Even before we made an offer on our condo, we knew it was not our ideal home. We wanted 3 bedrooms - one for guests, since neither of us have family in town. We wanted 2 bathrooms, or at least two toilets. We would have really liked air conditioning. We would have liked a spacious tub (with jets, even!), a new sink and toilet, a bathroom floor that was tile instead of vinyl. We would have liked pretty granite countertops, and wood cabinets, and new appliances. We would have liked an open floor plan, where a person cooking in the kitchen could have carried on a conversation with a person sitting in the living room or dining room. And oh, we really would have loved our own washer & dryer.
If our home didn't realize all of our dreams, it did satisfy all of our requirements, plus some. There was parking (and not just a designated space, but a spot in a garage). There were two bedrooms plus an office. There was a living room and a separate dining room. There was storage space (we have half of the space in the basement). There was a shared (and free) washer and dryer in the basement. There was a small balcony on the front that appealed to our (or at least to my) romantic sensibilities. Pets (both dogs and cats) were allowed, and there was a fenced in backyard where we could let out the dog. We loved the hardwood floors, and found the crown molding (in a few rooms) and glass blocked window (in the entryway staircase) charming. And we could (barely) afford it.
In the first year or two after we moved in, I painted every room (floral wood, silver sage, tuscan beige, Del Sol, magic spell, thyme green, and a gentle pink color for Katie's room that I don't remember the name of). We fantasized that one day, when the value of the place had increased, we would refinance the place and redo the kitchen and the bathroom. We would put new cabinets in the kitchen (the current ones, our inspector had pointed out, were never properly attached to the wall) and install a new countertop (we could not, our inspector warned us, install a granite countertop without also getting new cabinets, since the current cabinets were so weak that the countertop would likely collapse them). We would put new tile in the bathroom, both on the wall (our inspector said that the tile, too, had never been properly laid) and on the floors. We would refinish or replace the scratchy-bottomed tub. Maybe we would convert the hall closet into a space for a tiny washer & dryer. Maybe we would install French doors on the office entrance, to make a better guest space.
Fast forward to now, 3.5 years after we moved in, and the value of our home has not increased. I took a pay cut in October, and will lose my job in March, and the idea of redoing our kitchen or bathroom seems like a ridiculous pipe dream. Instead, we live daily with various inconveniences. The burners on the stovetop don't adjust well. The cabinets are still hanging onto the wall, but I regularly examine the seam between the back of one cabinet and the wall to see if it's widened (so far, it hasn't visibly grown, but often, as I'm putting heavy dishes into the cabinet, I imagine it crashing onto the floor, and wonder, in a semi-detached way, whether the fall would happen slowly enough to give me time to move out of the way fast enough). The oven doesn't heat to the right temperature (we adjust for it), and long ago the handle ripped off of the refrigerator door (we just pull on the side of the door). Almost every time I load and unload dishes into the dishwasher, the wheels on the rack of the dishwasher fall off (they snap back on). There is one tile on the bathroom wall, above the faucet, that routinely falls off the wall and into the tub. ("Mommy! Daddy! The wall fell off again!" Katie will call out to us. We push it back into place.) And last week, the gutters (and the part of the house attached to them) fell off of one side of our building. (Insurance will cover it as storm damage, a result of all the snow and ice this winter, but there's a deductible.)
Then there is our clutter and mess. I can sweep the kitchen and dining room at 8 am on Monday only to have clumps of dog and cat hair floating around by 8 pm Monday night. There are four of us living here now, and each room is jam-packed with stuff. Right now, in addition to all of our usual furniture, our home contains a Jumperoo, a high chair, and a baby swing, not to mention a Christmas tree that we still haven't taken down (the ornaments are off, at least; soon the tree must follow). Annabel's crib is in our bedroom, and Katie's room has a bunk bed and shelf and desk set-up that leaves almost no room to turn around in. There is a cheap Ikea futon in the office for guests that is a complete pain in the neck to flatten and fold up again. The laundry and the dishes and the sweeping are overwhelming and never ending.
