Welcome Home by Donalyn Miller
We moved into our new house the first week of June, but I haven’t spent much time here. Educators attend a lot of professional development during the summer months and I have traveled from conference to conference–speaking with colleagues around the country about fostering children’s reading lives. Returning home for a day or two here and there—I dive back into the ongoing unpacking efforts. I feel guilty about how much work Don and Sarah have done without me.
We’ve set up our house in pragmatic waves. We assembled our beds and put our dishes in the cabinets. We decided on spots for water bowls and pet food. We hooked up our televisions and wi-fi. We scouted for a new grocery store. We can function now. We can cook meals and take showers. We can wash clothes and watch a movie.
But this place still doesn’t feel like home.
We feel as if we are in a nice vacation rental—like the real owners might show up at any moment and ask for the keys. We know it will take time. We need a year of holidays and birthdays. We need to overcome sadness and celebrate joys. We need to make some memories here. We are still in love with our old house and this house is a stranger.
While Don is willing to unpack pots and pans and hook up the washer while I am out of town, he is reluctant to put any personal touches on the house without me. He doesn’t have strong opinions about where we hang our paintings or display my mother’s music boxes, but he knows I care. Each time I come home, we hang another painting or adorn another table top. We empty another box and wait for the tipping point—the moment when this house begins to feel like our house.
I haven’t made time to unpack my office. Knowing that I would be traveling all summer, I packed two boxes of “priority office supplies” and I ‘ve been working out of them. I go into my office from time to time—to grab a power cord or fish for a pen. I can’t unpack my office right now because we don’t have a place for all of our books. My office has become a book warehouse. A problem I can’t solve right now. I keep the door closed and avoid it as much as possible.
We left behind some things when we moved, including our built-in bookshelves. Don’s Man Cave, my office, our living room—all lined with floor to ceiling bookshelves. We knew our new house didn’t have enough bookcases before we bought it, but we convinced ourselves it was something we could fix. We forgot how many years (and how much money) it took us to buy, install, and fill all of those shelves.
While we gave away hundreds of books before we moved, we still moved 45 boxes of books into our new house. Sarah moved boxes of books, too, but she refuses to tell me how many, “My books are not part of your story, Mom.” We don’t have any place for these books and we cannot afford to install built-ins all at once. It took us years at the old place. We are in limbo.
Talking with Don one day about my failure to bond with our new house, he shook his head and said, “This house will never feel like our house until we have our books unpacked. It’s impossible. Remember how we felt when we started packing our books at the old house? We didn’t feel like we belonged there anymore.”
“It seems selfish to spend time unpacking books when we still have boxes piled in the garage. Besides, we don’t have places for them!” I said.
“We have those two built-in bookcases around the fire place in the living room. It’s not enough, but it’s a place to start. Why don’t you spend the day filling those? You’ll feel better when you do,” he said.
I could write forever about the joy of marrying another reader. Best. Decision. Ever.
I spent a glorious afternoon filling those bookcases. Recognizing that we didn’t have enough room for many books forced me to be selective. It was like a Nerdy Book Club version of the Desert Island game. If you only had two bookcases, what would go on it?
I began hunting for our favorites. The books that shaped the way we talk to each other. The books we built a family with. I opened twelve boxes looking for Harry Potter, snagging The Hobbit, The Wind in the Willows, and Watership Down along the way. I rediscovered our two copies of The Princess Bride—the one Don gave me when we were dating and the illustrated edition he gave me a few years ago. 22 years of “As you wish” bookending our marriage.
Next on the shelves—Barnyard Dance, Dinosaur Bob and the Family Lazardo, Are You My Mother?, Stellaluna, A Bad Case of Stripes—books we read with our girls when they could still sit on our laps. I can hear their baby girl giggles in my head, “Read it again, Mommy!” I found our copies of Mercy Watson, which Emma, our oldest granddaughter and I read last year. I ceremoniously placed our signed copy of Yard Sale on the shelf. Thank you, Lauren, for sending us the right book at the right time.
When I slipped The Knife of Never Letting Go onto our shelves, Don and I whispered, “Manchee,” and shared a bittersweet smile. Yes this is what home feels like. We are readers who built a family together. It only makes sense that we need our books to build a new home. For now, our old memories—housed inside our old books—will sustain us.
Emma helped me unpack two more boxes of books and put them on her red bookcase–one of the few free standing bookcases we moved. I came across a copy of I Will Take a Nap!, the latest Elephant and Piggie book. It came out the week we moved and I packed it without reading it. Sitting on the floor in our spare bedroom, Emma and I read the book, taking turns reading Gerald and Piggie’s parts (I was Piggie this time.). When we finished the book, Emma put it on her bookshelf, and I thought–this is how it begins. This is how you build a home. One memory at a time.
