Discussion of news topics with a point of view, including narratives by individuals regarding their own experiences

Our plan wasn’t to live in this old apartment for long.

Maybe a few months — not 16 — while we looked for a permanent place. Our firstborn was six weeks old when we moved cross-country from the mountains of North Carolina to the lakes of Michigan and needed a spot to land.

While our unit has some character, it’s more than a century old — a mash-up of crumbly walls, creaky floors, rickety door handles and poor paint jobs. The apartment’s imperfections stuck out to me, causing a glare that seemed to blind me from its beauty.

Our real estate agent had been helping us look for a house to buy. In a popular real estate market with sky-high prices, we sought a house where we could raise our growing family for the foreseeable future.

Pregnant with our second child, I’ve spent months dreaming of that family home. One with a larger kitchen, a private backyard, my own front door and other memory-making luxuries. I’d sit on the back patio and drink lemonade while I nursed the newborn and watched the toddler play in the yard. My body would be relaxed, my soul at home.

Then the pandemic hit.

Suddenly those dreams of finding a home before the new baby arrived shriveled alongside others’ wedding plans, jobs and bank accounts. My vision for our family cracked into pieces, drifting into the abyss of an unknown future and a hazy timeline.

With social distancing, almost all of our time is now spent in this old apartment.

In the kitchen, I can’t get my pregnant belly through the slot where the corner of the counter and fridge converge. When cooking, I run out of counter space faster than I do dinner ideas. The cupboards are tiny and sometimes we jam so much in one, a box of cereal falls on my head when I reach for the peanut butter.

“This damn kitchen!” I used to say.

Now, this damn kitchen has become my haven for baking comfort into our days — cookies one week, muffins the next. The absence of counter space has escaped me as quickly as the month of March did. Instead, I notice with preciousness my oven and french press.

The writer with her husband and son. (Courtesy of Jenna Jonaitis)
The writer with her husband and son. (Courtesy of Jenna Jonaitis)

We’re on the second floor and at the base of the stairs, the foyer is impossibly tight. It’s always a puzzle to block our toddler from climbing the stairs while I swing the diaper bag to my side, position the stroller and squeeze out the door.

“This damn foyer!” I used to say.

Now, the damn foyer at the base of the stairs is where the three of us put on our shoes before our daily walk — our one reprieve outside the home. The cramped entryway no longer irks me. It’s a pocket of joy to be together as we enter the world, knowing we get to come back here, safely inside.

Our days at home saunter by like heavy elephants but also race past me in record speed. My husband and I work from home while caring for our little one, all while trying to care for ourselves. We read the news daily and report back how lucky we are to stay in our fortress, not having to brave the front lines.

With an invisible virus spreading through our community and nation, no longer do I view the apartment as a place I wanted — almost needed — to escape.

Instead, it has become my refuge. The only place I feel safe.

The place I watched our son learn to walk, eventually making laps with his red pushcart full of books and blocks. The place we established ourselves as a family, sharing laughter over dinner and reading stories hunched together before bed.

The writer’s son with his red pushcart. (Courtesy of Jenna Jonaitis)
The writer’s son with his red pushcart. (Courtesy of Jenna Jonaitis)

It’s as if my brain turned a corner. I went from being tuned in to every frustration about our apartment to accepting and embracing what is.

I cherish this apartment now and the memories we get to make here. It has suddenly become my home. I delight as the early sun trickles into the living room, how the gaps in the wood trim on the houses next door make for handy bird nests. My son and I perch near the window while I sip my coffee. The birds chatter among themselves, our beautiful morning melody.

The creaky floors seem quieter. The dull rental paint seems brighter. I don’t care if we never move. As long as we’re safe and have each other.

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