This is our sweeeeeet bathroom vanity top, just about to be installed! Before/after post coming soon. Also, real showers. Better yet — first baths in a year!
The second bathroom has been gutted since we moved in a year ago. We had a vanity base built and installed, and I finally asked the spouse to hook up a toilet because, well. But we stopped there.
In about two weeks, we’ll be taking comfortable showers and BATHS again!
(Yes, that’s our kitchen range hood sitting on the unfinished bathroom vanity. I know.)
If the kitchen is the heart of the home, we performed no less than a full organ transplant. That was an exhausting and exhilarating effort. (And no, we still have not selected pendant lights or hung the range hood or painted the pantry door. There were other things happening this summer, like, oh, the spouse almost single-handedly building 200+ linear feet of cedar privacy fence.)
The living room, though — I’d call that effort a full package spa treatment with deep tissue massage. It was relatively simple, but required thoughtfulness and a little muscle. (And two rug purchases. New kitten + new diet + shag rug = unspeakable disaster.)
We started with a dark, dingy, box with filthy wall-to-wall carpeting. Note ugly ceiling fan. The former inhabitants must have been very short — our ceilings are only eight feet high. Not happening.
The fan came down, my sister washed the fireplace bricks, and that was it for the living room — moving day arrived. We dumped our couch against a wall and then pretty much ignored this space while we dug out from boxes and nursed ourselves back from the crush of our second move in a year. If it takes five years to hear the sound of a tape gun again, it will be too soon.
But I kept staring at that back wall. It was crying out for built-in shelves, a home for my 17-box book collection. For a fleeting second, we considered getting carpenter bids. What can I say … IKEA hacking came to the rescue again. We bought four of the new 15-inch deep Billy shelves, plus a set of wardrobe doors that luckily fit a unit that was miraculously the right size for our television. (We had to hide the TV. We have our disagreements, but a refusal to build the Altar to the Television God is one thing on which we vehemently agree.)
To bring the shelves wall-to-wall was a matter of measure thrice, cut once — the width of two end units had to be trimmed by several inches. About two hours with our friend the allen wrench, and up they went.
You know that feeling when you make one relatively small change, and it’s like a door has swung open, cheerful spring breezes sail into the room, and everything akimbo clicks into place? It was like that. We’d made the room smaller, but more square — and it immediately felt bigger, warmer, more purposeful.
That’s when I went to town tearing open those 17 boxes, unpacking my long-stored collection of typewriters, tucking meaningful tchotchkes into place. My inner librarian fairly hummed with pleasure. The kid’s desk and art table slid in neatly under the window. The couch was rotated. Lamps were placed, my childhood coffee table (handmade by my dad) brought into the scene. And it was ours.
Each of these beautiful machines has a story. The sweetheart at the bottom right is an Olympia SM3 — I figured out that it’s the same make and model as the one embedded in the 11th Doctor’s TARDIS console, only in a more unusual burgundy color.
It’s passed the Christmas tree test, the sick day test, the movie night test, and the dinner party test. In the winter months, the rising sunlight slants straight through the large window for a couple of hours and makes the floors glow. It’s a good room.
When you sleep, I watch your profile. You are total stillness. I love sleeping next to you, the salt-smell of your hair, your warm, thin limbs flung lightly outward. Your bird-bone hand might flutter against my shoulder and I hold my breath to keep it there.
Your profile is still exactly at it was on that sonogram image, seven-plus years ago. The upturn at the tip of your nose. The slight bloom of your lips. Your forehead, high and smooth. From your first glimmer, you were a question-mark. Not your being, but your impression upon my being. Our connection was not the instant “I know you!” as reported by the magazines. It was then as it is now — a connection filled to spilling with a query: “Who are you — so miraculous and intact and outside all prediction? Who are you — full of contradiction, all intense need and pushing away? Who are you — already so whole and so skeptical?”
I think you were almost instantly disappointed by the world and the way it squashes magic. So you brought your own. You had, I think, from the moment of your arrival, little patience for much of what this realm has to offer.
You are my mystery. You are my horizon. I carried you and could not even then interpret you. You have always been exactly you. Even inside, you slept when you should have kicked. I fretted. The contractions that brought you were upside down, at the top of my ribcage. I didn’t recognize them for what they were. You saw no reason to dilly-dally and came sliding forth two weeks early, within a few hours of announcing your intent with a shocking gush of water. (That, then, was the one time that you matched the movie-screen cliche of parenting.)
I have learned that my job is to ride your wave. To stand and stay standing, correct my angle, stay balanced. If I steer that way when you want to go this way, I will fall smashing and get rolled up on the sand. Splutter.
There was no struggle to bring you out — only holding on for dear life. I quite literally grasped the railings of the bed and lifted my body upward in an effort to keep you in. And finally they said I could push.
Oh, I should have laughed.
You could not then, and never since, be pushed.
I birthed you — but a more accurate description is this: I let go. I was your gateway, child. From a place within and above, I observed your entrance. From inside a narrow tunnel of conscious-altering pain, my work was only to let go.