And then there are the people living in the home. Katie is almost five years old, a wild tornado, leaving destruction in her wake. (We do make her help clean up, most of the time, but there is still plenty left for us, too.) Annabel has not slept through a single night in her life; I feel like a miracle has taken place if she only wakes me up once. She's on the verge of crawling, and we find ourselves scouring the living room rug multiple times a day to clear away anything that she could stick into her mouth and choke on (where does it all come from?). I have been living with a job that has left me feeling by turns exhausted, angry, hopeless, and trapped (sometimes all at once), and now I am free of the trap (we're all laid off effective March 9th; that is a story that still needs to be told), but anxious about the future. (My insurance covers all four of us. My salary is more than 2/3 of our income. My 401k is the only retirement plan we have, not that it has much value at this point.) Geoff stays home with the girls, trying to juggle housework and dinner preparation and Annabel's naps and Katie's preschool with his own job at the church.
Tuesday night Annabel woke up to nurse when I went to bed, then again a few hours later. Within 10 minutes after I laid her back down in her crib, Katie appeared at the door, telling me she'd peed the bed. I cleaned her and her bed up, tucked her back in, and found I couldn't go to sleep until almost an hour had passed. I had just fallen back asleep when Katie appeared at the door again, telling me she'd had a nightmare that was too "horrible" to even talk about. I took her back to her room, tucked her back in, rubbed her back and sang her "Edelweiss," and went back to bed myself. Within 15 minutes, Annabel was awake again. After I put her back to bed, we all slept for another 3 hours. It was a rough night, admittedly much worse than most.
It can get disheartening, sometimes. Some days it seems like we will always worry about space and money and potty training and sleeping through the night. Some days it seems like every step forward is followed by at least one equal step back. Some days I realize that I am looking at the days as part of a long struggle that I feel like I should have conquered by now. I have been a lawyer for over 10 years now. I will be 40 next year. I feel, sometimes, like I should be doing better than this.
And yet last night, as I stirred a batch of chocolate pudding on the stove (you have to stir the pudding constantly, which leaves room for deep thinking), listening to music on the CD player in the kitchen, and hearing the sounds of Katie and Annabel in the bath (and the occasional murmurs of Geoff, with them), I realized the likelihood that one day, this will be a time I look back on with great nostalgia. One day, we may wax fondly about the stupid wheels that fall off of that dishwasher rack, and almost certainly we will laugh about that bathroom tile falling into the bathtub, because as frustrating as those things may be to us now, they are minor inconveniences in the middle of what is, in so many other ways, a wondrous blessed time in our lives - a time when Annabel and Katie are learning to be friends, when Katie's imagination is taking off in ways that amuse and impress us every day (in the past few weeks she has introduced us to at least five alter-egos/imaginary friends: Lunda, Lund, Blenda, Lenda, and Frank), when Annabel's babbling starts to sound like a language (ticka ticka dada blauuuuu), when the four of us are learning to be a family. I come home from work, and Annabel kicks and yells happily, open-mouthed, to see me. Katie yells, "Mommy!" and runs to give me a hug. I know that as much as I am looking forward to seeing them grow up, I will miss them the way they are now.
It occurred to me, as I stirred the pudding, that maybe one day I would even miss the way that I can so easily satisfy so many of my girls' needs. When Katie wakes up in the night after a bad dream or after having wet the bed, I can help her. When Annabel wakes up in the night hungry or upset, I am able to give her what she needs. For each of them, I am able to be her comfort, able to solve her problem, able to put things right again so that she can go back to sleep. How much more complicated will their problems be when they are older? Will I wish for problems like today's (despite the sleep deprivation they cause)?
I do believe that the not-so-good things will get better. I do believe that one day our finances will be in order, that both Geoff and I will be bringing in regular salaries, that eventually our student loans will be paid off. I believe that one day we will have 2 bathrooms (or at least an extra toilet!), and that no tiles will be falling off of our bathroom walls. I believe that someday we will have a guest bedroom, and our own washer & dryer.
And so I am resolving to try to experience these days through a filter, imagining how I will feel when I look back on them from a future existence, thinking kindly of them the way I expect I will when I am no longer living them. It is not so much a matter of pretending that I like the things that currently bother me; it's a matter, I think, of adjusting the lens through which I view those things. In the whole picture, they can be small. They can be background. They can be out of focus. (They can be bokeh.)
I spend too much energy worrying about what we don't have, wishing for some ideal situation that I can almost guarantee I will never have. It's silly, this waiting around for the ideal to become real, when I have so much to appreciate right now. My husband is my favorite person in the whole world, and I would not want either of my daughters to be anybody other than who they are. We are all healthy and strong and full of love for each other. Our condo is cozy and bright, and it's home.
How much better would it be if I am able to recognize the good in what I've got now, while I've got it, instead of only looking back later and missing it when it's gone? How much happier will I be?
Let's try to find out.