Saturday, August 22, 2015

Room for Change

Last weekend my oldest son, who'd been home from college for summer vacation, moved into an apartment.

Since he's a junior this year, on the face of things it isn't much different from the last two times he moved out, cramming laundry baskets full of socks and t-shirts and boxes of textbooks in the back of his car. But this time, he also borrowed my van and loaded up his mattress. And headed not to the dorm, but a shared two-bedroom apartment, with a tiny closet of a kitchen and a living room with just enough space for a small futon sofa.

It's not really that different. But it is. I'm pretty sure it means he won't be living with us, full-time, ever again. That's a healthy thing. He's 20, spreading his wings, finding his adult life. That's all as it should be. I also realize he's close by, and I don't have to face the hardship other parents deal with, of him going to school several hours or even several states away.


While he's seeing the beginning, I'm also, just as much, seeing the ending. And I'm having emotional reactions that are not the norm for me. My good intentions (being proud of a young adult going out on his own) are colliding with my fears and losses (I'd had no idea how much a dependable and reassuring presence he's been to me).

Take that torn-up conflicted mess of my emotional insides and add a big pile of the usual back-to-school stress for the other boys, and.....well.  It's made me bossy. It's made me a scold. It's made me not unlike Kitty Forman from That 70s Show. I have been reminding myself of this episode a lot lately.

Yep. While for my oldest child life is moving on at a rapid and wonderful pace, I feel like I'm left behind with the metaphorical equivalent of a fucking car show in Kenosha. I wish I could be more graceful about it, but right now I'm just not.

His more-permanent departure has left the door open for other big changes, too.

Since birth, my twin sons Ben and Joe have shared a womb, a swaddling blanket, a crib, and always, always, a bedroom.

While at the subterranean level of the heart, their relationship is like this:

On the day-to-day level it's more often like this:

They're twins with vast differences in their personalities, and I'll admit there are times when the entire family would benefit from a break in the cycle of open conflict and armed detente in the twin identity/sibling rivalry wars. While that sounds pretty dysfunctional, I understand it's normal for same-sex twins.

Normal can be pretty exhausting for the bystanders, though. At 11 years old, the twins are starting middle school this year. They feel grown up. They want grown up things. They're each wanting the same thing their oldest brother wanted: a space to call his own.

Grant's bedroom up until this last weekend looked (when clean and uncluttered, which I'll admit wasn't often) like this:

The twins' bedroom looked like this:

This weekend, we moved Ben's bed into his big brother's old room. We'll be working this fall to gradually morph the twins' old room into Joe's personal space, and Ben's new room into his very own.

Unlike television shows and some other blogs, this won't be a total renovation of both spaces in just a few weekends. Real-world budgets and schedules don't really allow for that. But we'll see how far we can get on use-what-you-have decorating.

We'll also see if I go all Kitty Forman on this change too. The rooms in my house are still all full, but so is my heart. In both cases, rearranging is a messy process.

Friday, August 14, 2015

How My Summer Went Off the Rails, and Why It's Still Okay

It will come as no suprise to anyone who is the owner of an old home that things didn't go quite as planned this summer. Only I still get surprised, sometimes. I don't know if it's because I'm stubborn, or stupid. Probably a little bit of both.

Anyhoo, at the beginning of the summer I'd been getting good momentum on bedroom and bathroom renovations, which you can read about here. I was at a good stopping point for letting some hired help come in and do some things. It felt awesome.

But a chronically slow bathroom sink drain finally frustrated all my amateur attempts to keep it unclogged. It turns out there was a good reason, and I had to call in the pros. (If you're eating right now you might want to put down your sandwich).

The glory of old pipes. And by glory I mean alskdnfaeknaefr, that's disgusting. So there was an expenditure that wasn't quite planned.

Then, we went on vacation. That part, at least, was planned.

But then I got a rather large repair bill on my car. Not planned. And THEN my central air conditioner's fan motor burned up, and needed replacement. Another unplanned expense.

None of these were disastrous, but add them all up and it meant that my budget for hired work had been mostly eaten, at least temporarily.

It was a bummer. There may have been language followed by kicking of shit in the garage followed by sulking followed by wine consumption. Maybe. But what can you do otherwise? I was going to have to wait.

So I waited. That meant doing other things, stuff that I could do myself or needed no or minimal financial output.

I waited it out in the garden.

My perennial beds had gotten out of hand a bit in the last two seasons, so I spent a lot of time weeding, edging, and mulching. It's a good thing I like weeding. It's meditative for me; my mind can wander while I tackle the crabgrass.

I also finished the front foundation bed. I'd let the bare dirt and incomplete landscaping get weedy:

But some raking, weeding, mulching, and river rock near the front water tap got it looking much better. It's too late to establish any plants or shrubs here this season, but I'll be ready to go for next spring. 

I waited it out by scraping paint. Paint scraping is always free, except for the part that kills your soul. Ha.

