The Home That Built Me

Guillermo Hernandez Martinez/The Players' Tribune

When I was a kid I thought I was Spider-Man. 

No lie. Every day until I was like six years old, the first thing I did when I woke up was dig into my mom’s stash of yarn. Then I’d spend all morning weaving these intricate, colorful webs, putting them up all over the house. And I mean everywhere. I was interlocking webs between furniture. In doorways. We lived in a two-story house, so the stairway was prime web real estate. 

I would legit spend the whole morning doing this. 

Then, once the house was webbed up, I’d duck into a corner, and just wait.

The best was when my mom would have friends over. They’d come by in the afternoon or whatever, and one of them would walk around a corner and into one of my webs, and I’d be right there to jump out and yell, “Gotcha!”

I had no plan after that.

I don’t know why I did any of this.

I guess I just wanted to web somebody up.

I guess I just wanted to web somebody up.

At the end of the day, my mom would cut the webs down, and the next morning, I’d do the whole house up again. She didn’t care because it kept me busy all morning, and because she had yarn for days. 

My mom has always been something of a seamstress. She made all our Halloween costumes from scratch. One year, my brother and I were Power Rangers. I was the red one, because everyone wanted to be the red one, and my brother was green. (This was right around the time the Green Ranger turned into the white one, so there was some controversy in the Jordan household. We were pressing my mom about making another costume, and she wasn’t having it. She was like, “You know how long it took me to make that? You’re gonna be green. Deal with it.”)

Another year, she made us Ninja Turtles costumes. The shells were detachable pillows. I remember coming home after trick-or-treating and me and my brother throwing the shells off our backs and spreading our candy out all over the bed.

Courtesy of Cameron Jordan

Those are some of my favorite memories from my childhood home up in Minnesota.

That, and Saturdays with my dad.

My mom was the stay-at-home. The do-it-all. She was our first basketball coach. Our first soccer goalie. Our only referee. My web-snipper. She was everything.

That’s because my dad worked a lot when I was a kid. He played football for the Minnesota Vikings, and this was back in the ’80s and early ’90s, when guys weren’t getting paid then like they are now. I was actually looking through an old photo book a while back and I found one of my dad's first pay stubs that he had saved from like 1982, and he might have been making $30,000 a year. And I’m sure that was a decent salary at the time. But my dad had an engineering degree from Brown. So he was making at least as much as an engineer in the off-season as he was playing football. 

So he was working two jobs, and on top of all that, he was also very active in the community. So to me, it seemed like he was always working.

But when he was home, he was home. He wasn’t tired or stressed out or overwhelmed.

He was there, spending real time with us kids.

During football season, he had most of the day off on Saturday, and he’d spend it wrestling with us on the living room floor or running around with us out in the yard. I look back on that now and I’m like, Dang, he did all that on a Saturday, before game day? When he was supposed to be resting up?

But he didn’t look at being at home as time to rest. It was more like a place to recharge. To him, home was the center of everything. It was like his heartbeat. The place where he went to get re-energized so he could go out into the world every day and take on everything he had to do.

That’s the philosophy I try to bring to my home today. I have my wife, Nikki — my stay-at-home, my do-it-all — and my three kids (with one more on the way, so y’all better pray for me). And like my dad did, I have my job and the work I do out in the community, both of which are very important to me and require a lot of my time. 

But what would it all be for if I wasn’t also putting in the time and work at home?

That’s why I looked at this whole quarantine situation as a blessing in disguise. I think any athlete will tell you that, even in the off-season, you rarely get long stretches of time to spend with your family. You’re always training, working, studying, philanthropizing — there’s always something. 

So with this quarantine time, we made the most of it in the Jordan household.

Courtesy of Cameron Jordan

When I was growing up, Chuck E. Cheese was everything. When you had your birthday at Chuck E. Cheese, it was a lit situation. 

It was a lituation. 

This was when I was like seven or eight years old and pepperoni pizza was the only kind that existed. When winning a ticket to get some goodies was like winning the lottery. When $20 worth of tokens meant you were ’bout to go off. If you didn’t have your birthday at Chuck E. Cheese, I don’t even think they let you turn the next age. You just had to stay five, or six, or whatever age you were. It was a prerequisite.

Those birthdays are also some of my favorite childhood memories. So, with our kids, Nikki and I always try to go somewhere and really do it up for their birthdays.

But this year, all three of their birthdays fell during quarantine.

So we had to get creative.

Our youngest — our daughter Nia Grace — turned two in April, and we celebrated with a ridiculous Nerf gun battle at the house. We gave Nia Grace a little shooter that was easy for her to use, and the rest of us loaded up with dart guns and got after it. We had a blast.

When our son, Tank, turned five in June, we took it to a whole ’nother level and had an all-out water-balloon war. 

