By Courtland Milloy
It was the day before Christmas, and all through the Johnson family’s new house, everybody was stirring.
Except a mouse — which did not come with the house, thankfully.
“We are so excited,” said Keianna Johnson, 33, a hairstylist.
She and husband Bryan, 34, a cable technician for Comcast, had been saving up for two years to buy a house. Last month, the couple and their five children moved out of a cramped three-bedroom, one-bath rental in Hyattsville and into a spacious four-bedroom, two-bath split level in Waldorf.
What a holiday gift to themselves. A commitment to hard work and financial discipline rewarded; a conviction that together they could accomplish what neither parent could do alone affirmed.
In this era of economic stagnation, when upward mobility cannot be assured no matter how hard you try, the Johnsons had clung to a belief in the American dream — and made a big piece of it come true. Buying a house was laying down roots.
“We’re making great memories for our children — the first Christmas in our new home,” Keianna said.
“I feel so proud,” Bryan said. “After work, it feels like I’m really coming home. To our home.”
The house has a large family room where the Johnsons will gather to watch their favorite holiday features, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “The Polar Express.”
The room even has a gas log fireplace. So, of course, stockings were hung by the chimney with care: for Raequan, 12; the twins, Aaron and Adrian, 9; Brooke, 5; and Brielle, 1.
Not huge stockings, though.
“We’ve already told the kids not to expect a lot of stuff,” Bryan said. “We’ve changed the way we manage our finances.”
That doesn’t mean the youngsters shouldn’t have visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads.
“They’ll get some gifts,” Keianna said. “They like coloring books. They can use some new hats and gloves, too. I guess we could fit an MP3 player inside a stocking.”
The house — that’s the real gift.
Brooke had already turned the family room into something of a concert hall, a place to showcase her talents on a toy xylophone. For Brielle, the room was perfect for hide-and-seek, with new nooks and crannies to explore on hands and knees.
Aaron and Adrian prefer running up and down the stairs.
Dad, on the other hand, says enough already with the commotion. But he’s not in the mood to play Grinch just yet. Maybe it’s because his wife so enjoys the sounds of all the kids’ laughter.
“When we were in the apartment, the children couldn’t make any noise — no loud laughter or running,” Keianna said. “We lived on top of another unit, and the people below could hear everything. The children couldn’t even be children.”
In the apartment, Raequan had to share a room with his younger brothers. He had longed for a room of his own. Now he has it.
“He really likes being able to say, ‘Get out of my room,’ ” Keianna said.
The new home has a yard where the kids can play. There is also a driveway and parking space on the street. (At their apartment complex, parking was so restrictive that it was a hassle for friends to visit them.)
The Johnsons got a good deal on the house — in no small part due to the bad deal that so many homeowners got when the housing market crashed. Home values plummeted. Suddenly, homeownership was in reach of many who had never even dreamed of buying a place of their own.
The Johnsons ended up paying half of what the house had sold for in 2007.
“We did not get the most expensive house that we could afford,” Bryan said. “We wanted a house that would give us more room but allow us to live comfortably whether the housing market went up or down.”
Then out on the lawn there arose such a clatter. It was the moving van. But it might as well have been Santa.
Originally printed on Washingtonpost.com