With all this COVID stay-at-home time, I’ve been circling around the rooms in this old ark of a house, where, for almost 20 years, even with TEN people living here, we had just one shower. We had to get up at 5:00 every day to squeeze in a mere six-minute sprinkling. That’s when my spouse and I began to think remodeling.
Usually, though, that was as far as we got – the thinking stage. And you have to know: these bathrooms were bad, with tiles done in weird unearthly colors, one a strange green like the nasty tongue-coating mint-flavored Milk of Magnesia with fixtures the exact queasy hue of Silly Putty.
They dated back to the 1940s, which meant the strangely off-plumb sinks stood on skinny metal legs and were topped by medicine cabinets the size of cereal boxes. Their potholder-size wall tiles were ancient rectangles. Every few weeks, despairing perhaps of their out-of-fashion lives, first one and then another would pop out of its dry frame of grouting to smash itself silly on the floor tiles which, like ancient petrified Chiclets, kept lifting from their crumbling matrix to affix themselves like wee clinking ice skates to the bottoms of our showered-dampened feet. One friend, on seeing the awful truth about these rooms, delivered herself of the opinion that we were true saints, as otherworldly as Mother Theresa. “You’re so… non-materialistic!” she had exclaimed – by which she meant, “Gad, what crummy bathrooms.” And she hadn’t even used the one with the famous Toilet That Tilted, which, if sat upon too quickly, would give its shoulder a quick porcelain shrug and flick you off like a horsefly.
But it isn’t that we were so … other-worldly, so evolved. Our bathrooms were crummy because younger, pushier members of the household clamored for changes in their bedrooms, thus sucking up all their parents’ energies in the home-improvement department.
First, it was one of our daughters, then 12. Suddenly, she despised her peach-colored bedroom. She wanted to spatter-paint it, she thought. I went along; masked every inch of molding and baseboard and painted the whole room white, walls and ceilings both. I tarped up the floor. Then, at the appointed signal, the two of us pried open four cans of bright primary-colored paint, dipped our fists clear to the knuckles in the vivid goo, and heaved it by the handful in every direction. It actually looked pretty good. (And boy was it fun!)
Not two springs later, our then-sixth-grade son became desperate to redecorate his room. He said he couldn’t even study in it anymore; the wallpaper was that embarrassing. (Teddy bears in cowboy hats: we couldn’t blame him.) He thought instead, a kind of God’s Eye View would make a nice decorating motif.
First, we steamed off the old paper and pulled up the rug. I painted the walls pale blue and he hand-sponged them with fluffy white ‘clouds’. Next, I made the ceiling a deep indigo, as directed, so he could paint upon it the nine planets, each in its proper relation to the sun.
The whole project cost me three solid weeks of personal time and a permanent kink in the back from the night I knocked the black paint over and created an oil spill to rival that of the Exxon Valdez.
But hey, the kid was happy. He spent all his time up there from then on. We would hear him from our own room, nights, zooming across the bare floor in his new desk chair with the wheels. And isn’t that a perfect metaphor for parenthood? Your kids above, redecorating your world and sailing along among the stars; you down below, trying to limp to a crooked sink on rocky Chiclets.