“I can’t do it, I can’t do it!!”
“I don’t know how to do it, I don’t know how to do it!!”
This, a few days upon moving us into a new home, is what my parents found my sister and I, respectively, yelling in our sleep.
Looking back, I see that these mantras of fear were more than just spurs toward ambition for me and my sister to overcome personal obstacles on the way to adulthood (for example, her: law school me: not quitting Brownies because it got in the way of my Family Affair viewing time.) I think we were screaming those phrases because we had absorbed all the anxiety our parents had felt upon moving to a new house, and a new city. They didn’t discuss it: they were not inclined by temperament and by generation to share this sort of feeling among themselves, let alone with their kids, but now that I have gone through the experience of moving myself I suspect that my sister and I were like sensitive Richter scales picking up the tectonic shifts taking place with our parents.
My husband and I are not so reticent. Also, the challenge of moving – famously one of life’s most stressful acts – is further complicated by the unique terrain of New Orleans.
The ground in New Orleans, being six to eight feet below sea level, tends to shift, and therefore the houses do as well. Which leads to new words in our vocabulary like “shoring”, which lead to cracks in walls, which leads to painting the whole house. Our chosen New Orleanean painter, a man about whom Dave Eggers wrote the widely lauded book Zeitoun, was put in jail for the attempted murder of his wife – in the middle of our paint job (Note to self: never choose a painter based on a book.) We gathered new painters to finish, but another particularly New Orleanean obstacle arrived: Hurricane Isaac. We left the city, then Isaac left, and we came back. To lead dust. All. Over. Everything. Cleaning, cleaning cleaning.
Then…We’re in! We’re in! After a week or two of post traumatic anxiety syndrome, we notice some things about the house.
We finally have an adult (HA!) living room. As it quickly filled with plastic primary colored toys we swore we’d never buy, we realized we needed to make a play space just for the kids. We had the perfect space – the “Sun Room,’ just inside from the pool.
The sun room is a bizarrely triangular-shaped addition that would be at home in a Escher print. It was used as an art studio by the clearly eccentric patriarch whose name was Charles Prince. We tried to google him but couldn’t sift through the barrage of clicks for some other guy across the pond (PLEASE just let Prince Harry romp around Vegas and get him out of Afghanistan before he and others get hurt!) From neighbors we’ve learned he was a beloved figure who tottered around the town, chirpily chatting to everyone and collecting material from local dumpsters and garbage cans for his art projects. One friend walked in and said, ‘Oh, this was the house of the sweet old guy who made Katie an airplane out of coke cans!” The room reflected his idiosynchratic whimsy. Now we needed it to reflect ours. But as adults, practical concerns were in the forefront. Kids need to bop around without hurting themselves. For a room off a pool where they’ll inevitably come in dripping, the current white tile would be dangerously, bashing-your-head slippery, but carpet would mold.
We needed help. We stumbled into Home Depot like the 3 and 6 year olds my sister and I once were, begging for guidance. We got it. Someone came to our house and measured the room. They went over our options. They guided us to a link on their website about local sales, where we got what I happily call “ballet studio” flooring for a steal. They’ll install it when we say go.
Notwithstanding those 25 days in a hotel with two small children while various bio-hazards and hurricanes overtook our house, wrangling it into a cozy, lovely and safe home has proven to be within our skill set.
I guess we do know how to do it.
Last night, I walked into my daughters room, and in her sleep she shouted “I won’t do it!!”
Good thing she has her playroom for many years to come.
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