A friend asked us a question one day shortly after we married: “When you put your hand on the front door knob, what do you feel?”

He asked it to gauge how home life was. 

Coming home from a school board meeting where the politics can be brutal, I consider this question at the moment of re-entry into our sanctuary with my hand on our front door knob. How do I feel? As I open the door, the boys are both in bed and our dog – Surf – wags a tail lazily, gazing at me over her shaggy fur. Hubby has the hot tub all warmed up for our evening dunk. Donning my bathing suit and tiptoeing to the hot tub we slip in and both sigh in harmony as we tip our heads back and gaze at the stars.

 We go over our day, and watch languidly as Surf checks out the perimeter of the yard for threats. Satisfied she trots back to the edge of the hot tub and plunks herself onto our towels. 

“Do you know what the boys and I discussed at lunch?” I ask. Wade is our youngest at five and his world is all about kindergarten. “I must have mentioned that I was preparing for our school board meeting tonight. He asked me what a meeting was.”

“Oh? How did you explain that?”

“I said ‘Well, we sit around in a circle and uh, tell stories.’”

Hubby smiled. “And he responded with?”

“Well, he chewed for a bit and I could tell his wheels were spinning. Then he asked ‘and do you sing songs too?’”

“Ha!”

The next day Cory, who was seven, Wade, Surf and I spent an idyllic day at the beach. As usual, none of us wanted it to end. As I have no idea what to cook for dinner I’m in panic mode coming into the driveway on two wheels. I douse the kids and dog with the hose to try to get the stubborn sand off their legs, arms, hair and other intimate crevasses.

There is no time to reflect on how I feel as I put my hand on the front door knob and shoo them inside. As I towel dry their little sunburned bodies and the dog gives a good shake, part of me warms to the comfort of the chaos. 

But good times, like bad, don’t last forever. Dad’s dementia was now at a dangerous level. He had set the house in Florida on fire as mom was sleeping. She couldn’t look after him anymore. The fire made the decision that she just could not make. Mom moved in with us and Dad was settled into a home nearby where professionals with warm hearts helped him along the rest of his journey.

As Mom and I visited him in the home, the transition from the parking lot to the institutional home was a step from the normal to the surreal. Surviving the emotional trauma and guilt was a constant ordeal that we both wrestled with. Upon leaving the ‘facility’ we stopped and gazed out into the parking lot looking much worse for wear. 

“Mom, I could do with a good stiff drink and it’s only eleven o’clock in the morning.”

She smiles weakly back at me.

I link arms with her as we trudge heavily back to the car. Later, at home, with our hand on the front door, about to enter a world of ‘normalcy’ we savour it for a moment, taking in the hanging baskets, the calm neighbourhood and the serenity. We both take deep breaths and push our shoulders back. I glance at her diminutive frame. She has shrunk in the past few years. 

“Onwards and upwards my dear,”  she says with her hand on the doorknob.

The front door is that portal to a different realm. Sometimes the contrast is from harsh reality to safety zone and sometimes from carefree summer day to organized chaos. How I feel as my hand touches the front door knob is a reflection of family. Safety. Our struggles and failures. Our care and compassion for each other. And love.