The Little House that Could

October 27, 2013

You know the story about the man who goes to the rabbi to kvetch that his house is too small? The wise rabbi suggests that the man take in a parade of animals, one by one, until the man’s house is so noisy and crowded that he cannot hear the thoughts in his own head. To drive home his point, the rabbi then has the man remove the chicken and the duck and the goat in turn, until only the home’s original dwellers remain. Suddenly, the man feels like king of the castle in a house that is spacious and quiet, and to paraphrase Goldilocks, just right.

I imagine that our house is in no way as small as the one in the tale from the shtetl, but it also isn’t a palace. My boys who share a room would certainly prefer to have their own, and we’ve already discussed on these pages my longing for a kitchen that can accommodate a second sink (February 2012). My husband would like a study, and my youngest would like to build a sound-proof, explosion-resistant science lab. No one is asking for an indoor basketball court (well, yes, they are, but even they realize that’s a total fantasy). Still, each of us has a dream.

Plenty of luxurious homes have sprouted in our neighborhood, both before and since we moved in ten years ago. I always say I don’t envy them. But I mean it in the way you might say you want a sliver of cake, when what you really want is a big piece with an extra icing flower. Ultimately, though, you just don’t want the calories and you don’t want anyone to see you eating that much.

In all things, as with cake, after the sugar rush comes the reckoning. The clutter that could accrue in such a house is mind-blowing, not to mention the heating bill. Besides, I can hardly manage to clean up the footprint I have. Just the thought of keeping everything in its rightful place in so many rooms sends shivers up and down my spine. But having extra space for teenage boys to crawl into when they are in full-blown, extremely loud, testosterone-fueled mode, or the elbow room in which I can hide from it all? Wow. I mean, wow!

Then, this morning, as I began to set the table for Shabbos dinner, I had one of those I’ve-finally-figured-it-all-out moments. As always when we are not hosting guests, I positioned the plates for the five us all together at one end of the dining room table. My mind jumped to those massive, cordoned-off dining rooms the docent shows you when you tour a mansion. The rooms – and the tables – are always long enough for the family to have hosted an entire village. But when they were alone, they would spread out — mom at one end, dad at the other, with a spattering of children on each side – and it always struck me as sad that there was so much unused space between them.

Space, it seems, is in many ways like money. I wouldn’t mind having more of it, but you really need only what you need. After all, we squish ourselves into our car each summer to drive thousands of miles together, and they are the best two weeks of our year. 

Sooner than I want to acknowledge, the day will come when my boys, in turn, will pack up and move on to set up their own homes. And slowly, before we even realize it has happened, our home – without adding one square foot — will begin to feel spacious, like the house in the village after the goat and the duck have packed their bags. 

Suddenly, we’ll have plenty of room, but I imagine it will be too lonely to live with so much quiet.