Out of the Woods

When you buy a new home, you take a picture out front, usually with the "Sold" sign strategically in the foreground. People did this long before Facebook existed – they just printed out the photo and put it in a photo album.

We do this because it's a big deal – it's literally a big deal and it costs a lot of money, probably all our money. But also we do it to celebrate a major milestone in our family's life.

We took that customary, but genuinely happy photo outside our perfect yellow Colonial with a red door in Somerville as soon as we got back from our attorney's office. We did not take that photo the day we bought the very brown, very long ranch in Long Valley. We did not take it a month, two months, or even six months later.

I wanted to take a family picture outside of the very brown, very long ranch, but we moved in right as three Nor'easters pummeled us for three consecutive weeks and took what seemed like three months to melt.

Then there was this issue of no one ever being around to take said photo. Beautiful, yet isolated Long Valley – tucked away in the northwest corner of the most densely populated state in the nation. The outgoing, yet isolated Flanagans – tucked back 400 feet from Old Farmers Road behind dense woods.

A year ago, we acknowledged the reasons to make a move to Long Valley – the elementary school was ranked 30th out of all schools in the state; our daughter was having difficulty with some of her peers at her current school; one full bathroom and two females in one house was getting dicey; our 1920s Colonial had 1920s-style closets – few and far between; and my husband always wanted enough acres that would justify the use of a zero-turn, riding mower.

But we ignored the reasons to stay put – our daughter had experienced so many transitions in her short, 9-year life, and another interruption could have negative consequences; both our commutes would increase by a half hour each way; there were no family members or friends nearby to help with childcare; the woods might not be the best environment for two extroverted females, and most important, the Universe tried its best to warn us not to move.

The day before the photographer was scheduled to take photos for the listing, the massive pear tree in our front yard, which I detested because it restricted me to shade-loving perennials, dropped a 10-foot branch on the house, ripping off 4 feet of the gutter. My husband and his friend grabbed chainsaws and managed to clean up the mess by morning, but the Universe was relentless in its mission. Two days later, before our first Open House, the main sewer drain backed up and flooded our basement. But the Universe met her match – we rented a sewer drain snake, grabbed the Shop-Vac, and got to work.

A few days later, we received an offer on the house, and one month later, we had all the space we craved – nearly 3,000 square feet and two-and-a-half acres. But we grew distant in all that space – physically distant from our family and friends and emotionally distant from each other.

It was difficult to tell if we owned the house or it owned us. After five months of battling regular power outages, harsh winter conditions, and countless pests – cave crickets, snakes, wasps, wolf spiders, and bears, oh my – I was unhinged. My husband was miserable, too – he worked 12-hour shifts and had a rotating schedule and his most precious resource was tied to the two-and-a-half acres of land.

Yesterday I took a picture of that very brown, very long ranch, but there was no family in it. I snapped it solo before I exited its front doors for the final time. I didn't do so to commemorate the site of our implosion, but instead so I'd have a reminder that it's OK to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them and ultimately walk away from things that are unhealthy for you – or in this case, drive 400 feet and make a right.

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