Last night, we celebrated my mom’s and my shared birthday. Our entire family came over to swim in the pool and eat fajitas. It was too hot to eat outside, so we sat in the living room and had a carpet picnic. We have a big family, and we could never invite everyone over to our old house at the same time. We didn’t have enough room. Looking around at four generations of family chatting and enjoying each other’s company, I realized that we could make some memories at our new house that we couldn’t make at our old place.
My mom complimented me on how much we’ve done on the house, “These bookcases look good, Doe. I can tell you’re settling in.”
Today, Don and I are going to IKEA to buy some bookcases. They may not be the built-in bookcases of our dreams, but this house will never feel like ours while half our hearts are trapped in boxes. In the years ahead, we will buy new books and make new memories—settling them into comfortable slots alongside our old books and old memories. This is how Don and I have built a life together—with our children and our bookshelves.
And with each book and each memory—we will turn this place into a home.
Donalyn Miller has taught fourth, fifth, and sixth grade English and Social Studies in Northeast Texas. She is the author of two books about encouraging students to read, The Book Whisperer (Jossey-Bass, 2009) and Reading in the Wild (Jossey-Bass, 2013). Donalyn co-hosts the monthly Twitter chat, #titletalk (with Nerdy Book Club co-founder, Colby Sharp) and the Best Practices Roots (#bproots) chat with Teri Lesesne. Donalyn launched the annual Twitter summer and holiday reading initiative, #bookaday. You can find her on Twitter at @donalynbooks or under a pile of books somewhere, happily reading.
This is gorgeous. And left me in sobs. ❤
So glad you are buying more bookshelves!! I love the books you unpacked already! Only a few dozen more boxes to go!!!
I, too, am choked up reading your words. What matters so much is how the books bond your lives as a family and bring you into the worlds of so many others. I love hearing about the positive energy and love in your life. We are all lucky that you share your ideas and experiences with so many around this country.
We moved in June as well and this feels like you are telling our family summer story! My new office (and the living room, and the guest room) features the IKEA Billy bookshelves! The books are placed a bit haphazardly at the moment, but we are slowly shifting them around until they find the perfect arrangement. The Billy shelves also b offer an option of a display shelf, tilted at an angle to show off covers of favorite reads.
What a great and heartfelt post. Thank you for sharing!!!
Crying over here… “This house will never feel like ours while half our hearts are trapped in boxes. With each book and each memory—we will turn this place into a home.”
Love, LOVE, love this: “Yes this is what home feels like. We are readers who built a family together. It only makes sense that we need our books to build a new home. For now, our old memories—housed inside our old books—will sustain us.” Our living lives are so deeply connected to our readin g lives, aren’t they?
Once I used IKEA shelves and made them look built in by not putting on the back, screwing them to wall with included attachment and then liquid nailing some nice bullseye trim from Home Depot on the joint where two shelves joined. The best part. You can add the trim after the books are placed on them. Voila!
That’s my book lover help. Love to you and yours. #LibraryIssues.
A reminder of the books that inspire us through what goes on and off a bookshelf.
Your post resonated with me so much as last year my family and I moved across the ocean to Vietnam. I had to leave the lion’s share of my treasured books behind. Neither my flat nor my classroom quite felt like home for a year. Visiting the States his summer, I opted to only take a few clothing items and filled the majority of my luggage with books. This decision has already made me feel more “at home” all around in this second year overseas. I wish you and your family the best as you settle into your new house, making it a home with former (and yet to be made) cherished book memories!
Loved this story! Books and mementos makes a house a home! Hope you enjoy settling in! Sheri Levy
This was such a beautiful essay Donalyn. It was so timely too. We’ve been living at our new house for year and just this morning my husband and I said we need to built-in bookshelves. I’m lucky…he’s a carpenter.
I can’t thank you enough for this post. We moved to our new home in early June. I know what you mean about feeling like it is a vacation rental. I had all of my books in our front “study” on the floor. I want built-ins and will only let the fam refer to that room as our “library.” Ha! It only houses our small piano-a love seat and A LOT of books. (Including yours, one of them autographed) 😉 It’s like a giant hug when inside. I wish I could post my son’s room. He is entering eighth grade and has two tall IKEA bookshelves filled to brim with his books. We just bought him a desk for his bday along with a swivel chair. He laughingly told me last night he has a “big boy room” now and needs a name plate for his desk. On those shelves houses YEARS of memories highlighting Tweensread visits each fall where we meet SO many authors, The One and Only Ivan where we went uber early to get in line at Barnes and Noble to meet her. As we pray takes turns in rooms to pray each night, I will glimpse at his bookshelves and see him at age 3, 7, 10, etc…for a fleeting moment. I understand Donalyn…all that you shared…Thank you!
