Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Throw Aways

Rarely a day goes by that my baby doesn't throw something of value into the trash. It's our fault. We never can resist the urge to teach our toddlers where the "trash" is. It's easy to pick up a piece of wrinkled paper left by one of my older children, hand it to the baby, and say, "Go throw this away for Mommy, please." They gladly run over to the trash and, on tiptoes, watch it fall as they drop it in.

Unfortunately, they don't stop at real trash. Everything goes in the can: silverware, plastic cups, toys. It never ends. We catch most items before the bag goes out to the curb, but our forks and spoons do tend to suffer from attrition at the time our toddlers are about a year and a half. I hate to see something useful turned into trash.

As I watched her try to throw away the top to a sippy cup yesterday, I flashed to the foreclosed homes that I've been reading about. Not only are they constantly highlighted in news articles, but bank owned homes are everywhere we go. Mostly unkempt, empty, with windows like hollow eyes staring back at gawkers like me. Houses that were once the excited dream of buyers--who put every last penny into upgrades and furnishings, hoping that it would be worth the cost one day. Now they're just throw aways. Trash. Something that had value, at least to one family, is nothing more than a shell that now litters nice neighborhoods. How sad.

I love real estate, especially single family homes. I love them for who was once inside. The lives, the characters of the people, the laughter, the struggles, the pitter-patter of young life, the dreams that house contained are what make it so special. When I walk into a home, especially when it's vacant, I can almost hear the sounds that it once held--echoing through it's now empty halls. I like to guess why the previous owners chose the interior colors and decor that they did. Much focus and contemplation must have gone into those decisions. Much design and heartache must have been poured into the planning and construction of the elaborate landscaping.

Houses speak to me. But I ignore what they tell me because I'm able to look at them objectively as investments and nothing more. However, every house has a story. That's why real estate is so appealing to me.

And that's why it's so sad to see a home that's been taken by (or, in some instances, given to) the bank. Throw aways. With all the money lost by the owners and now the lenders, houses have no value. No financial value, that is. Ask children what their home means to them. I doubt they'd describe it as a "good investment" or an "equity barrel." They'd tell you that they like their house because of the tire swing hanging on the tree in the back. Or because they could climb over the fence to visit their best friend next door. Or because, on the window ledge outside their bedroom, there was a nest of robin's eggs. Or because pencil marks on the wall in the hallway mark the progress of their growth since they were twenty-four inches tall. Or because their hand prints are permanently affixed to the cement laid in the side yard.

How is a child supposed to react when that's all gone? Some parents may not tell their children of the impending eviction until the day before, or when they start packing to move. Others may warn them as soon as they miss one payment. Is it easier either way? I know that families move everyday for other reasons. Usually it's for a better job, bigger house, military transfer, to live closer to relatives. Even though it's still hard for a child to leave under those circumstances, overall, it's a happy occasion or one that offers something to look forward to.

Many of those who suffered a foreclosure may buy another house one day. But, in the mean time, families have been robbed of memories that may never be reclaimed or, worse, that may be too sad to ever think about again.

I wax poetic about this issue because, until the day that both of our apartment complexes were sold, we could have been in the same situation. We never missed a house payment, but we knew that, within a month of two, we would. As a matter of fact, my husband and I, as we attempted to save what little equity we had left in the properties, were also planning for the worse. Where would we live? What would we tell the children? Will they miss it here as much as we will? We determined that, as long as we had our faith, health, and each other, it didn't matter where we lived. But it was just a rationalization to the loss that we would feel once we were forced to move. As it is, it didn't happen and we never became a statistic.

Thank God.