Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The 1-Year Remodel; Seriously, Would I Do It Again?!

I imagine that you, like us, are now fully entrenched in the traditional Fall activities of signing 200 school forms, fundraisers, homework, soccer practice and wondering how to dress when each day seems to go from 60 degrees and rain to a humid 75 and sun in matter of minutes! And you've probably noticed some red leaves here and there, signaling that Halloween and Christmas decorations displayed at Costco are right around the corner. (Actually, I think they are there already?!)

And as I sit at my desk and agonize over writing what you may find remotely interesting and/or entertaining about my life, I discovered an old newsletter story I had written back in 2007 around this same time of year, when my life, seen from the nostalgic viewpoint of 2011 bloggles, seemed much more comical with all five of us living in our 800 sq foot basement, enduring stomach flus and breathing drywall dust, compressor belches, pounding hammers and buzzing table saws the background music to our lives... Good times!

Now, as a Realtor, I often find myself working with clients who are struggling over this same issue of whether they should remodel their current home or buy a new one because like most urban neighborhoods, the homes that were built in NE Seattle to house the working class in the 1930's and 40's, were often very simple and sparingly functional floor plans that may have a bedroom right next to the kitchen (easy midnight snacking for the night shift?) tiny attic bedrooms with room only for a bed and lamp and bathrooms in all the wrong places including raised on a cement throne in an unfinished basement and ideal for Seattle's rat population!

And while any good Listing Agent will tell you that these same homes are actually perfect for a young family since the previous owners raised, count them, six children right in those two attic bedrooms. What they don't tell you is exactly how much these six well-adjusted and functional adults have spent on therapy after their idyllic childhoods!

Now I know that each day, like babies being born, hundreds of remodels are begun by blissfully ignorant homeowners, who, like me, may have had some cocktails the day they agreed to it but then passed out during the HGTV episode that talked about the 10 men and my husband in the house every day for weeks, months, or years, dropping nails, sawed-off drywall pieces and big globs of goopy “Beadex” onto my floors, in my frying pans and eventually on the bottom of everyone’s shoes or feet to then come to a final resting place in our sheets!

So today, I thought it would be appropriate to announce that, yes, dare I say it, drumroll, please... we have officially "finished" our 1-year remodel in 5 1/2 years! And like all spouses who have lived through a remodel with their marriage and the lives of their husbands intact, we all understand, of course, that the definition of "finished" in remodel language means a) there are a couple of little projects in each room that will either never get done or b) there are a couple of little projects in each room that will get done when you finally decide to sell the house you don't want to clean anymore to those picky buyers who just can't live with the baseboard in the bathroom not really being nailed on. You do get used to picking it up every time you walk by, really!

So as part of my nostalgia series, I thought I'd take you through some of the highlights of these past 5 1/2 years, so that I have clearly documented the reasons for my multiplying gray hair and twitch in my eye when I respond to all my friends who admire my new kitchen and ask me, seriously, if I would ever do it again...

First, there was the Winter of 2006. The siding had all been pulled off the back of the house and it had been raining for days. I quickly ran out to buy some ketchup for dinner. When I returned 10 minutes later, my children were crying, my kitchen cabinets were no longer mounted on the walls and all my glassware and dishes were in pieces at the center of my kitchen floor. Apparently, exposed and wet drywall becomes less stable! Yes, I think that was when I first realized that this was maybe not going to be as easy as I thought!

That thought was confirmed again when I took the kids to the park one day that summer and Troy sounded a little panicked when I called to let him know we were on our way home. I walked into the kitchen to find a sheepish grin spread on Troy’s face and a huge wooden beam spread on top of my now smashed stove cook top! Thank goodness for Craig’s list and $100 replacement stoves in someone’s garage! I think that was also the same summer of 2006, when our roof was completely torn off and we were able to look up at the stars from inside our now non-livable living room that another fond and I think my favorite memory comes to mind…

It was the time of year when it supposedly never rains in Seattle, but despite our weathermen’s Doppler radar accuracy, that night around 10pm, after it had gotten dark, it began to pour. And since no electricity in that room meant no lights to see with, we were blindly trying to save whatever furniture we did have by gathering it all in one pile, covering it with a tarp and pushing it all around while using our feet to move towels to soak up the puddles on the floor, (now also filling up with my tears of frustration, I‘m sure!) before they leaked into our basement living space. When the rain finally stopped, we thought we were successful until we found a steady cascade of water dripping on Luke's forehead as he slept, oblivious, in his bed below. And if I recall correctly, yes, I do think the D-word as well as many other choice words came to mind that night as we moved him to the couch and I questioned my sanity!

