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My Parents Do It Themselves

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My parents recently succumbed to the home renovation craze. I suspect that the conversation leading to the decision to renovate went something like this: My mom tells my dad that she’s sick of their house and wants to move. My dad says no, he loves where the house is located (deep in the woods with no neighbors in sight) and they’d never be able to find anything remotely comparable. My mom says, fine, but then she’s going to renovate the house. My dad says okay. Or something like that.

Anyway, that’s when their knowledge of drywall and paint chips and blueprints began to skyrocket. In the past, they’d done minor repairs (patching up the wall that my brother put his fist through) and small additions (that summer my brothers competed to see who could nail boards into the new pool deck fastest) to accommodate our big family. But their new project was off the charts. Because—and if you’ve got any experience with this sort of thing, you’ll know what I’m talking about—if you’re going to tear up the floor in the kitchen, you might as well gut the bathroom, too. And if the bathroom plumbing is all exposed, you might as well tackle the dining room. Like the parts of a human body, each room seems critically connected to the next.

This was going to be a big job, too big for them to do alone, so they hired a wonderful contractor and had skilled local craftsmen doing the work. Still, my parents remained right in the thick of things. My mother choreographed the entire job, painstakingly designing window-lined rooms with the architect and carefully selecting color palettes that would complement each other. Then of course, there were lamps to pick out, furniture pieces to reupholster, and tchotchkes to buy. Either my mother had spent more hours watching the DIY channel than should be legal, or she had definitely missed her calling.

Soon the entire house was in a shambles. My parents and their three dogs were consigned to living in their bedroom upstairs. And I mean living. They ate up there (mostly take-out food because they had removed the oven, leaving only the fridge plugged in), they slept up there, and they tried to relax up there. The rest of the house was a veritable minefield of torn-up floorboards, crooked nails, enough drywall dust to choke a donkey, and miles and miles of plastic tarpaulins. They toyed with the idea of renting an RV to live in—next to the house—while the work was being done, but they opted to remain in their bedroom until the downstairs was finished. Then they moved downstairs so the workmen could get crackin’ on the upstairs.

I visited them during the renovations and stayed about a mile away with my brother and his family. “How are they surviving?” I asked. My brother assured me that they were doing fine, going out to eat a lot (something they never used to do) and that everything would be done before we all knew it.

I think it took about a year and a half to complete the job. And—it’s gorgeous. It looks nothing like the childhood house that I grew up in, but that’s okay. I have that house in my memories and old photos. More importantly, my parents have a big, beautiful house in the woods—one that’s filled with light and color-coordinated, with walls large enough for exhibiting all of our art and family photos.

The last time I was home, I noticed that my mom was watching the Travel Channel. Better get your passport ready, Dad!

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