Surviving Chaos (is how I’ll remember this story)

We never had a proper housewarming party when we moved into this house. I’m debating having one now, five years later, as we’ve just lived through new flooring. A floor-warming, perhaps. A reward for surviving the last week and an overdue reward for surviving our move in.

Our move in was a rather chaotic. It was in February of 2014 – so just getting into the meat of a Virginia winter and our ‘days until moving’ counter was neck-in-neck with a ‘days until our road opens’ counter for the exact bottom of our new driveway marked the starting point of a road closure that was to end, well, ‘sometime soon, ma’am’.

I made daily calls to the Department of Transportation explaining that we couldn’t get a truck into the driveway if the road was closed (our driveway is a straight shot coming one direction and basically a u-turn coming the other. Guess which way was closed?). Moving day was the 12th. Road should be opened the 11th, ma’am. We continued packing. What could go wrong?

Well, snow, for one. Our driveway is a suitable training area for anyone wishing to climb Mount Everest. This makes it a bit precarious during snow and especially precarious in a Virginia snow, which comes in beautiful flakes that often turn to ice. We sit between two hills that, we quickly learned, become impassable if Mother Nature even puts down anything but a light mist, thinks of dipping below 32, or, yikes, both at once.

We smartly scheduled the move to coincide with a week when the kids would be at their mom’s. Again, what could go wrong? Well, her implosion actually. Her spiral began with a bang less than a week before we picked up the keys to the U-Haul. Which meant we had to add emergency custody hearings to packing, unpacking and traversing the slippery roads.

The kicker was that this all happened at the start of the third month after I’d moved here with plans to ease into the idea of maybe being a stepmother. Less than ten weeks from saying so-long to the single girl life where my dog, cat and I lived peacefully on our own time. Suddenly, we were moving four people, all present, two of whom were not only very leery of me, but also very confused (and angry) about what happened to their mom.

I was very new here, had yet to make any friends and was learning that teachers, parents of the kids’ friends and even Rich’s mom weren’t necessarily welcoming to someone whose only status was ‘girlfriend.’ I really can’t tell you how many times I thought about pointing my car back south.

Living in chaos is not my thing. I do not perform well in chaos. I am not chipper in chaos. Moving is chaos. Moving with children suffering from a bit of motherly abandonment in the middle of a snowstorm with no help is chaos with superpowers.

I don’t remember my specific mood in the days after we unloaded our truck, filling our new house with box after box, fairly disorganized in our rush to stay out of the weather. Rich had a scheduled work trip – planned, again, to coincide with the kids being at their mom’s and to give me plenty of solo unpacking time.

Instead, I found myself stuck in an unfamiliar house with two unfamiliar kids, ten thousand mislabeled boxes and a car that was never going to clear our slick driveway.

Forced bonding. In my now-mind, I think it went pretty well – which is why I’m convinced this is my now-mind’s way of protectively erasing the reality. I imagine it was actually a complete disaster. I imagine Rich was panic working trying to get back home. I imagine that the kids were besides themselves with worry for their mother, missing their father and wondering who this taskmaster was. I imagine I was trying to keep them stabilized while pushing forward so that, at the end of the day, I could have some visible measure of success and assurance that I’d made the right decision.

Today, the memory includes only (mostly) good things. Sledding for the first time in years. Figuring out what should go where with the help of an eight and twelve year old and readily trusting their opinions. Prepping some perfectly kid-friendly meals. Getting everyone bathed and in bed with the wave of my hand. Chaos? Yes. Chances of faces that kind of chaos again? Slim.

Fast forward to last week’s renovation. Hello, Chaos…didn’t hear you knocking.

“Renovation” is probably a strong word, to start. We had new floors and carpets installed on two of our three floors. Does that even count? We foolishly scheduled this on a) the week that we returned from vacation and b) the week that both kids had dentist appointments, both kids had school orientation, one kid had a wisdom tooth removal consult, one kid had a doctor’s appointment, Rich had work plus a quick trip to New York, I had work and tennis and work, and all three cats had a surprise trip to the vet.

Amateurs.

Going forward, any sort of work on the house will include a counselor, mediator, IV of Xanax, house manager, a free overnight stay anywhere else, some sort of nothing-we-say-this-week-counts clause and approved time off from work that doesn’t actually count as time off from work.

Rich’s home office is in the basement. Mine is in our guest room, but I camp out primarily the living room. Neither are ideal places to work while floors are going in. I thought it was difficult on the vinyl planking install days – the hammering, the interruptions for questions, the people coming in and out all day. I had no idea what the carpet install days would look like.

Loud? Holy hell. Constant banging from multiple rooms as the installation team zipped around like mosquitoes stretching carpet and forcing it into the corners of the rooms. Furniture went everywhere. At one point, we had two couches in the kitchen, one in foyer and one in the laundry area. I had no idea we even had four couches. Rich and I were virtually trapped trying to work at the kitchen table lest we climbed up and over the pile of furniture to get out.

By then (the third day), Rich really understood my inability to function in complete mayhem and whispered words of encouragement to me. I think. I’m assuming. I couldn’t actually hear him over the noise from beyond the barricade.

As I do every week, I had planned out homemade dinners for each day – surely this would restore some normalcy. Except the entire contents of two rooms landed in the middle of your kitchen for an undetermined amount of time.

By then (the third day), I’d come to understand that a renovation, big or small, really just meant passing out your credit card number to anyone who would take it. Amazon? Yes, we’ll take new duct covers, throw rugs, a desk, shower curtain and a bed frame. Meals? Yes, pick a restaurant and we’ve probably ate there last week. Veterinarian? We spent $500 to find out that one of our cats was being an asshole and peeing everywhere (a discovery made days before the install and with hope that someone had an easily solvable UTI). We don’t know the sinner, but we have our suspicions. Take my money!

The house looks amazing, like grown ups live here.

What lied on the floors before was the cheap stuff the previous owners put in to give the house a quick update that would last only as long as it took to sell. The last four years (plus two puppies) did a job on those floors – the kind of job where mopping the kitchen floor makes you wonder if you’ve made any difference in it’s shortening life. The kind of job where, upon catching a dog randomly chewing a spot out of the carpet, you simply shuffle a piece of furniture over the hole and keep moving.

Now we want to put a sign at the end of the driveway that says ‘Come see! You won’t be disappointed!’

Worth the chaos. Worth the mayhem. Worth the near divorce.

My hope is that, like with the move, my brain will look back at last week’s debacle with the same sense of accomplishment. I’m hoping that my husband will forget all the looks of panic and all the things that came out of my mouth. I’m hoping my mind will block the crazy out and I’ll once again become the hero in my mind’s made up story.

Is it too soon to start thinking about counter tops?

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