Today in the car on the way home from school, my two youngest children and I got in a discussion of dream homes. I smiled and I listened to their wonderful, impossible ideas:

A rooftop garden to grow food, which then would be given to me to cook
A room with a beach and a playground
A machine that would “make anything you wanted”
A movie room with a screen as big as a normal house
Servants to make you food whenever you wanted (gee, that isn’t MOM, huh? Bah)
A bedroom with a bunk bed and a flower garden
A virtual-reality room
A living room with couches that you could bounce on and touch the ceiling

They got me thinking to when I would try to imagine my own dream home when I was a kid. I actually would take the whole thing further, drawing it out and the entire neighborhood as well. I would take a little plastic ruler and carefully draw my own house plan, after perusing the many house plan magazines my dreamer parents always had lying around. There were always plenty of bathrooms with elaborate tubs, a game room with ping-pong, pool, and every pinball game made, a music room with colossal speakers and a stage for my favorite visiting bands and a dance floor, and of course my bedroom would be the biggest room in the house, with a remote control elevated bed surrounded by exotic gauzy curtains and beads. I would draw out curvy roads for my community, with names I thought sounded classy like Brentwood Lane, and Lincolnshire Way, and South Britton Drive, interspersed with plenty of green parks, a big pool with slides and diving boards, a rec center, and shops. I would work for hours on these, then bring them to my dad and announce I wanted to be a City Planner. He actually liked what I did, and liked to look at my ideas, and that was really nice.

It’s funny, then before you know it you are off in the world and you need to find a home. The first house I moved into from my parents was a dump of an un-air-conditioned craphole in Scottsdale, Arizona, an orange brick charmless ‘60s block of a place. It had a pool with filthy green unattended water, copious brown baked weeds for a backyard, and doors and windows that never shut right. But I was young, and it was exciting just to be OUT and SOMEWHERE ELSE. Moving from Wisconsin to Arizona was like moving to the moon, it really was.

Each successive place, for the most part, got a little bit better, less decrepit and closer to some idea of a dream, even if the dream was just to have a functional fridge and neighbors you didn’t want to kill. When it finally became possible to buy a house, the search seemed to take forever. It is such a commitment, such a huge amount of money, you want that to hit as many dream points as you can possibly find. We found in the end the cutest little red brick ‘30s cottage, in our favorite charming neighborhood in Denver, one that would’ve been worthy of my early drawing efforts. It was less than 1000 square feet, but in great shape, updated, with a small but pretty backyard with a nice deck and a big tree that spread out to give plenty of shade. We stayed there until it simply was too small, and impossible to fit another child into.

The next house was a tall mock tudor, impressive-looking and around the corner from a big park. We stayed until again the addition of another child necessitated a move, as well as a need to get in a “better” school district. So we moved to one of the snootiest suburbs, in an “entry-level” Wealthy Person’s house, 6000 square feet on two long levels, with a complicated tri-level yard, packed with flowers and trees. We weren’t there even a year before the move to Washington, and the purchase of the first brand-new home ever, with all the bells and whistles, the granite kitchen, big dual-head shower, a balcony to get a tiny glimpse of the lake, nice neighborhood.

When the kids asked me what my Dream House would be now, I had trouble thinking of what I would like. I don’t know any more. I know big expensive houses are big and expensive to take care of and pay the taxes on, that I know. I know living in a place you feel safe is worthwhile. I know that anything you have will always be more than you need, and less than you want.

My dreams now are not of houses, or things. I have had houses and things and stuff, and they mean less and less to me as the years go by. But this is not important to tell the kids, as they are enjoying their flights of fancy, and that is good. I tell them I think a house on the water would be nice, and they both exclaim, “Oh! Yes!” at the same time, and excitedly imagine more about that as I drive to this latest home, in a nice neighborhood.