Defining Home

After recovering from a difficult year, the holiday season has never felt so rewarding.


photo by D. Crickets

Overcoming shame can create a new sense of appreciation, especially around Thanksgiving.

Roughly a year ago, I was questioning if I would ever be able to sit around a Thanksgiving dinner table and truthfully recite what I was thankful for. In fact, it felt like I would never be grateful for anything ever again.

Last year, my family was slowly falling apart in front of me. And as most kids with separated parents can attest, watching such an event leaves you with a cynical, bitter view of the world. 

It is, unfortunately, a fairly common occurrence — divorce, separation, fighting. In my particular situation, my father was struggling with his mental health, and, last October, my family had finally hit rock bottom.

My mom, little brother, and I needed a change. That change came in the form of moving out of our house and renting an apartment. 

The first few months came as a roller coaster of highs and lows. On one hand, I was thrilled to be in a new environment filled with the two people who meant the world to me. On the other, although I still attended the same school and my life not involving my father was virtually untouched, it came with a tiny feeling of shame.

In an affluent school like North Allegheny, where many of my friends have their own cars at 16 and live in what could easily be considered small mansions, admitting that my life was turned upside down felt hard.

It was hard admitting I didn’t have my old address. It was hard confessing I no longer had my tree house in the backyard, which my father had actually built by hand many years ago. It was hard saying that I didn’t have a trampoline or the space outside to have bonfires and cook s’mores.

Whenever someone would see the apartment for the first time, I felt like I needed to provide an explanation. I had to say my parents simply split up or that it was only temporary or some other half-truth. I needed to somehow prove I was better than this small complex and a seemingly broken home life.

I could not have been more wrong.

The apartment complex is actually gorgeous. It has trees that radiate bright colors in the fall and a perfect view of the sunset. It provides endlessly fresh air and serene surroundings. I’ve found that one of my favorite parts of the day is putting on a good podcast and going for a walk or a run through the neighborhood.

However, more than its appearance, I grew to love my new home because it brought me a kind of joy I had never experienced before. This was, in large part, my mother’s doing.

In the past year alone, my mom has taken an empty apartment and crafted a home with her two bare hands.”

My mom has always been my hero. She’s easily the strongest, funniest, and most dependable person I have ever met. I have been looking up to her for as long as I can remember. Any and every good trait I could ever claim to possess I have learned from her.

In the past year alone, she has taken an empty apartment and crafted a home with her two bare hands. She has led by example, and she continues to show a particular kind of determination to thrive, even on the days when it’s hard to imagine even cracking a smile. She constantly gives the gift of laughter, no matter how messy things may be.

She turned everything around — all by herself as a newly single mom. She did it in a way that projected unyielding courage and grace. 

She made healing possible, and because of that, I can finally say that, for the first time in my life, I am at peace with where I am. 

I am proud of where I live because it was my safe haven when I needed it the most. And I am extremely proud of the people who live there. I am surrounded by unconditional support, safety, and affection.

Looking back, I’m sad that I was ever ashamed of where I lived. I’m disappointed that I let the materialistic, classist culture that is sometimes prevalent in our school district get the best of me. I’m sorry that I allowed my own embarrassment to overshadow what should have been a refreshing new start for my family and me. 

I should have always been appreciative of my second chance, whether it took place in a mansion with fifteen bedrooms or an apartment with three. 

So, yes, I live in an apartment, and many other students do, too. No matter how overwhelming the sense of wealth at North Allegheny can be, the student population is much more diverse than one may think. There are people in a variety of situations. Everyone has their own baggage, and acknowledging this can be a great comfort.

But no matter where you stand, you should never be ashamed. The only one who knows what’s good for your family is you. For me, what could be considered as a downgrade in housing was exactly what I needed.

I’m just as much of a whole person now as I was when I had what you might consider to be a complete family in a normal house.”

This isn’t a story to be pitied. Since moving out, I have never once felt emotionally or financially neglected.  I have everything I could ever need and more.

Besides, although my new home has required some adjustments, just as many things have stayed the same or gotten even better. I still live in an exceptional school district, and I still have my incredibly supportive friends and teachers. I still mess around with my little brother, and I still go outside and play lacrosse. 

I’m just as much of a whole person now as I was when I had what you might consider to be a complete family in a normal house. Now, I am simply much happier. I’m lucky. I’m proud. 

So, this Thursday, I am ecstatic to sit down at the large dinner table as we pass around the stuffing. I am ready to glance around the room and feel all the warmth that the holidays bring, because no matter what form my home may take, it is full of love and laughter.

I will look to my mom, and I will think about all that she has done and all that she continues to do. 

And most importantly, I will have a genuine answer when asked the traditional Thanksgiving question.

For that, I am grateful.