Here's the north garage at the beginning of the season:

And here's some progress from a few weeks ago:

There will be more progress to report soon. 

The weather's been a real jerk this summer too. My first summer with exterior painting, I thought it was just some fluke that every weekday would be sunny, every weekend rainy. But it's apparently some extended cosmic three-year joke that every single weekend would be hosed up by the weather. Climate change, you are really beginning to damage my calm. 

I waited it out by doing more demolition. After the plumbing-car-a/c repair stuff, I decided to use a portion of the remaining money to get something accomplished in a different direction. I rented a dumpster. I'm a bad blogger because while I have a "before" I didn't even think to snap a single "after":

Just know that 10 cubic yards of building waste-- yucky wood paneling, ceiling tiles, old aluminum storm windows, and garage refuse from the previous owners-- went off my property and out of my life. There's another blog post in the future about that but for now, this was the progress we were able to make instead of what was planned. 

How's your summer to-do list going? Any setbacks? Enjoying great progress? 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Long and Short of Summer

Summers in Iowa always seem to lift one by the soul right into the impossibly sunny air around June. Your toes sink into cool grass and your spirits rise starting from somewhere around your bare knees. You imagine that's what it feels like to be growing in the good earth like the things all around you, from flowers to sweet corn to blossoming trees.

Come August, it's a different story. It's just hot, the cicadas are whirring more like an alarm than singing like a song, and the whole of nature looks a little like an overexposed photo--blasted by heat and light, faded in color, tired of being. 

That's how this summer has gone in respect to time. We began buoyant and full of hope. I'm ending a little faded and dissatisfied.

There's been a lot of delays and redirects on home projects, but I'll save a lengthier discussion of those for another post.

Those delays and redirects, coupled with a lot of work and family-related......stuff, for lack of a better word (good, bad and indifferent, most of it has no place on the blog), made this summer feel more like a holding pattern than progress or a respite in the normal yearly schedule.

I'd been longing for, if not an ideal summer, at least one like some I had when I was a kid. Like the summer I was thirteen, for instance. That was hardly a perfect summer. I'd grown to my full adult height of 5'8", was taller than all the boys, and yet couldn't fill a bikini top. I hardly recognized my own body and wasn't sure I was at all in love with this suddenly new and horribly awkward version of myself. I began to suspect I was too old for Laura Ingalls Wilder, or wanted to be, but re-read her books like I did every summer in the heat of the backyard lawn chair or the cool of my bedroom. I listened to 45s of Blondie and Pat Benatar. I went to the public library and read old issues of New Yorker magazine, wishing I understood life in its sophisticated and worldly way which my Midwestern upbringing surely had nothing to do with. I felt inadequate and sweaty and bored.

That summer seemed to stretch on forever, though. Time enough to read books, not just Wilder but trashy teen novels and thick biographies and Rolling Stone. Time enough to exhaust myself in our town's community swimming pool and walk home with my little sister, flip-flops snapping and chlorine wet towels steaming around our necks. Time for cherry popsicles. Time to visit my favorite aunt and uncle's farm in Missouri for sweet corn and green beans and the smell of hay. Time to pedal past that cute boy Nate's house, hoping he might be home.

It's in the nature of being an adult, unfortunately, that I can't do those things now. My own kids' summers look a lot different and are a lot more structured. Some of that is a good thing. Every year my son Noah participates in a School of Rock program that gets musical teens on the live stage. I'm always proud and surprised by how professional and accomplished they sound.

And Ben likes art camp:

But we've also had time for free-form silliness:

And like me, they've had time for books and boredom, swimming pools and cherry popsicles. We struggle with the maintaining a healthy amount of screen time and not more, but that's the norm for most kids now.

For myself these days, I seem to find that long summer feeling the most in the garden. As a little girl I was outside most of the time, with uncombed hair, dirty feet and fingernails. I can revisit that time in the garden even if I'm weeding, but especially if I'm watching the bees, considering how a petal curves into a sepal,  palming the ripe heft of a tomato. 

Here's a squint through the front yard perennial bed in one direction: 

And another squint through in the opposite direction, toward the house: 

We've got two weeks left before school starts, and I have mixed feelings about it. I've been ready to let this less-than-ideal summer go but I'm at a point in life, with my sons growing up, that I have no real desire to wish the days away either.

One thing I know is true from my four decades plus of summers. They all blend together in a wash of heat and breeze, cold drinks and the smell of cucumbers on the kitchen counter. There's little distinction in my mind, now, between any afternoon at the pool, some particular July day with my bare feet in the dirt, that other watching fireflies at dusk from the farm porch. It's all one long Midwestern summer in my mind, and while that might feel like a loss, it's really a gain that averages out the short summers, the frantic ones, the ones of self-doubt and emotional transitions. This one too, will sink into that perpetually green and shimmering seasonal memory, and seem the better for it in time. I'm grateful for that.