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Friday, May 23, 2008

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Sitting at Someday


Last Friday night, we tossed sleeping bags on the bed that came with the house and tucked the three boys into it, then collapsed on our own mattress, set down on the floor of our new bedroom, penned in by a fortress of boxes: five happy, sleepy campers.

We really were camping. Although Patrick had managed to assemble our newly arrived sofa and coffee table that day, we still didn't have updated electrical outlets for the stove and "contraption oven," as my nine-year-old called the microwave/convection oven. The washer, dryer and dishwasher weren't hooked up. We had no television and no computers, no chairs for our dining room table, and god only knew where to find a pair of clean underwear. But we had a refrigerator to keep milk cold, our patio set to eat on, and plenty of take-out food within a five-mile radius. When I told Patrick we were staying that night, he knew better than to try and reason with me. Our two-month exodus was over. We'd come home.

One week later, it's still box city around here, but we are slowly setting up house. Our dining room chairs were the last of the new furnishings to arrive, my one big decorator splurge. They are the red-orange Eames eiffel side chairs I saw in the magazine spread that was the departure point for our color scheme (though it is fair to say that we evolved it considerably). While the replacements for our tattered, handed-down living room furniture were bought at deep discount, a new Eames chair doesn't ever turn up on I thought hard about substituting them with something much cheaper, "just for now," especially after we found out what covering our lovely fifties asbestos floors would cost, but it seemed like a non-confidence vote in our future. We've been living with "just for now," make-do, band-aid solutions for eleven years. I wanted to feel like we'd arrived at "someday."

And that's how I feel, every day when I drink my first cup of coffee in one of those chairs. Like I'm sitting at Someday. Like it's Christmas, every morning.

The other day I looked around at the margarita-colored walls, the tomato-soup chairs, the swimming pool turquoise kitchen and the natural light that streams in everywhere, and declared aloud that there was simply no quarter for a bad mood in this house. Then at the end of the day, I had to write an enormous check for the electrician, and it turned out that, in fact, there was.

It's been really hard to spend money on this move, even though we downsized, even though we factored a budget for necessary updates in the decision to buy. The guilt and fear is constantly there in the background, with a long list of the world's ills that should be cured before we get something nice to sit on, something safe to walk on (our old hardwood floors were so splintered, I once had to take a toddler into ER to remove a shard of wood from his foot), or electrical outlets that don't electrocute us.

Living on the edge for so long has so distorted my perspective, I can't tell the difference between necessity and luxury. I've been fighting a rising tide of anxiety over all this wild extravagance. Then yesterday, our beloved financial coach, Linda, stopped by with a housewarming gift for the kids. As we showed her around, I found myself over-explaining every new furnishing, each improvement, describing how awful the old sofa was -- so bad even the freecyclers wouldn't take it. When we got to Patrick's office, she admired his new desk.

"What were you using before?" she asked. Sheepishly, we pointed to a tiny computer table that cost fifty bucks at Target five years ago.

Linda let loose with one of her wonderful, no-shit, Yankee guffaws. "And you've paid the mortgage and the bills working from THAT for two years??? Jesus Christ!"

Jesus Christ, he really did.

"That's nothing," I confessed, laughing. "Do you know I've been writing for six months without a "q, a, z, numeral one, or exclamation point?" I gestured to my battered ibook that the cats spilled coffee on back in the fall.

Linda, not for the first or last time, looked at me with that look that says, thank god there's still a chance I can help you, and asked, "How is that possible?"

"Well, I copy and paste the letters in. I can do an "a" really fast. And I don't really like exclamation points."

Is there anything like laughter for restoring perspective? It's like watching sunshine burn fog off the bay. A house to live in, tools to work with, chairs to sit in—even happy, red-orange chairs—these are basics. These are priorities. Guilt is the wasteful extravagance. Let's get caught up on long-overdue medical and dental care, let's dig the rest of the way out of hole we fell into last year, let's try and build up some emergency savings to turn to when the work doesn't come in, then we can think about whether we can afford to indulge in it.



Blogger Kathryn said...

This is a really beautiful post- and the image of the writer who makes do without explanation marks and "a"'s not only dramatically underscores the beauty of deliberate, clean prose (hemingway, eat your heart out!), but also captures the essence of "lack and plenty."

I love your perspective on this; enjoyment of the simple pleasure of a cup of coffee in a well designed chair is something we can all relate to. As we work and rework our budget anticipating the birth of child #2 in these uncertain financial times, thank you for reminding my husband and I of the importance of really savoring the luxuries as well as the sacrifices.

4:02 PM  
Blogger Angella said...

This was all sorts of wonderful.

"Jesus Christ, He really did."


9:59 PM  
Blogger Jill said...

An Eames chair? My husband has been oogling and googling over them forever... What a fun treat.

Mazal Tov on your new, beautiful home.

11:07 PM  
Blogger jenB said...

i love how everything is coming together and you how write about it with your usual fantasticalness. Where did you get the Eames chairs?

loving it!!

12:09 AM  
Blogger bluebird of paradise said...

You've set my day off in a technicolour mood. I am so happy for you! Everymorning shoudl be Christmas morning. That's what God/Buddha?allah intended for us.

6:40 AM  
Blogger katie said...

Congratulations on your new home - it looks incredible in your new colors -hope living there brings lots of good fortune (and wonderful treats).

8:03 AM  
Blogger RW said...

I quite enjoyed this post.

10:07 AM  
Blogger blackbird said...

Welcome home.

1:35 PM  
Blogger Simple Answer said...

It's soooo hard not to want the "perfect" home. Something always takes precedence. I may not live in something that would ever grace the pages of a magazine, but my kids think its the most wonderful home ever.

8:23 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Congrats on your new beautiful home!

I think I'm learning something really important from you these days about lack vs. abundance. Thanks.

9:06 AM  
Blogger Mocha said...

You have created such a beautiful place for the family. It's amazing.

You write so eloquently about your experiences, too, and it's making me grateful for what's mine today.

9:37 AM  
Blogger Heather B. said...

After the first time you mentioned your lack of keys I was baffled as to how you manage to type. I mean I understand cutting and pasting but the thought of doing it repeatedly just boggles the mind. Then again, I have no patience and you have lots of it. So once again, I aspire to be just like you. Full of patience and the ability to accept the good and the bad as they come.

6:05 AM  
Blogger K8spade said...

My husband is currently working two jobs, his "day job" and a few hours freelancing elsewhere. So the money is rolling in right now (figuratively speaking)...and yet I still feel that guilt for spending. We're replacing all the windows and painting the exterior (1920's Tudor house), and it's all very exciting and frightening. So, I suppose the point of this novel is, I know what you mean.

8:03 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

I measured my old desk yesterday.

It is 26" wide.

I told my friend Bob and he said, "That's not a desk, it's a TV tray".

11:52 AM  

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