I think you’re editing the wrong post.
We are getting ready to move out of our house, and I’m mourning our built-in bookshelves in much the same way. IKEA just won’t cut it. *sniff* I hope you get new ones soon.
The downstairs of our house was flooded at the end of last October and I had to move a lot of my books upstairs while the floor was taken up – that made me feel like our house wasn’t our home. But my husband doesn’t read!
Beautiful! I am crying but in a good way. Books and songs are like timeline bullets in my family memories.
Oh how this post got to me. I felt better once I read the comments to see that others also got weepy. About four years ago we did a renovation and moved out of our house for 10 months. I brought a small shelf and set up some books (so hard to bring just a few) in the storage closet of the condo we rented. When I missed having our books around (and I often missed our books), I would stand in that closet and pull certain titles off the shelf. I didn’t read them. I just held them. They were full of memories and grounded me. Moving back into our house, one of the first things we did was fill up bookshelves. Since then, we have added bookshelves in other rooms. Shelves and books grow with us. Good luck with all of it!
I’m wiping away my tears…Your writing is always as warm and caring as you are in person! Beautiful post.
Oh, Donalyn, you made me cry. Arthur and I are still far from moving in to the log cabin we are building, and I can’t wait to start filling it with books. Alas, I’m afraid the loft, which is where my office is going to be, is going to be one of the last parts made, so I might have to wait a bit, but I’m already envisioning making some temporary walls of books around the downstairs to start. When finished, we’ll also have a wonderful porch, which I know will become a sanctuary for me. I’m envisioning green or maybe bright yellow rocking chairs (the roof, windows and doors are all green), a little side table to hold some necessary items, hanging plants all around with some feeders being buzzed by local families of birds, including hummingbirds, and most of all great tranquility. I know it’s going to be a lot of work, but I can’t wait to get started!
Your voice brought memories, and tears, to my eyes. Thank you.
A beautiful reminder of building a life, a family, and a home, one book at a time. I loved this, Donalyn. Thank you for sharing it.
This is a beautiful post Donalynn. I can so identify with home, and the reads of our lives adorning the rooms. May you have time to get settled soon.
Beautiful book-filled post. We need homes built entirely from books that we could pluck one from when the need arises.
This touched my heart so much it brought me to tears. Making memories in your new home by unpacking your beloved books-what a beautiful thing! I can’t get over your line about having half your hearts trapped in boxes-I get it! I recently chose which books to place on our main bookshelf in our living room. I wanted “the right ones” and truthfully there were so many to chose from. I love what you said-about your books holding memories of your life…ahhhh, everything about your words here just spoke to me. Thank you. P.S. I LOVE the Dr. Seuss piece hanging on your wall!
What an absolutely lovely and heart-rending post, Donalyn. Thank you for sharing the heart of books and home and family. It was beautiful. I hope you find much happiness and comfort in your new house.
The book love in this post speaks to the book lover in all your nerdy friends. Thanks for capturing the feelings so many of us share with you. When we moved into our house 18 years ago . . not a single built-in bookshelf. We’ve added so many that I’m afraid it will have to be listed as a book lover’s haven in order for it to sell someday. But that’s down the road. For now I’m loving our home with shelves everywhere, (and always the need to weed).
Beautifully crafted essay. I didn’t marry a reader but an athlete and coach. My children have grown to love and honor the reading model I am. Amazed at how furiously I devour books and they too are readers even in the midst of being an athlete, so along with the books, our home is riddled with balls, bats, shoulder pads, and sports equipment of all kinds. How lovely oh my!
Last year when I was serving on the Newbery Committee, I packed up boxes of my personal books as submissions arrived (the better to fit them in my one-bedroom apartment). Once committee work was over, I was feeling a little lost… but then I remembered my books in the closet. Unpacking them was like welcoming back old friends. 🙂
Wonderful post! Thank you so much for sharing your NerdyBook heart with other NerdyBookers!
I’m going to keep this post in mind as we go through this same process. Our house is currently on the market, and to get ready to sell it, we cleared away books that were sitting everywhere to do what the realtor said and “declutter” – storing some of them in boxes and donating others. I look forward to moving into our downsized condo and “cluttering” it back up with our books!! The downsizing is a bit of a problem, though. Where will they all go?! 😉
Our IKEA set of basement bookshelves count as built ins for us and turned our great-I hope yours did too. Such a lovely post as always Donalyn. As a child who moved every two years (IRS brat), we didn’t save many toys but we still have our childhood books to share with our own kids. Yay for books as priorities!