Lately, one member of the team has had miserably low morale as the seemingly endless process of making our house livable again continues.
No, it’s not Tilly, who is enduring weeks of the (post-surgical) Cone of Shame with typical basset aplomb.
No, it’s not Manny, who is working long hours M-F and coming home to DIY all weekend in a haze of dust and chaos, while his wife flounders and occasionally sulks.
I am embarrassed to admit that I have not been my best self lately. I get overwhelmed and throw toddler-esque hissy fits. I become irrational when the Shop-Vac clogs on me (which is, to be fair, every two and a half minutes). I throw in the towel and go sit in the other room at pretty much the drop of a hat because my threshold for dealing with the inevitable disorder and set-backs that come with tackling a huge, expensive, dirty project I don’t *exactly* know how to do is a little too much for me these days.
Let me back up for a moment. My memories of the first six problematic and uncomfortable weeks in our house are sepia-tinged.
(Signs of a disordered life at the Savannah Bungalow. Note the electric skillet, which we used to heat up the remains of a Little Caesar’s cheese pizza. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.)
During that time, we waited for a “super special” mattress I had ordered online to arrive. We had not brought our old mattress down from NYC, which meant that we had to sleep on an air bed, which we laid out at night and stored vertically during the day so that the handyman and crew could repair the holes in our bedroom walls, re-skim the ceiling, replace the baseboards, and paint. We were tired all of the time and it was hard to keep a handle on the mess, which meant that early into this bed-less existence, we set the air mattress on a stray nail and punctured it badly enough that no patch-kit could help it. So we’d fill it up before going to sleep and wake up in the middle of the night feeling the floor through our make-shift bed. This went on until the “special” mattress finally arrived. [As an aside, it turned out that this long-awaited dream bed was so uncomfortable we decided we had to return it after a single night’s sleep. We then proceeded to a local mattress store and bought the mattress we should have procured our first week in town.]
We laughed about it at the time, even as we dealt with the stress and discomfort. And yet we still refer to that breathless first phase of home-ownership with a certain fondness and say things, when we’re stressed, like: “At least we have a real bed now!”
So when, on December 26th, we brought out the sledge-hammers and started to deconstruct our dangerously-wired, awkward, eyesore kitchen, we thought it would be like that. Meaning: We expected an uncomfortable first six weeks or so. We figured we’d start to get a hold on things then and begin sneaking small sighs of relief as visible progress was made. We’d start to see the finish line about two months in, in any case, and we’d be able to make little jokes about how awful and silly this project had been at the start.
After all, the kitchen is just one room! Sure, it would dirty and tough, but we were familiar with that kind of thing!
Except we really aren’t. This is not like that. It’s harder, and I didn’t anticipate that.
You see, the kitchen project has, for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on yet, triggered something in me. I am not good with disorder. I never have been. But issues I thought I’d long ago outgrown are sneaking up on me once more something fierce.
I don’t say this lightly — or to, in any way, make little of what people who struggle with diagnosable compulsive behaviors confront on a daily basis — but when I was a child my parents thought I might have a problem. From about the time I was six, I lost sleep worrying over my sock-drawer’s organization, the orderliness of my little jewelry box, and whether the fringe on the rugs in our house was uniformly combed. I was so ultra-organized and clean-obsessed I’d make my family upset — particularly my little brother, whose room I would tackle when mine was finally in an almost museum-like state. I secretly worried too that something was off about my inability to handle things out of order, unclean, or otherwise not in perfect, catalog-ready array.
This continued through high school. Somehow, though, I outgrew the hardest, most troubling parts of that mindset and managed to control a lot of the other aspects of my atypical mind frame. Throughout college and then grad school, I had roommates and I learned to calm down and deal with people as human beings — to not worry constantly about the line between how I wanted things to be and how things could reasonably be in the real world. Rather than seeing myself as someone who had “issues,” I thought of myself as a type-A personality with a neat-streak. I even made it through those first few months of chaos in our new home last fall without so much as a single catastrophic crying jag! (Okay, maybe just one. Or two.)
I recognize this all sounds a bit… precious. But the cumulative effects of the kitchen renovation — of being in an environment that’s very messy and disordered — is wearing down a lot of the coping mechanisms I developed a long time ago. We’re pretty much smack-dab in the middle of the project — through the demo and done with most of the prep-work and upgrading that needed to happen, but with a whole lot more to go. We couldn’t go back now even if we wanted to and there’s nowhere to go but forward. In the meantime, I’m struggling as I try once again to control my “neatness issues.”
But every time I come apart at the seams a little, Manny reacts with patience and kindness. He gives me space or calms me down. He somehow disassociates frantic-me from normal-me. On this Valentine’s Day, I offer an electronic toast to a great partner and my best friend. It’s just a kitchen reno; I know this deep, deep down. But when I lose sight of that, he helps me find my way back again.