You arrived all squinty consternation and bird-baby squall.
You slept when you should have eaten. I nearly broke myself trying to feed you by the book. I finally taped a tiny tube to my finger and pressed it against your high, narrow, soft-as-silk palate and tickled your chin to make you drink. I murmured and implored you. But it was always on your terms.
You taught me in those early, hazy days that when you cried a certain way, you did not, in fact, want to be held or rocked. You told me, in the wordless, forceful telepathy of infants that you wanted to be put down. So I did. And you settled and slept.
But oh, I could not stop gazing at you. You, child, were and are gazed upon with so much love and awe.
Always, you and I, we’ve had a dance of instincts. Synchronized for an instant and then utterly off-kilter. I learn, over and again, to let you lead. Our path is one of constant course-correction.
This morning I brought you to your first grade classroom. A new school in our new town. You said to me several times, “Mama, I feel so important today!” You told me that you were certain the fairies had come in the night to “extra-polish my sweater buttons!”
You brought Piggie in your backpack. Did you choose him because you remember that Piggie was the stuffed friend who saw you through your early, hard days in preschool? He used to ride with us in the mornings. He went to school too, you see, and was scared. You talked to him about it, back then. It helped. (My Piggie voice: anxious whisper and quiet enthusiasm.) You talked to him about school again, last night. (Then you looked at me and whispered, “Mama, can you stop making Piggie talk?”)
You were thrilled on the walk up the hill. You were tickled that you have a crossing guard, “Just like in the old fashioned days!” You told me that you thought the desks would be set in rows, and would open, and that the teacher would teach from a platform, with a book open before her.
You were disappointed in the flat-topped desks grouped in squares. You shushed me, embarrassed, when I pointed out a teacher walking by, a dapper man in a bow tie. You love bow ties. You do not love it when I talk too much.
And when it was time for me to leave you at your desk, you gripped my hand with both of yours, tight.
“I’m scared, mama. I want to be with YOU!” Tears. We walked into the hall and I tried to help you get it together. I murmured encouragement, I told you it was time, that I knew you could do it. That I would be right there, at the end of the day. You would have none of it. “I will NOT go in.” So I brought you back inside and handed your hand to the teacher and you gave in and hugged her leg and cried.
Oh, Noodle. Again, my basics instincts were stymied. You don’t know how hard it was for me to peel your hands away. I looked back and you were peeking at me, tear-streaked, from behind your teacher’s leg. I shot you a thumbs up and a huge smile. My heart was thudding. It was just like those many, many preschool mornings, handing you over to the day.
You didn’t want to let go. And neither did I. With a push, off we both went into Wednesday.
News today. Hard news from a dear friend, and what can I do except … love. I’m sitting in one of my favorite spots in town, with a complementary bowl of gazpacho at my right hand, and a mason jar full of cold-extract coffee to the left. There’s sad-hopeful music streaming, and outside it’s all sun and blue. There’s a river sliding by, 90 degrees in the forecast, and white slashes of snow still on the distant peaks. Everything is lovely. And hard. The world is not nice or beautiful or fair. It isn’t.
But it is. It’s just … glorious and sad. Shake your fists at it, and it smiles gently. Carry on. Order a Slip n’ Slide, make quinoa salad, read a book that makes you believe that good things can happen.
We can teach children to be kind and respectful. We can be generous. We can ask for forgiveness, and (best and most magical of all) we can grant it. We can ask someone how they are, and mean it. No — how are you, really?
We can be moved by David Foster Wallace’s assertion that This is Water — and we can think about why, if he knew this, he hung himself in his backyard, leaving a note and his unfinished novel for his wife to find, after she’d cut him down. And then we can thank him for the wisdom he left despite the pain he couldn’t overcome.
This morning I had a disagreement with my child about naked mole rats. Yeah, I did. She declared them “cute.” I declared them the exact opposite of cute, they’re not cute, how could she say they’re cute? “They are the cutest things in the world, mama. I feel sorry for them and I think they are CUTE.” Agree to disagree. Exchange eyerolls and smiles with the spouse, the dry wit born of parenting.
There’s something in here about perfect imperfection. Ugliness inside beauty marked with flaws. I could dig out an analogy around the ideal design of a veiny, fleshy, naked rodent with huge, yellow teeth and squinty eyes crawling along on the same planet as whiskery teddy bear hamsters and rosy-cheeked human babies, and truly good people with truly hard circumstances.
I’ve faced a lot of ugly in my life so far, in varying degrees. I’ve had my tongue slashed with bitter disappointment. Shockwaves have rattled my chest. I’ve been tossed into the darkest slot canyons of the heart. I’ve skinned my fingertips, crawling out.
There is a deep, clear sweetness in the aftermath. We can soften. We are so fortunate — our arms are built just so, right and left coming together, forearm over forearm, palms up. A cradle beneath a sky of loving eyes.
My first word was “gentle.” Let us be so.