The Great Remodel
I sit here writing with sunshine streaming through the windows of my newly renovated kitchen and my much beloved puppy sleeping at my feet, listening to the deafening silence of my children’s absence. A friend has taken those who are homeschooled for one last romp in the snow, and school has swallowed up the other two for the day. I love the bittersweet nostalgia I feel when they aren’t around. Longing for them to come home, smiling to myself at the memory of them, but soaking in the solitude like cacti after a long rain.
This rare moment alone in my kitchen is beautiful in sight and sound. Mostly beautiful. “Newly renovated” is code for we haven’t put everything away yet and there are still those last few projects that need finishing. And while it’s quieter here than usual, I did just have to Google “weird dog stomach noises” due to the strange sounds emanating from Penelope, our seven month old standard poodle. And the faucet is dripping. Again. Okay, so maybe it isn’t exactly Norman Rockwell, but all this convergence of construction, the puppy, and pondering the kids has got me thinking about the similarities among the three.
One might not quickly see the comparisons between home improvement and parenting. While raising kids and training puppies aren’t exactly on the same level, they are at least the same sport. Like the major leagues and tee ball, kids are obviously more demanding, especially as they get older. But they do start off relatively the same. For babies and dogs, in the beginning, it’s all about the basic three–food, sleep and poop. True, I never had to get up in the middle of the night and change my kid’s dirty diaper outside in below freezing temperatures, but the principle is the same.
As they get older though, the needs of human and canine offspring diverge significantly. Dogs’ needs don’t exactly grow as they do. it remains pretty much about food, sleep and poop (though a scratch behind the ears or a good game of fetch doesn’t hurt any). Human progeny, however, are like antibiotic-resistant bacteria–just when you think you have them under control, they take it to the next level but in a really cute, endearing way. Mostly.
I remember my sleep-deprived, shoe-searching, seatbelt-buckling, four-kids-under-seven days when I would’ve given anything for a bit of fast-forward. Not a sending-you-off-to-college leap, just a little jump into a world where I slept through the night, only had to find my own shoes and buckle my own seat belt. Now I am there, living in a land of progressively independent human beings who still can’t find their own shoes but are otherwise increasingly self-sufficient. I am learning that it doesn’t make parenting any easier. True, while it’s much less physically demanding and I don’t carry anyone on my hip or feed meals from my boob, navigating the dark waters of older children is frightening.
I used to worry about scraped knees on the playground and teaching my kids to stop sucking their fingers. Now I worry about wounded hearts and teaching my kids to keep their minds and bodies pure. I used to worry about letting them “cry it out” and timeouts and snack time. Now I worry about speaking real truth with love and the irreversible consequences of momentary lapses in judgment and feeding them the Gospel everyday.
This is where parenting is like home renovation. When we set out to update our kitchen, we had a plan, a budget and a timeline. Now we have a beautiful kitchen and those other things are all in the garbage can under the window. We spent hours designing, discussing and discerning what would look best, how much it would cost, and how long it would take. I am quite confident God (and the entire staff of Lowe’s Home Improvement) was laughing at us through this entire planning stage. Then you get started and plans need to be adjusted. There are unexpected costs and delays. And you never quite finish. There is always that one last detail, and just about the time you finish that, some other detail is in need of attention.
So goes parenting. In the beginning, you think you have it all mapped out, but in reality, well, reality has little to do with your map. I don’t say this to discourage planning and preparation by those contemplating parenthood. It’s good to do your homework, if for no other reason than it will give you something to laugh about years down the road. But being a parent is all about adapting, switching tactics, rising to the occasion. I guess we’re a bit like that antibiotic-resistant bacteria too. Just when they think they have us beat, we dig deep and surprise them. Either that or we hide in the closet with a box of chocolates. Down but not out, we live to fight another day.
When I think about my beautiful, almost finished kitchen, I realize that it isn’t the only thing that got a makeover. I got a little upgrade too. I learned some new skills. There was lots of compromising, blood, sweat and tears. It’s a mix of things I really wanted, things my husband really wanted, and things that will do for now. When I think about my beautiful, way-too-close-to-grown-up children, I realize the same thing–I have spent the last fifteen odd years helping them grow and mature but we’ve really been teaching each other.
I sit here in my kitchen which is mostly finished but not quite, and I think that is a pretty good description of us all. Whether you are parent or child, or even dog, you are in the process of being remodeled. You are being remade so that you will function better, be more beautiful, more structurally sound. Along the way, things might not go exactly as you have planned and the costs will be higher than expected but in the end, you will be beautifully and perfectly designed, ready to feed and serve any and all who come your way. Till then, you just have to trust in the process and most importantly in the Carpenter who is in charge.
Amy Spiegel is mom to four active kids, wife to a college professor, and a graduate of Taylor University with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Political Science. She speaks at various women’s events, writes at WisdomAndFollyBlog.com, and helps her husband with his writing projects. She is the author of Letting Go of Perfect (B&H Publishing Group 2012).