I had just read Ben Hewitt’s post “Done in Silence” when my thirteen-year old son burst on the scene.”Mom! I was thinking, I’ve earned $25 from my work so far and I do have enough money to buy —– (a computer game he wants to play online with friends) after all, so..”
I had turned to listen but was struggling to gain purchase on the concepts he was on about. I interrupted him, “J, remember I’ve told you to give a few seconds after you come into a room before launching into something you want to say?”
“Oh yeah.” He breathed in once, out once.
By this time I had a sense of the topic at least. “I also want you to know that I just finished reading a good blog post on how destructive it is to allow children easy access to screen time.”
His mouth curved up on one side, he nodded once, and turned. “I’ll tell you about it later,” he said.
Because I’d stayed up trying to organize photos from my recent trip across Canada with my daughter, I got up a little later than has been my habit lately. As usual I hung a cut out milk jug berry bucket around my neck, went to the garden and picked my granola toppings, allowing my mind time to awaken, or maybe to linger between sleeping and awake, as I let my feet feel the hard, dry lumpy ground of the dormant lawn, stepped around recent dog droppings, felt a rising wind lift the bean leaves, saw and heard a hawk hunting for birds among the neighborhood evergreens. After enjoying my bowl of granola, yogurt and berries, I pruned some branches overhanging my compost pile and shed, pulled a few weeds from the soft soil of a raised bed. Beets swelling, beans appearing, tomatoes and late raspberries ripening, apple trees sending out new shoots. Always things are growing. I laid the pruned branches in an out of the way corner, weeds on the compost pile with lawn clippings and kitchen scraps. Always things are breaking down, cycling back. Some fast, some slowly.
When I came back to the compost pile a few minutes later, a sleek brown rat scurried away under the shed. Must do something about the rats, even though I think they are handsome and admire their intelligence and personality. But for the soft brown coat, they look and act the same as the pets rats we loved years ago. But the neighbors would not agree. The rats do not compete with us for resources, as long as I keep the bone meal and seeds secured, but I suppose I should at least keep the family from growing. I made a half hearted mental note to find the snap trap and plan a humane execution. But if I find a nest of young’uns under the shed when we move it, well, we haven’t had a pet rat in a while, and the girls were crooning over the cute ones they saw in the pet store while we were waiting for a triple-A tow yesterday…
This time I had only a half hour to myself. My husband tends to launch onto the scene without warning, and I have found that an hour or two of quiet is good preparation. He lies in bed after waking up, gathers the threads of thoughts freed by sleep and coalescing at the surface, get a good mental steam up, and then out he comes. with his project plan or solution to a problem, or viewpoint on a current controversy. Like father, like son. Lately there are the projects we’re working on–leveling ground for a fence replacement, deciding how to rearrange the shrubs come rainy season, carting the wood chips from the two fir trees we had cut down, talking out plans for our careers. Will I take the job offered to me lFriday, or should I wait and for something more mainstream in my own district? When will we be ready for him to transition away from working for T-Mobile, coding for a throw-away culture, solving problems in cash flow for a large corporation, and grow our own software consulting business?
We’ve been asking these questions for years. And the one about whether we will stay at this house and put some more work into it, or seriously seek a different property. I told my husband that I have decided in any case to treat this house as the one we’re going to be living in for the foreseeable future. So I planted apple trees, long delayed, raspberries and blackberries, and have drawn up a design for the expansion of the garden and addition of a working studio/bike storage building and a tea house, to be built mostly from ReStore materials and in my spare time. In my experience, I become something close to depressed when I just wait and see and stop making a home where I’m at. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I left Better Homes and Gardens behind long ago, and ignore or scoff at the new local mags that feature interiors and improvements designed for the market and marketers who advertise in those same pages, rather than a real life.
