I’ve told you before about our house – this sweet cape cod house, nestled high on the hill, tall trees towering over us like giants, nesting crows cawing to us like rowdy neighbors. This house has been home to us for over ten years, now. Ten growing, stretching, becoming years.
Six weeks ago, I took a sledgehammer to the cinderblock wall of our front porch. I was surprised by the weight of the sledgehammer, heavier than I expected. The heft of it made it hard to cock back for a good swing. But I did, over and over, knocking a full row of blocks to crumble into the front garden. I smiled with satisfaction, then handed the sledgehammer back to Mark, leaving him to do the muscle work. The kids and I put gloves on and, careful to avoid the men at work, carried block and pieces of house away and into the dumpster in the driveway.
The porch was coming down.
Mark and I have talked ’round and round this house for years. For years, the conversations have spiraled in and out and around the options – moving, building, adding, sacrificing, surviving, thriving. And we landed here, on this day, with sledgehammers and gloves, knocking down to rebuild. Our awkward, paint-peeling red front porch was being re-purposed, given new life, by enclosing it and making it part of our living space. Addition. The former exterior wall was coming down, doubling our family room, our main living space. Subtraction.
Because this project has lived in Mark’s head for close to two years, the details have been nailed into place meticulously, delicately. Each phase has gone well, with limited surprises. That first day, porch demolition day, the kids and I hung around enough of the day to see many exciting things happen, but knew well enough to mostly leave Mark and his friends to their work.
The transformation has been breath-taking, and life giving (and also patience-pushing, and time-consuming).
We’re living in the middle of a construction zone. I have to stand on a ladder to flick the switch on the plastic cage covering a single light bulb to light the family room. The exposed stucco of one former exterior wall is just looking for knuckles to scrape. There is dust and dirt everywhere. And bugs. Lady bugs and stink bugs find every hole from the outside and come in to check the place out, too.
My carpenter-husband still has a day job. Family responsibilities still tie us up, pulling us away from this space, away from the next thing on the list. It’s a work in progress, like anything else in life.
I’ve told the kids no to play dates for fear that the exposed insulation, the sharp edges of metal, the rough-hewn surfaces would be too hard to explain, to difficult to keep kids safe. I’m not sure where all the toys have gotten to, things boxed up and cast off into every corner of every room. I’ve hesitated hosting friends for dinner because the space is unfinished, and disorganized.
Lying in bed at night, I arrange furniture in my head. I pick paint colors, wonder about flooring. Change my mind a hundred times. Throw out every thing we own and start again. I’m eager to make the space feel like home. I envision the holiday gatherings we’ll have here, the turkey on the table, mismatched chairs gathered from other rooms, holding our loved ones. I see the kids on their bellies playing board games, warming themselves by the wood stove that will eventually go in the corner. There will be space enough.
I get so caught up in my visioning, my dreaming and hoping and planning, that what I really want is the big “ta-da” moment. The emotional equivalent to pulling the blindfold off to the drumroll for the big reveal, your hand over your mouth as you gasp in amazement. I want to hold out, to wait, until it’s polished and ready, to welcome you in. I want to give you the before picture and have you walk right into the after, finished and topped off with mood lighting and delicious smells coming from the kitchen, the big impressive sweep of change.
I don’t want you to see the work-in-progress. It’s not that I want to hide our hard work. I’m not embarrassed by the grit, the mess. That’s not it at all. It’s that it feels unimpressive to me, less dramatic. Seeing each step along the way, walking through the back door because there are no front stairs yet, there is no “ta-da” moment, no drama of the reveal. But reality is not always dramatic. It’s work. It’s the work of sledgehammer and saws. It’s the work of hundreds of trips to the dumpster, another run to Home Depot. It’s the reality that depends on the strong backs of good friends. Friends that have shown up each step of the way, to pound hammers, to sweep floors, to share tools and expertise. The reality is that the each step of the way, we are dependent on this community of people.
So maybe each step of the way I need to open my doors, my house, my construction zone to my people.
Here’s what I think: you want to see the work in progress. Are you dying to see what it looks like, now that the wall is down? Maybe you want to help brainstorm what to do about that light fixture, or what color you like best for the walls. You want to know what went in to building this space, shaping our home each phase of the project. When you come to the dressed-up table, with its candles and jewels, you’ll be able to look around and know what it took to build this space. You’ll see my fingerprints in it, maybe even yours.
Less dramatic, sure. But absolutely real.
The kids have begun to have friends over again. We’ll celebrate Renee’s birthday with family here this week. So welcome to the hard work and the mess – won’t you come in and see?