A week after we moved in together, we drove up to San Francisco from South Bay, and when I saw those houses lining up the hill covered in fog, I turned to my husband and said, that is how our house should be. A house up the hills, every room with a view. It is every girl’s dream, of four walls and a roof, of windows and doors, but mine were slightly different. What was metaphorical for sheltered life for others was figurative for me, four walls were four walls made of steel and stucco, covered in gypsum board. Ever since I enrolled into Architecture and drew the first line for the imaginary project, I have been imagining my own dream.
But life happens. Priorities changed. A pregnant woman couldn’t drive up and down the hill, a young mother couldn’t live far away from the freeways and train lines, a mature woman should know better than buying a house without a good school district. We bought a dream of happiness and promised to morph into Mr.Truman and Mrs.Stepford so that we could live happily ever after with our piano playing, math master mini-mes. But, keeping up with our legendary record of moving every two years, we grew restless after the first two years. I promised myself, it won’t happen this time, I will put pictures on the wall, create memories in the house so that it becomes my time capsule that I will always want to preserve. That was last year, when I decided to be ‘home for the holidays’.
A year later, the restlessness has found feet and a mind of its own, and the low interest rates aren’t helping either. It seems logical, to have another home for the holidays, or after the holidays, or sometimes in the future. We talked. It’s a simple life we have. We talk, and we talk about everything in our hearts and minds. We decided that we will move. Upgrade or downgrade were the only two options. We were not sure which direction to take, and the teenage drama queen wasn’t any help either when she didn’t lift her head from a book she was reading and announced it didn’t matter as long as she didn’t move into an apartment because apartments were crappy. Apparently her friends told her that, because she was too young to remember her life in the apartment.
MLS listing scans told a different story, inventories in my land have reached their lowest in the past five years, and though that time people questioned our timing to buy during the ‘great housing depression’, inventory was at its highest then, and when I looked for a cute little house for my cute little family in a cute little neighborhood, a thousand options came up. It was a bitter sweet moment, to know that you timed it well then, and to know that now might not be a great time. This time it was not the schools that I wanted, and it was not the proximity to the freeways either. I wanted a house of my dreams. A lot that was three times bigger than the house, a lake and a trail for a morning run, a beach or a mountain to gaze at, and living in Orange County, the possibilities are endless.
There it was, my dream house.
Breathtaking views- Check.
Historic/ Character- Check.
Artistically and aesthetically done outdoor hardscape/ landscape- check.
Architectural features inside with state of the art amenities- check.
If the pictures were anything to go by, between the views of canyon and mountain and valleys, I sold my soul to that little cottage with dark hardwood floors and sunlit walls.
Mumtaz Mahal had found her Taj Mahal, and Shahjahan obliged, drove her up the hill, over the cliff and away from civilization where the wide toll road turned into a street made of mud and gravel after cautioning us to turn on daylight headlights. Sandbags lined the houses because the first drop of rain had dropped from the California sky that afternoon. Turkeys, goats and roosters roamed freely in the yards, and as we went up and down as we were strapped to a car ride in Disneyland, we finally arrived at our destination. The house that I, as an Architect would be proud to showcase and had my sold my soul to, based on MLS pictures was at the corner, but the children refused to get down from the car. No one said a word till we got there, because everyone was being very sensitive about the other person’s feelings.
I didn’t have tears in my eyes, neither did I tell anyone that they were not being supportive. I had my own list of fears and concerns that I kept to myself. The toll road would add up to the expenses. A quick walk to Starbucks would take more than an hour. We couldn’t pull the car in and out of the garage every few hours to go to work, run scheduled pick-ups and drop offs and extra-curricular activities. Dinners out will have to depend on the season and driver’s mood, because rain would lock us down, and so will bad mood. It will be a different life that none of us could adjust to. We won’t own the house, the house will own us. We drove back, and never was I so happy to return to civilization, the safest city and the sixth best place to live. If could, I would hug my San Simeon and say, you are home, really-truly.
That doesn’t mean I won’t scan MLS listings anymore.
A house on a hill awaits, but the hill won’t be that high, that’s all.
Talking about dream homes, this year I built a house. Architect mommy had always felt that only commoners who bought ugly houses with great rooms that don’t heat and cool efficiently gave their children ugly store bought doll houses. I promised myself that I would custom build a dollhouse for my girls. But when I had money, I didn’t have the time, and when I had time, I didn’t have the drive. This year my younger one turns six, and from what I observe around me, she is one of the last six year old girls who still buys posing dolls with hair that can be styled, and plays with them building stories.
One afternoon, when I saw the dollhouse in pastels at Costco, I took a deep breath, and loaded that box in the cart. From the moment that we loaded it into the cart to the time I finished building it, she sat there, with two screw drivers in her hand, asking me “are you done?” every five minutes, without fail. I burned midnight oil, balancing work-scheduled pickups along on a Monday. But when it was done, the happiness on her face, the excitement with which she brought all her dolls downstairs and introduced them to the new house made it all worthwhile. It would matter to me that it’s not unique, but for the person I assembled it for, it was very special.
The “Chateaux” I assembled was a stark reminder of the life I lead. It wouldn’t matter that the builder has passed the same plan through the photocopier to reduce and enlarge so that it brought in maximum gains to him, but inside each one of that house was a unique family, building its own memories. Looking at the dollhouse my mother shared my childhood memories with my daughters, of how they got a local carpenter get some plywood nailed and glued together to look like rooms for dolls, and how I expressed my imagination by coloring them, and adding on to them with the cardboard covers of my used notebooks. “What about you?” asked my daughters, wanting know what kind of dollhouse did their grandmother have for her dolls of Sandalwood. “We didn’t have dollhouses”, said my mother, “We had huge backyards, and we were allowed to play till sun down”.
I smiled, and told them to go play with their dollhouse, thinking about the people in my city who owned houses that looked just like my daughter’s dollhouse.