enjoy this house. Why not take advantage of the crazy prices people are getting, put some money in the bank, and move on to something else?

The painters arrived to prepare the house to go on the market. A friend, who works as a stager, spent a week ‘editing’ all our stuff.

I like what I call curated clutter. My bookshelves were filled with thousands of books, the tables holding collections of things that tell the story of our lives. Our estate agent said that everything had to be removed.

‘Prospective buyers need to be able to picture themselves in your house,’ she said. ‘Everything personal has to go.’

We filled dozens and dozens of boxes with books, which were donated to numerous happy readers. All the photographs were taken down and put away. Indian-printed cushions and embroidered throws were removed, as was all colour. We were aiming for neutral, for 50 shades of beige.

The bookshelves in the living room were staged in the style my town seems to like: a handful of books but only those with blue or white spines, beautiful ‘objets’ — a pretty vase, a sculpture, coral.

The house had to look stylish, inviting and beachy.

I stood watching as things were put away, appreciating that the house was beginning to look the way it needed to in order to sell, but feeling as if it was leaving a hole in my heart that was growing bigger and bigger. Were we making a terrible mistake?

We put the house on the market on a Thursday. By Sunday, we had ten offers. By Monday, it had sold

The blues and greens of the children’s bed linens were all changed to white — their rooms transformed from messy teenage bedrooms to welcoming, stylish guest bedrooms. The pots in the garden were hurriedly planted out, and the table by the pool was set for dinner, complete with a bottle of wine.

Fluffy white towels were bought and placed in all the bathrooms. We were told that the bedrooms and bathrooms needed to look like a luxury hotel.

I felt bereft as the house was stripped of its personality. Saying goodbye to most of our books, all of which have been carted from house to house, some from the UK to America, was heartbreaking.

I stood watching as things were put away, appreciating that the house was beginning to look the way it needed to in order to sell, but feeling as if it was leaving a hole in my heart that was growing bigger and bigger. Were we making a terrible mistake?

We put the house on the market on a Thursday. By Sunday, we had ten offers. By Monday, it had sold.

We were relieved, and a little devastated. A part of me had hoped we wouldn’t get the price we were asking, that we could put it down to an experiment, that we had decided to stay.

Practically, I know selling our family home is the right thing for us. We don’t need it for the two of us, and releasing us from the responsibility of owning a large home frees us up to try other things. But emotionally, realising that we had an accepted offer, that five days later we had exchanged contracts, was devastating.

Our buyers very graciously offered to let us stay here until the end of September, which we are doing. It gives us one last summer, and the twins their final summer at home before flying off.

Our house still looks staged, and for that I am thankful. Without our stuff, without the cushions and patterns and throws and books, it is feeling more like a perfectly lovely house, and less and less like our home.

I think perhaps this was the universe looking out for us. It would have been far too hard to leave if it still looked, and felt, like the family home. This transitional step has made it so much easier.

Fourteen years ago, a year after I fell in love with my landlord while renting his beach cottage — a landlord who is now my husband — I bought the house next door to the beach cottage.

It was supposed to be a rental investment; a teeny tiny cottage steps from the beach. We did some simple renovations and have kept it rented out ever since.

Because the property market is still so high, we have decided that for now, until we decide what our next steps will be, we will move into the beach cottage — named The Mouse House due to its size — while we wait for everything to settle.

It is just my husband and me, but I was nervous about leaving our lovely big family home for such a tiny cottage. And in 14 years, I have never spent the night there.

Last week, one of the twins had a graduation party. I am an early-nighter, and my son is a theatre kid. I knew that if I had to listen to 15 theatre kids singing Sondheim all night, it might be the end of me, so I decided to leave my husband in charge and spend the night in The Mouse House.

A couple of girlfriends joined me. We poured wine into portable coffee cups and walked the few yards down to the beach as the sun was setting. Later, we sat in the tiny living room and laughed all evening; then I curled up in bed, amazed at how peaceful it was.

The next morning, we took those same cups, this time filled with coffee, back to the beach. That part of the beach is quiet. A handful of walkers.

It reminded me of that first summer when I fell in love with Ian, then my landlord, when I lived in the cottage next door (subsequently sold); when I felt free, and young, and filled with possibility.

I thought that was because I had just come out of the wrong marriage, and was finally discovering what the right one might look like. I now think that it might not have been the stage of life, but rather the magic of a tiny little beach cottage on the right side of the beach, and the freedom of not worrying about a big house.

Whatever it is, for the first time I know, deep within my bones, that the decision to leave the family home was the right one.

Finally, finally, I’m ready to be something other than a mother who is counting the minutes until her children return. Finally, I’m ready to close the door on the family home. And I cannot wait to see what happens next.

Source: Read Full Article