The journey back to my forever home

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The colonial style house on Timber Ridge Drive was the only home I had ever known by the age of ten.

My earliest memories are those of the holidays in my cozy living room and disastrously making sugar cookies in the kitchen. Sleepovers erupted in my basement every weekend; the tiny area underneath the steep staircase was where the neighborhood kids spent their late nights.

Thornapple Elementary was my home away from home for nearly every day of my life for five years. The quaint classrooms were where I made the closest friends I will ever have. The life lessons that were taught to me inside of those walls would guide me through the rest of my life.

As a child, the suburb I was living in was the only place I had ever envisioned myself growing up. But one night in October, my views on my “forever home” changed quicker than I could have ever anticipated. As an innocent fifth grader, it was hard for me to picture myself leaving my home, best friends, and school forever. Moving to Chicago was certainly not what I had imagined my fifth-grade year to look like, but as a ten-year-old, the decision was not up to me.

Walking into my new house in Illinois was not what I expected it to be. The houses were just inches apart, and nearly everybody walked to school with their close friends. The town I had stepped into was worlds away from the life I had left behind in Forest Hills.

The moment I left was the moment I began to miss my old home. I longed to have another chaotic sleepover under a fort of blankets with my best friends. I wished to spend the humid summer nights with my neighbors. But in my new town, everything was different.

Ben Franklin Elementary was only one thing to me: huge. Staircases filled the building, and portable classrooms covered the luscious grass outside. Classes had many more people, fourth and fifth graders were combined into the same classrooms, and the kids that were my same age looked like they were fifteen. The new school I was attending could not have been any more different from the one-story building in which I grew up.

As the weeks went on, I settled into a group of friends. They welcomed me with open arms and truly seemed to be there for me when I needed them. But my family and I still did not feel as if we were at home.

Home was still Grand Rapids and the house on Timber Canyon. Home was still the welcoming schools and friends I had come to love. Being away from the people who I loved most was the hardest thing I had ever been through.

“Never forget where your home is.””

As each day was crossed off of the calendar, my family and I found ourselves making the three-hour trip back to Michigan on many weekends and for every holiday. We spent Christmas at our cottage and with our best friends. We spent Halloween nights in matching costumes with our closest friends in Ada.

The girls that let me into their lives in Illinois remain some of the kindest people I have ever met, but living away from my true home began to take its toll on my family and the way we lived our lives. After two years, we decided that it was finally time to move back home.

When we packed our bags and moved away to Chicago, my family expected it to end up the same way moving does for most families. It is something nearly every family will go through and often ends in finding another home filled with love, happiness, and new, amazing people. For my family, it certainly did not end like a fairy tale, but it did teach me more about life than I had ever known before.

I learned that not every situation can end with happiness and fulfillment. I learned that people can hide who they truly are from you like a face in the dark.

Living in a place so opposite from Grand Rapids was a learning experience for me and my family, but the peace we felt when we returned home was the best feeling in the entire world. Walking through the hallways of school and seeing the faces I had seen since kindergarten brought a smile to my face; spending the weekends with my friends who felt like family are now my most cherished memories.

There is one lesson I learned throughout my experience that tops all others in life: never forget where your home is. You may never know when you won’t get to see it anymore.