Now, if you can’t get psyched about something like that, I don’t know what to tell you. I used to love snowball fights up in Minnesota, but I didn’t deal with the cold too well. My nose would ice up and my hands would be so frozen from packing snowballs that I couldn’t even throw them accurately. And once that inner layer of clothes got wet, you were iced. It was over. It wasn’t my thing.

I’ll take a water-balloon fight in the summer in New Orleans every time.

I’ll take a water-balloon fight in the summer in New Orleans every time.

So that’s what we did. With the kids being homeschooled and Nikki being a teacher (I’m an exemplary substitute when she gets tired, which is basically never), we had a bunch of food coloring and washable paint lying around the house because painting is one of the kids’ extracurriculars, so we went out to the driveway and filled up hundreds of water balloons with different colors of paint. We each put on goggles and climbed into these big white artist-type jumpsuits. We looked like scientists (probably more like Ghostbusters, tho).

And. Then. We. Went. Off.

By the time we were finished, we were all covered in paint. We looked like pieces of abstract art. The garage door was multicolored. The driveway looked psychedelic, like a tie-dye T-shirt with bright colors spiraled all over it. It took some serious pressure washing to clean up after all the fun we had.

It was a heck of a time.

Then, our oldest daughter, Glory — we call her Glo-Jo — turned four in August, and for her birthday we created our own outdoor movie theater. Actually … I can’t take any credit for that. Nikki set the whole thing up. I’m talking blow-up furniture, a 10-foot projection screen in the driveway, the whole nine. We had homemade slushies, popcorn, candy — everything you’d have at a real movie theater.

But it was so much more special than that. All three birthdays were.

Because it was just the five of us, at home, together.

Courtesy of Cameron Jordan

Who knows. Maybe some of those birthday parties will become Jordan family traditions. 

Like Taco Tuesday.

Listen, the Jordans were doing Taco Tuesday long before LeBron James started doing those IG videos. When I was six and my dad stopped playing football, we moved to Ariziona — so you know we had the most lit Taco Tuesdays imaginable. We actually had Tex-Mex Tuesdays. It didn’t even have to be a taco. You could have a burrito, nachos, enchiladas — shoot, you could have a chili relleno. It didn’t matter. As long as you’re somewhere in that Tex-Mex situation.

That’s a tradition we try to keep going with our kids.

That, and the onesies.

Every year, for Christmas, we’re all in onesies. We take family photos in them. We go to the movies on Christmas Day in them. The same way I looked forward to my mom making our Halloween costumes growing up, that’s how I feel about the onesies every year.

The same way I looked forward to my mom making our Halloween costumes growing up, that’s how I feel about the onesies every year. 

Tank already knows it’s getting to be that time of year when we start looking at onesies. He can’t wait.

Then you got the Christmas ornaments. Every year, each of our kids adds a new ornament to the tree. Something to bookmark this time in our lives so we can look back on it and remember how much fun we had together.

And that’s really what it’s all about. The real Jordan family traditions that will never go away are making sure our kids know they’re always cared about, and that no matter what, we’re always going to have fun. I want them to take that with them when they grow up and have families of their own — the same way I took it from my parents when I was growing up. It wasn’t a conscious thing, it was just what we did. That’s what a Jordan household was all about.

And the home was always the center of that.

I do a lot of the same things my dad did when I was growing up. I dedicate a lot of time and energy to being the best football player I can be. On my off days, I always try to do something out in the community, like visit a local school and talk to some kids. These things require a lot of my time and energy.

And just like my dad, I don’t go home and just rest. I go home and wrestle with my kids. To spend time with that. That’s what re-energizes me. Those few hours I get to spend with them gives me everything I need to get up the next morning and do it all over again.

Courtesy of Cameron Jordan

Whenever I pull into my driveway and look at my garage door, there’s a little part of me in the back of my mind that’s reminded of that water-balloon fight. I’m also reminded of the big screen in the driveway and the bubble furniture. Right now, our dining room has been converted to a classroom. But someday, when the kids go back to school and that becomes a dining room again, I’ll still always see that classroom. There’s a corner of our living room where there’s a little jungle gym that has been broken down and turned into a princess castle. Then into a fort for my son. Then back into a jungle gym. It’s always changing. But all those memories kind of live in that spot, the way they do all over our home.

I bet if I walked into our old house back in Minnesota today — even though it’d be somebody else’s furniture in there, some other family in onesies on the wall — I would immediately revert back to six-year-old Cam and start scouting web real estate. I’d go back to my old room and see me and my brother in our Ninja Turtle shells. I’d see my dad rolling around with us on the living room floor. 

That’s what that place is to me. It’s a house — it’s a structure — but it’s what we did there that really made it special. 

That’s what made it The Jordan Household.

And it’s what makes my family’s home today uniquely ours.