- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 17, 2005

The smell of coffee wafts through the house, beckoning me from my warm, soft bed to the quiet of a Sunday morning kitchen. My husband, clad in a T-shirt and the fish pajama bottoms I got him one year for his birthday, sits at the kitchen table doing what he always does on Sunday mornings — hunting for a house with acreage.

There’s nothing wrong with our present home. In fact, it’s great. Lots of room for all of us to spread out, space for hosting holiday gatherings, room to hide a crowd of teenagers for a surprise 16th birthday bash. It’s close to our schools and our church, shopping centers and my husband’s workplace. It’s home sweet home.

Except that my husband wants to pick up our home and drop it in the middle of a cornfield, surround it with 25 acres of densely wooded terrain and maybe even erect a fence. Neighbors? “That’d be great,” he says, “as long as I couldn’t see ‘em.”

My observation after being married more than 18 years and hanging around with other married people is that all men want acreage. There’s something manly — no, primal — about man’s need to grow up in the country.

On the other hand, being a woman, I know that what women want is sidewalks. In fact, this was what I said I wanted when we purchased our first home. “You have to have sidewalks, or the kids will ride their tricycles into the street and get hit by passing cars,” I reasoned.

“Not if the only cars driving down our street belong to us,” he said as he searched the paper for a home with the word “desolate” in the property description.

So the Sunday ritual unfolds. Armed with the real estate section and a hot cup of joe, my husband seeks out a rural refuge where he fantasizes he might relocate our brood for large doses of fresh air, frog catching and exploring the deep, dark secrets of our own private “back 40.” Never mind that our eldest daughter leaves for college in less than two years and our youngest child would dress that frog in pink — if ever she would touch it. He’s convinced children need to grow up in the country.

“I need neighbors,” I pointed out. “You know — neighbors? Those people you borrow eggs and sugar and ketchup from? And baby sitters. If we lived way out in the sticks, I’d have to drive a half-hour to pick up a sitter. By the time I got her back to our house, the evening would be over and it would be time to take her home again.”

He didn’t have an answer for that dilemma. I think he imagined a life in which we wouldn’t go out, but instead we would stay home reading and knitting by the fire after eating a meal of fresh opossum, shot that day on our gravel driveway.

It was an argument we continued to have even after five years in our suburban tract home. We would sip our Sunday morning coffee on the pressure-treated wooden deck while the children played with their neighborhood friends (riding bikes and scooters up and down the sidewalks).

We moved again, and I don’t want to say I won that debate because that would imply there was a loser. Nonetheless, the house we bought to accommodate our growing family is even closer to town (just six minutes to the front door of our school, four if you catch the lights just right).

Despite the logic of living among other people, my husband still harbors a dream that we’ll find a perfect family home within shouting distance of our town, conveniently located on acreage with a pond to attract ducks and an abandoned cornfield where pheasants would feel at home until their untimely demise and roasting. I can’t fault him for wanting a place designed for his ideal lifestyle.

What I like best about my husband’s real estate musings is the dreaming — the fact that he can still sit in our kitchen, surrounded by the sights and sounds of a life nearly 20 years in the making — and imagine what it might be like to re-create our reality, even if it’s just to relocate us to the next county.

As usual, there’s not much in the paper that would suit our dual purposes. Surprisingly, no one is selling a family home on 30 acres smack in the middle of our town, so I guess we’ll have to wait until next week to check the classified ads once more.

In the meantime, our conversation turns to the home we already own — the minor repairs that await our attention, the major overhauls we would do if ever we played and won the Lotto. Before long, the dreaming is done, I’m loading the coffee pot into the dishwasher, and we set about the business of hustling the family off to church.

One of these Sundays, our housing choices will be virtually unlimited. We might choose a country retreat or a bungalow on the beach or even a cool urban loft with nary a thought of school districts or closet space.

Then again, as long as we’re dreaming, we could just build a sidewalk in the woods.

Columnist Marybeth Hicks, a wife of 18 years and mother of four children, lives in the Midwest. She uses her column to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families nationwide. Visit her Web site (www.marybethhicks.com) or send e-mail to marybeth.hicks@comcast.net.

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