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Housepainting and change

We’re painting our house. Let me rephrase: we’re having our house painted, because who are we kidding, no one wants me to climb up one of those ladders with a wet paint roller.

It’s an old house, built in 1930, and in good shape, but if we want it to stay that way, we need to be responsible homeowners and take care of it. So we called in a local company to freshen up the exterior with a couple coats of paint in a new color.

My kids are not happy about it.

When I told my eight year-old daughter we were painting our house a different color, she burst into tears, inconsolable that I was allowing someone — paying someone, even — to change her home.

“It’s just going to be a different color on the outside,” I told her, with that maddening tone that confirmed I was totally missing the point.

“But I like it the way it is,” she said.

My son was more stoic about the prospect until the painting actually began. Then, he asked, with a mournful look in his eyes, “Can they just leave one side the original color?” I assured him we have pictures of the house painted the original color (beige, whoopie), and that he can look at them whenever he likes. He was not comforted.

I’m always taken by surprise when my kids object to new dishes, or new plants in the garden, or new pieces of furniture — even old furniture in a new arrangement. I forget that the safety and permanence of their home takes partial form in these objects, while, for me, home is a more fluid concept, not firmly attached to stuff. (Although I might feel differently if our home were destroyed by a fire or some other disaster, which I hope I will never find out.)

My initial reaction to their apprehension was was to brush it off and cajole them into liking the idea of a totally different-colored house. But I’ve backed off of that and am trying to hear their worries, and sit with them in their loss, beige though it may be. They’ve reminded me about the household objects I loved growing up, such as the goofy, 60′s era vinyl ottoman that’s still sitting in my parents’ house, and the stepstool that was my booster seat at Thanksgiving dinners. My parents wouldn’t think twice about replacing these items, and, at this point, I wouldn’t mind if they did. But I’m grateful that my kids helped me remember that I used to care.

I’m glad I took pictures of our house when it was beige. Once the painting is done, and the new house color loses its “new” feeling, and our house is just our house again, we’ll take out the pictures and marvel that our house was ever beige. Perhaps we’ll wish it still was.

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