Once upon a time, Big Daddy and I lived in a two-bedroom apartment on the second floor of a large apartment complex. A quiet building full of retirees who looked after us and doted on us like their grandchildren. We would call maintenance when the washing machine overflowed and flooded the kitchen, or when the window leaked and stained the wall, or when the air conditioner unit froze up, or even when we locked ourselves out. They would come within 24 hours, fix the problem, accept a cold beer as a thank-you tip, and be on their way. We lived there for four years. Yet I complained about it every week -- hated that we had nothing to call our own, longed for a backyard and garden, felt sad that we didn't have enough space to store the bread machine we received as a wedding gift.
Then we moved to a condo, a nice little place with three bedrooms and three levels, a pretty little balcony on the living room level and a patio through French sliders on the ground level. Nice big rooms, but not a nice neighborhood (hence, affordable). We had to take care of all the "walls in" portions of the property, but otherwise all the exterior stuff was handled for us: the lawn was mowed once a week, the flower beds weeded, the gutters cleaned, the siding repaired, the snow shoveled, the trash taken directly from our enclosed front patios. We lived there for four years, too. And I complained about it every week -- hated the restrictiveness of the condo association rules, cursed the lack of parking, wished for a yard we didn't have to share with 20 other homeowners.
Two-and-a-half years ago we moved to our current home, a four-bedroom split level in a quiet little family neighborhood. We have a quarter-acre yard, a deck, a sunroom, a fireplace, a garage, and a giant attic. We have a basketball hoop in the driveway. We have friendly neighbors, an elementary school around the corner, and three playgrounds and a library within a 10-minute walk. In the fall, we can hear the high school marching band practicing; in the spring we can hear countless children running and playing up and down the street. It's lovely, really. Exactly what we wanted.
But. We have a gigantic mortgage that makes me cringe with each monthly payment. We have three bathrooms to clean, four bedrooms to dust, and a house full of hardwoods to mop. We have a lawn to mow, a wrap-around garden to weed, and countless trees to prune and rake up after. In addition, this week we have a garage door opener to fix, a laundry drain to unclog, two sinkholes to fill, a sump pump to unstick, an electrical outlet to tighten, a piece of siding to refasten, and a lawnmower that needs yet another overhaul. All of this costs money that we really don't have...because of the giant mortgage. We also have a retired next-door neighbor with yard-work OCD whose "helpful" comments sounds much more like criticism; I often interpret "You can do that with a screwdriver" as "You're an idiot and a lazy slob."
As I gaze through the window at our two-foot high lawn this evening, I am considering putting a sign on the front lawn that reads, simply, "We're sorry, neighbors," and sneaking off into the night with a backpack and a tent. Suddenly, that two-bedroom apartment sounds so sweet.