It was good to visit the homes of my family members in that regard, for a reality check. My Ontario brother bought his place for the land and improved the house and interior with his own hands, built a hen house and greenhouse (in addition to a bat hotel). It’s heated by wood from his lot, and very little garbage is generated there. My Montreal sister rents whatever works for commuting by metro to her job and church and her modest shopping needs, and is most happy with the sound of the wind in the maple tree outside her apartment. My younger brother rents a one bedroom and seems content with his parking attendant job. My other sister and brother-in-law have improved the water tightness and livability of a house he bought for himself at a price that he could pay off quickly and so bed free from the soul-killing software industry he was part of. A wall down here to make a more open living room, an extra beam and dormer to tuck a loft up into the attic, and the whole lower floor for his mom and stepdad to enjoy until they didn’t need it any more. Meanwhile it’s cozy and full of personality, the plumbing works, meals are eaten at the living room coffee table or at the picnic table outside, and the flat is a haven for musicians and other friends from the city and beyond.
Mom and Dad’s “vacation home” is a small centuries old house typical of the village of Crow Head, Newfoundland –low ceilinged (people were shorter then), recently added flush toilet, no insulation, and a gorgeous Atlantic Ocean view almost completely cut off by the grassy root cellar mound and storage shed. The local carpenter replaced the drafty windows and added a painting studio, and Mom has pinned up her quilts, calendar and quilt magazine pages, and a Blue Rodeo poster. Back in their home in Nova Scotia, the farmhouse bought from the farmer next door, the wood stove, insulation, and garden are better, but again it’s a place to make and remember a life, not a showcase.The home is centered around creative activity, art, literature, and visitors (which include animals).
I came back from that trip and told my husband that I definitely didn’t want to pay for anything fancier than we needed. The rickety, low ceilinged place right by the lake would do, as would the fixer upper with seven acres. It was all a matter of perspective. Then why didn’t I like our own house? He wondered. I wonder it, too, but I think it has to do with the room configuration, in which I can’t seem to find a place to be creative, or a place that is truly visitor-friendly. It never, ever felt like the one to settle down in, though the neighborhood and proximity to the pool has been great, as has the large back yard. But I just want to finish up the seemingly never ending fixes and slight adjustments, painting and refinishing, never really making the changes this badly laid out house needs.
No, this is not a post in which I appear to come to terms with everything and find all kinds of reasons to be thankful. Truth is I’m heartsick, fed up, sick and tired of living in a house in which I can’t start a creative project, have no privacy, and my kids don’t feel comfortable having their friends over, ’cause there’s no place to hang out, no nooks that aren’t constantly needed for the main themes of household life. We designed an addition and backed out, had a consultation with builders and let the email checkins trail off. I dreamed of a loft above the garage, stairs up to an upstairs craft room and office, a studio in the back corner of the yard. I teased that we could rent a Simple Box or buy a camper trailer for some extra room. All I managed to do was rent an office around the other side of the bay. This has been good, but looks like the regular tenant needs it back in a few weeks. It’s full of my boxes of sewing supplies and my two machines, but all I’ve managed to make is a really nice pot holder. I’d wanted to finally finish my daughter’s quilt, started almost ten years ago, and I don’t even know where the hell it is, between stashing things in the storage unit, on top of and underneath appliances and in various crevices and crannies.
The bad news is, now that a second child is off to college and there will technically be “room” enough, we might get stuck here forever. I did say that I’d regard that as a given, so I could have a purpose to make improvements as well as permission to stop aspiring to the impossible, but to really act like I’m grounded, I’d have to set up and take on some projects that my husband didn’t sign on for. He keeps saying that we just want to finish things up to sell, but the timeline never comes to a head, and here we still are, on our third realtor, years of open houses and web searches and special viewings and watching the interest rates and bubbling, no closer to needing those piles of moving boxes I stored, which are now smelling pretty musty. There will be no welcoming international student friends of our kids into the guest room or hosting exchange students, no fostering needy children, no running summer workshops in canning or winter book clubs.
They say anger is helpful, because it helps one recognize that there’s a problem. I get angriest when I am not obeying my conscience or am failing to act like a free agent with real needs. For not calmly insisting that others recognize and take my needs seriously (once I know what they are, which is sometimes just a best guess) if they truly want to maintain the relationship. Oh God, now I think I’m getting somewhere.