It’s hard to believe, but we are moving into the new house this Saturday, almost two months to the day after we moved out of our Bronxville apartment and into my inlaws’ home on Long Island. My in-laws have been so gracious and accommodating during our transition into homeownership, and I know they will miss the way Minnow’s exuberant singing, ukulele playing, and knock-knock jokes can fill a big home, but I think they’d agree that eight weeks is just about the maximum amount of time that three generations can comfortably reside under one roof.
When I say it’s hard to believe, I mean that I truly cannot fathom how our house will be ready for occupants in four days. Every time I walk through the rooms I am overwhelmed by the number of moldings that need to be scraped and painted, the boxes of furniture that need to be built, the layers of dust that need to be eradicated. I’d analogize it to a paper in college whose submission date is looming. You know that it’s due by a certain date, and you know that you will submit it by that date, but you have no definite idea how that will happen; you just sort of trust in miracles.
What doesn’t help is that all of my contractors like to begin phone conversations with, “Mrs. C., we have a problem.” They then go on to describe said problem, which rarely amounts to much of a problem at all. It’s like they’re constantly hedging my expectations, as a means of insurance.
For example, on Friday my floor guy, Stanley, called while I was waiting on an infinite line at the DMV to change the address on my license.
“Mrs. C., we have a problem.”
“What’s the problem, Stanley?”
“It’s raining outside.”
“I’m aware of that, Stanley,” I said, staring at my soggy Hunter boots.
“Well I’m trying to apply the second coat of polyurethane to the floors and it’s not adhering. The weather is too wet. The floors are not dry.”
“So I will have to turn up the thermostat in your house, allow the floors to dry overnight, and come back in the morning.”
“That’s not a problem., Stanley,” I replied.
And it wasn't a problem. Because we don't live there yet.
Similarly, this morning, while at Starbucks, I received a call from my paper hanger, Tony.
“Mrs. C., we have a problem.”
“What’s the problem, Tony?”
“Your hot water is not running. If you don’t have hot water, I can’t wash the glue off my brushes. If I can’t wash the glue off my brushes, I can’t hang your paper today.”
“That’s not a problem, Tony. We turned off the boiler. The boiler switch is at the top of the basement stairwell. Turn it on. You’ll hear the boiler kick in. Wait a half hour. You’ll have hot water.”
And I was right. I’m a freaking genius.
Of course, usage of “We have a problem” is not exclusive to my home contractors. When I called the body shop last week to check on the status of my Jeep repair, the owner began with, “Well, we have a problem...”
“What’s that?” I asked, feeling like I just might lose my marbles.
“When we inspected your car more closely, we found additional damage to the suspension. The insurance company needs to resend its adjuster to make a secondary estimate. We’re looking at another week, at least.”
Unfortunately, this is one problem I cannot solve, and I so desperately want my car back.
All of this is to say I really don’t know where mothers found respite from life’s little “problems” before Starbucks. I am there at least once a day, sometimes twice if the day is shaping up to be particularly “problematic.” Minnow has become so familiar with the green mermaid logo that she points it out from the backseat whenever we pass a store.
“Oh, Mommy! There’s Starbucks! We go get coffee now?”
Minnow likes Starbucks because it usually means a treat for her, as well. When we walk through the doors she immediately struts toward the cold case, grabs a Horizon organic vanilla milk box, and places it on the counter. “And a bagel with cream cheese,” she tells the cashier. Sometimes she mixes it up and orders a bag of organic dried mango slices instead. Truly, we are (or at least I am) raising the Starbucks generation. But what can I do? Even the strictest moms have to make concessions sometimes, and lately I've been making a lot of them.
I’m just trying to be a good mom, in spite of all the problems. Today I had to take Minnow to the new house while I awaited a furniture delivery for the nursery. I brought snacks and books and movies to watch on the laptop during the two-hour delivery window. We sat on the floor in the playroom, which is the only room in the house not being worked on, and which is currently serving as the holding area for the furniture and boxes that have been delivered to the house. “Don’t touch anything, “ I commanded. “It’s very dusty.” As we watched an episode of Wallace and Gromit, I became aware of a cloud of dust swirling above our heads. That’s when I realized that the painters were sanding the moldings and trim down the hall. The old moldings and trim! Laden with lead paint! Creating lead paint dust! Causing lead poisoning!
“We have to get out of here, Minnow!” I said, gathering the laptop, her diaper bag, and her organic vanilla milk box in my arms. We would have sat outside in the yard, but it was raining, so instead we sat in our parked car. Rain pelted the windows I had rolled down a crack for ventilation while Minnow watched her movie in the backseat and I checked emails on my iPhone. She never made a peep of complaint, but I still felt like all of my new neighbors were spying on us and thinking, “What a dreadful mother!”
And while I am confessing my deficiencies as the mother of a toddler, let me also say that during this time of upheaval, it has been extraordinarily difficult to even remember that I am pregnant with a second child. I mean, who forgets that she is pregnant? But I do, during most waking hours of the day. (Nighttime is a different story. Kicks to the bladder as you’re trying to fall asleep are powerful reminders.) This morning, as I unlocked the front door for the painters, one of them grinned at me and said, “She’s almost here!”
“Who is?” I asked, glancing over my shoulders.
“The baby!” he said, and pointed to my stomach.
"I hope not!" I replied, but then I realized, he’s right. Peanut will be here in just over four weeks and I am so unprepared! It is impossible to indulge the nesting instinct when one doesn’t have a nest. I haven’t washed a single onesie to date. I don’t have appropriately sized diapers for a newborn. All of the nursery furniture is in storage. At this point in my pregnancy with Minnow I had Crockpot meals prepared and in the freezer. I had washed and rewashed her entire miniature wardrobe. I had assembled all the baby equipment I naively believed were essential to her baby amusement. Don’t even ask me where the travel swing is right now.
It sounds awful, but my thoughts have been so consumed by what’s been happening at the new house that I hardly have the energy to give poor Peanut a second thought. On the one hand, managing the renovation of an old, quirky house certainly helps speed up the tedious third trimester. On the other hand, holy cow! I am having a baby, like, next month, and every time I answer the phone someone is telling me, “We have a problem.”