And I remember fondly when we finally got to that long-awaited stage of drywall that I thought would finally mark the beginning of the end, four years ago... Who knew, when I said yes, let's go for it! that both the demo and the drywall phase could bring even the strongest woman to her knees, literally, as I expended any energy I had left after fainting from the blinding sight of what can only be described as an indoor snow storm trying to clean up that fine white powder that had managed to make its way onto every visible surface and into every corner, cushion, shoe, toothbrush, frying pan and clothing item in my house, and remains, still undiscovered in many places today!

Nor did I know that every couple of weeks, I would have to empty the entire contents of my kitchen (I’m talking refrigerator, microwave, stove, you name it!) into another tiny corner of the house, where I was then required to cook dinner, help with homework and in general, lead a “normal” life with three, shall we call them, exuberant children, who I have to say were amazingly resilient throughout this crazy process and lived through months of cold honey sandwiches and peanut butter and banana roll-ups. Yes, I was often close to losing my mind but thank goodness for those Berenstain Bears lunch ideas! And after we finish paying for this, I'll start their therapy fund!

So to all of you with the glorious optimism borne of HGTV shows and Lowe's commercials, who have visions of freshly painted walls and sparkling sinks, if you've already started knocking down those walls and emptying out your fridge, no it's not that bad, it didn't take that long and I love my new house! And to those of you who haven't started yet but are thinking of it, RUN! RUN! As fast as you can! (And did I mention I'm a Realtor?!)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

From Kindergarten to U-Hauls;

Let's see, it's been two months since my last Blog post, and much longer since my last true confession, so how many Hail Mary's do I owe you?! Hopefully, I am easily forgiven for like all moms and dads everywhere, I managed to survive most of the summer's moments of irritation resulting from 3 kids at home with the majority of my sanity intact, although I have to admit that despite the late arrival of Seattle's summer weather, that last full week of August was a little trying on the patience, wasn't it?! Personally, I was done!

Yet somehow, as is quite common with the same mom's mind that so easily forgets the pain of labor as you live through the many joys of motherhood, when the alarm rings at 6:15 and I open my eyes to the growing early darkness of Fall, I find myself longing for those simple Summer mornings of prolonged pajama-wearing, negotiating for screen time and prodding for piano practice before heading to the pool as I dutifully drag myself out of bed to make four different lunches and assign tasks of preparation for every minute that precedes our departures to school. Sargent, you are back on duty!

But as I watch and smile at the moms I no longer know kiss their Kindergarteners good-bye as they struggle with their toddlers in the stroller, I am reminded of my own first born, now 11 years old and as tall as me, who looks me squarely in the eye and requests an email account to go along with his cell phone instead of the latest Lego set, and I find myself longing for those simpler days of changing diapers and watching Sesame Street at 5am. What?! Okay, okay, maybe those weren't the good old days, but I have to admit that as I now stare in the face of middle age and menopause, I'm just not quite ready for middle school and puberty!

So I, like all my middle-school mom friends forced into this new transitional frontier with our kids, try not to worry too much when my son gets marked "tardy" because he got lost in the new labyrinth of his gigantic new school, missed lunch because he couldn't open his combination locker, got a call from a girl on his cell phone during dinner or has to change his boxers unexpectedly after school! (Yes, moms of boys, don't be alarmed, it really does happen!)

For as much as I want to jump in my car, take him by the hand and march him right back to 5th grade, I also realize that I now really find his jokes funny, he is slowly making some responsible decisions based on what we have tried to teach him, and that this is also the beginning of a very exciting time for all of us. And that these new moments, no matter how messy they will be, should be cherished before they too, like dirty diapers and Sesame Street, are wished away and quickly gone.

This really hit home with me a couple of days before school started when I happened to glance out my window and found myself watching an emotional scene unfold as my neighbor's granddaughter, now 18, threw the last of her possessions in the back of her big, rented U-haul, hugged her mom tightly as they both wiped tears from their eyes and then climbed into the driver's seat and headed off, alone, for her first year of college.

As my kids bantered and made more of a mess in the background, for those few minutes, I felt like I had become that mom giving her child up to the world, unable to offer the sheltered protection of our constant daily presence in their life. And I felt how sad and scary as a mother that moment of realization is that your child has gone from driving a Thomas Train in your living room to driving a U-Haul out of your life. And I also began to cry...

Now because Evan does still lives in the sheltered protection of my constant presence, probably more presence than he would like sometimes, this middle school transition is perhaps a bit less traumatic. 

Nonetheless, it is another turning point in our family, reminding me along with my sagging skin, wrinkles and gray hair that we all continue to grow up and older, struggling with the dual need for dependence and independence of our children. And because it really does go by so quickly, I will try hard to cherish all these moments, no matter how trying they may be, until all my children's belongings now messily strewn about my house are one day packed up and driven away... Until they have to do their laundry, anyway! 

Good luck with your own transitions!