President’s Corner – June

EUU President Carolyn Burlingame-Goff

Making Space for the Unexpected

The last six years of my life have been anything but predictable, and as I reallocate the space in my home for what seems like the umpteenth time, it has made me think about making space for the unexpected in life – both concretely and emotionally.

Newly single in 2012, I began reworking my house so that it reflected my future. In 2014 Cara moved out believing she would never move back in again. Leo took her room. Nine months later, Cara decided to study in Heidelberg and moved into the guest room in the basement. In the intervening months, Ray had become a fixture in our lives, and he took over my office in the basement so that he could work from Germany. Currently Ray and I are sharing an office in the bedroom Leo moved out of when he graduated from high school (the same room Cara had moved out of in 2014). Leo is back in the former basement guest room, which Cara vacated when she headed to the USA as an exchange student. Now Cara will be back with us while looking for her own apartment. So we have spent the last week moving everything out of the pantry and trying to make it a livable space for Cara. Livable, in this case, means a room that doesn’t manage to kill you, as the walls are crumbling, and the floors are uneven concrete.

And through it all, Johnny remains in the room he came home to when he was born.

Somewhere in all of this, there is a metaphor waiting to be explored. Clearly we have to remain open to the unexpected. I hate to think what my life would have been like if I hadn’t been open to a new relationship – even if it has involved getting to know Ryan Air more intimately than any sane individual would like to. And it is absolutely crucial to me that my children know they will always have a home with us – even if that means a mattress on the floor of the kitchen.

It is easy to become overly fond of the familiar, which is one of the reasons that continually cleaning out and repurposing the rooms in our house has also become a useful way for us prioritize the present and future over the past. Yes, it is painful to throw out the decorations and baking pans I used for childhood birthday parties. But it promotes focusing on who we are now: the parents of adult and soon-to-be adult children. The process has been good for the children, too. They have hated being booted out of one room only to re-inhabit another; they would prefer for us to keep their childhood rooms as shrines they can return to as and when they would like. But as much as we cherish our memories of their childhood, it is good for them to know that we love them here and now and will always love them in the here and now. Continual adjustments to our living spaces mirror the continual adjustments we make to each other as we move through life’s stages.