My Empty Nest

I don’t claim to understand the mechanism that inspires parents to spontaneously revamp their houses after the kids leave, but I can trace my own perfidy back to the week before Labor Day. I had a double ear infection, a sinus infection and laryngitis. I did not realize it at the time, but my doctor had given me a stronger dose of prednisone than I am used to and I was high as a kite. We were expecting guests that weekend, and when I went upstairs to fluff Oldest’s room in anticipation of their arrival, I suddenly found myself dismantling it.

As I took down the one millionth thumb tack in our son’s room and unwound the cobwebby Christmas lights, I tried not to feel too much like my mother, who I take after. Unlike my mom who unceremoniously confiscated my crap, I respectfully stashed everything in the dresser. I then made a video of the beautiful and refreshed room and with much trepidation sent to Oldest for approval, which he graciously gave me. Being a college sophomore, Youngest still has some time on the clock, so for now his room remains a mysterious and redolent vault.

As summer drew to a close and the weather cooled down, my cleaning jag morphed into a very expensive and labor intensive home improvement initiative.

Making my way through the house like a polar vortex, I rudely surprised My Royal Consort by dismantling the kitchen in preparation for re-painting the ceiling. My Royal Consort is a sensible man and quickly realized that if he wanted to enjoy home cooking again any time soon, he would have to get involved in my noxious project.

Painting a room is like eating potato chips or getting a tattoo—you can’t just have one. When a freshly painted room butts up to a not freshly painted room, it is practically impossible to leave the unpainted room alone. That is how our kitchen ceiling project mushroomed into a major painting initiative that went on for weeks and eventually required a home equity loan.

I don’t know what comes first—the graphic designer or the anal compulsive. I was  a designer for many years and if there is one thing I dislike, it is disorder and any kind of “uglification”.  I can think of many things that start out ugly before they become beautiful or good: fetal ponies are a good example. Baby birds. Teenagers. Rotten bananas before they become banana bread. So, with this in mind, I endured the buckets of paint and stray sandpaper and dirty drop cloths strewn all over the house, knowing that eventually order would be restored. Never once did I suspect that my simple plan for total world domination would be so involved.

When we built our house 18 years ago we got to the end of the project and realized that we had no money left for flooring, so being resourceful painters, we simply threw some porch enamel onto the sub-floor and called it a day.

Given my love of order and cleanliness, my bovine acceptance of our perpetually dirty, un-washable plywood floors is hard to fathom. The simple explanation for continuing to live on a huge expanse of uglification for nearly two decades is that we both hate spending money on things we don’t need.

Regrettably, due to his intense desire to finish the project ASAP, the former painting contractor himself—the very one I once looked up to and called  “Mr. Sphincter” because of his strict attention to painterly detail, the darling of stinky rich Wall Street wives the world over, the Grand Master of Mauve— made a classic mistake.

In this instance, My Royal Consort’s inattention to detail might have gone undetected if the floor paint that he had purchased and gleefully applied without first reading the label, had actually adhered to the floor. When none of the paint stuck or cured, we realized that we were on the verge of a major upgrade to our home. Being “glass half full” types we soon realized that coating the floors in gooey grey paint was a wonderful turn of events.

Picture this happening in your kitchen.

Picture this happening in your kitchen.

To be fair, our painted plywood floor had its good points. For example, the kids could practice ollies in the house without consequence. An ollie, for the uninitiated, is an incredibly clattery and annoying skateboard trick when practiced endlessly in the kitchen by an adolescent boy. Performed in an actual skate park, the ollie is quite elegant.

The barn-like nature of our floors also allowed us to host rowdy house concerts attended by up to seventy guests at a time, many of who drank and spilled shit all over the floor.

Another big plus about the plywood floor was when our dog dropped a giant blood-filled tick on the floor and someone stepped on it, it was easy to spot.

When a homeowner prepares for a flooring contractor, he or she suddenly takes a very critical look at all the stuff that needs to be moved. Because of my law and order tendencies, our stuff was fairly well curated. Nevertheless, the ebb and flow of furniture and books reminded me of the moving island of junk that floats around in the ocean. As we moved furniture back into the rooms that were suddenly spectacular with their pristine hardwood floors, I felt a little twinge of guilt about covering up all the evidence that young kids had once lived in them.

While cleaning the walls and baseboard, I got a little choked up over what could only have been a catastrophic milk spill in the family room. Peering under a chair I took a moment to reflect on a hole in the floor from somebody’s roller blade. In a box I discovered a hilarious and disgusting indictment from one brother to another. And worst of all, we (this was not a unilateral decision) painted over the sacred wall where Oldest’s and Youngest’s height had been recorded each year.

I am frequently accused of being  unsentimental, but this recent upheaval in our house made me wonder where the time went and if I had done all the good fun things I could have done with the kids. Going through a stack of cookbooks in preparation for storing them in my freshly painted and refurbished pantry, I rediscovered the recipe for muffins that I used when the kids were little. I was gratified to remember that even though I am the world’s most incompetent baker, I actually baked things for the boys.

By the time we were done with the house, I had accumulated enough forensic evidence of mothering to feel better about how quickly my kids grew up. Now I am psyched to drink a few pints over Thanksgiving break with my two grownup sons. If they spill any beer on the floor, they are going straight to Time Out.





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  1. Michael O. says:

    Loved your brief tale Lavie, and look forward to seeing the finish. Must have been hard to cover the vertical progress of the boys-men!

  2. Katy says:

    Brilliant. Anyone with kids will relate. But I am still stunned that you painted over the height chart!

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