The Elusive PB & J

By Beth M. Wood

The Elusive PB & J

Sitting on the living room floor with our family history folded, wrapped and packed up around me, I reminded myself yet again that this move was for the best. I had packed up each picture frame, wrapped dishes and glass in paper, and taken family portraits and framed artwork down from the walls we’d painted together. I left indents in the carpeting where the reading chair used to be, where our king sized bed stood. I swept up the crumbs from the birthday parties, wiped the fingerprints from the walls and the peanut butter from the handle of the fridge door. And put a sign in the yard.

I’d wanted a home of my own since 1985. It was the year a cult-classic starring the “brat pack” came out in theaters; St. Elmo’s Fire – a movie about young twenty-somethings finding their own way. One of the characters, Wendy, had finally mustered the courage to move into her own apartment.

Ya wanna know what’s great? she says to her friends in the movie, Last night I woke up in the middle of the night to make myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich…and ya know, it was my kitchen, it was my refrigerator, it was my apartment…and it was the BEST peanut butter and jelly sandwich I have had in my entire life.

I was 13 when I saw that movie for the first time. And I couldn’t wait to live on my own: To taste that perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

At 19, I got the chance. My best friend and I took a one-year lease on an apartment a mile away from my family home. I spent my mornings in school and my afternoons and evenings waiting tables to pay the rent. Other than sleeping, I didn’t spend much time there. I did keep jelly in the fridge, and peanut butter in the cabinet, and did make a PB & J after work occasionally, but it never held the thrill of the one in the movie. My PB & Js were always dry. And my life was certainly no St. Elmo’s Fire. At the end of our one-year lease, my roommate moved on. And me? I moved back in with Mom. I just wasn’t ready to make a home of my own.

Soon after, I met my future husband, and by the time I was 21 we had moved into his house together – a little bungalow in the city. Two years later, we got married and moved again, this time to a three-bedroom ranch with a nice backyard – big enough for a family. We moved twice more with the birth of two more children.

Finally, with two growing boys and a baby girl, our family was complete. As our babies grew, we gave away the training wheels and baby books. We painted over the stenciled dinosaurs, took down the nursery drapes, tore up the flooring, knocked down walls, added new ones, put in an in-ground pool and fenced ourselves in a warm, toasty home.

 This was the home our family created. So when we separated, and my kids struggled with the pain of their father moving out, and their mother stressing out trying to hold down the fort with a one year-old baby in tow, the last thing I wanted was to leave our home. They’d just changed schools a few months before; I didn’t want to force them to accept more change. I was desperately trying to keep our house feeling like a home, despite the sadness, stress and grief.

The longer I tried to make it work, the more I realized that I couldn’t afford the house payment and the second mortgage. I couldn’t handle the upkeep of a huge backyard and in-ground pool. But the thought of moving was nerve racking. How could I move my kids to a strange house and ask them to start over? How could I ask them to call someplace else home? This was home. Hadn’t they suffered enough? We’d already torn apart their world by breaking up our family unit. We’d built a life in that house. It was our home.

But here I sat, surrounded by memories from 12 years of marriage, reminders of a family that was no longer. We’d made so many changes; always painting, remodeling or refinishing. The fancy in-ground pool covered up a huge, flat lawn, with thick, soft grass – perfect for running and tumbling, catching fireflies and playing kickball. The family room addition gave us more room to stretch out, but took away our “cuddle” space. We’d knocked down the dining room wall and extended the kitchen, taking away the formality of holidays and special occasions. And it dawned on me that in our quest for better, nicer, bigger, we had lost sight of the fact that we already had it all.

I found a house just across town that suited the four of us perfectly. The smaller lot meant less time spent on yard work. A newer house with remodeled kitchen and bathrooms meant less money fixing or replacing old appliances and wiring.

We’ve been here five years now, and some walls are still blank, windows unadorned. But as I work and save up to purchase each piece of furniture or artwork, I realize that these things are just that – things. They are nice touches to a house, but they do not make a home.

I have learned that while I enjoy having a nice house, the only changes I need to make are inside – my mind, my heart. As long as we have a couch for cuddling, a bed for dreaming, a gathering place to eat dinner together, and a patch of grass for cloud watching or star-gazing, we have a home.

I’m still not a huge fan of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. But this life of mine isn’t a Hollywood movie. It took me twenty years and many houses, but now I know…when my kids and I cuddle up on the couch, with the lights low and a favorite movie playing, shooting light across each of their smiling faces, that’s when I get my “PB & J” moment, and I know…I’m home.

About this writer

  • Beth M. Wood Beth M. Wood is an award-winning marketer, freelance writer and mom of three. Her social media addiction pays the bills and steady copywriting gigs feed her shopping habit. She blogs about marketing and social media at, digresses about life and parenting at and tweets @a1972bmw.

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13 Responses to “The Elusive PB & J”

  1. Phyllis Fredericksen says:

    You have captured the idea of home perfectly. It never is about things…it’s about people. Your words brought a tear to my eye and a smile to my lips. Well done article and life:)

  2. Tammy says:

    You said it. Beautifully!

  3. Mary says:

    Very touching and so true!

  4. Sioux says:

    Beth–You highlighted what is important… and what is NOT. My son was born in our house–in the bedroom in the basement–and that, along with millions of other family memories, is why I would hate to move… in spite of it being a small, cramped house.

    I wish your family many more happy years together in your home… because obviously you’ve made your house into a home.

  5. Janey W. says:

    Captured perfectly! Great essay.

  6. Linda O'Connell says:

    This is such a poignant reminder that home really IS where the heart is.

  7. Rose Ann says:

    Beautifully written essay. I felt your emotions and was so happy you found your PB&J moments.

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