A happy real estate story (not to give away the ending)

Remember how I was telling you my house was on the market? And about what a bittersweet, poignant process letting go was? I mistily recalled all the backyard birthday parties, and admitted to sneaking over to my neighbor Annie’s back porch and spying every time potential buyers drove up.

And remember how I confessed to cracking open a bottle of Cabernet one night and blasting the Billy Joel song “I’ve Loved These Days” over and over when I thought my daughter wasn’t listening? (Well, it turned out she was. Now she thinks I slept on satin sheets and need to change my jaded ways.)

Then I didn’t tell you anything for four months.

Sorry about that.

The thing is, something kind of amazing happened, and as eager as I was to share it, I was even more determined not to jinx it, so I went into stealth mode. Not just with you, but with my real-life best friends, too.

When it comes to real estate, you just can’t be too careful.

It started in January of 2011, when I spotted a house that made my heart stop, and wrote a note to the owner, asking her to let me know if she ever wanted to sell. “Back off, stalker,” she wrote back (except politely). So much for that, I sighed, and resumed logging onto Realtor.com five times a day, searching in vain for a house special enough to wrench me away from the one I was unnaturally attached to.

Over a year later, still conflicted about selling my house, and debating whether or not to list it again in the spring, I did something I hadn’t done in a long time: I asked Michael for a sign. “Not to bother you,” I said out loud in the car, where I knew my daughter couldn’t eavesdrop, and looking heavenward for just a second because I was driving, “but can you figure out a way to let me know it’s time to move on?”

The very next morning — I swear — I got an email from the woman saying she was finally ready to sell her house, and would I like to see it?

I was smitten by every fixer-upper inch. The catch was, she’d already closed on a new place, and was in too much of a hurry to wait for me to put my house back on the market. But it turned out a couple who had bid on my house two years ago — we’d gotten to the point where we were negotiating about the swing set and the extra refrigerator in the basement, when I chickened out — were still interested. Because they loved my house, too.

So they bought it, just like that. And I bought this:

Meet the new house!

May 30 was the last night I slept in the home where I spent the happiest years of my life, where Michael used to sing Irish drinking songs while he cooked dinner and my children weren’t teenagers yet, so they still thought I was wonderful, and thin. But even though moving was painful, and the process every bit as onerous as I’d thought it would be, guess what?

I like it here. A lot.

When I brought a contractor to the house, he laughed at me. “What did you do, drive all over town until you found something that looked exactly like your old house?”

Well, yes. That’s exactly what I did, I just didn’t realize I was doing it. But now I don’t have a mortgage or an acre of unused lawn to (pay someone else to) mow. And despite the sewage backup in the basement (I know, ewww!) and the fact that when I turned my brand new central air conditioning system on, it caused a power outage on the whole block (“Don’t tell anyone it was me!” I hissed at the startled Con Ed foreman as a workman scrambled down the pole because they were afraid the transformer was going to explode), I’m happy.

It’s really, really hard to move on, but at some point, if you let them, the people and places you’ll carry in your heart forever stop feeling like a weight, and start lifting you up.

Welcome, rest of my life.



Whoever said money can’t buy happiness doesn’t have teenagers.

This is the last Christmas I’m going to overdo it on presents for my children.

But BOY was it fun this year.

The week before Thanksgiving, when Kim started hinting about how her laptop was slow and it sure would be nice to have a new one so she could do a better job on her homework — and did I need any help around the house? — I warned the kids to recalibrate their expectations because I was going to scale way back in the gift department.

Patrick shrugged and said all he wanted was a video game, and it would be fine with him if I bought a used one.

Kim did not react to my Scrooge-ing with her brother’s indifference, but she managed not to sulk in front of me, which is the best you can hope for with an eighth grader, and that weekend, while I was at the grocery store, she dug out all the Christmas decorations from the scary part of the basement and decked the halls with bows of everything. She even found a picture of Jesus in a drawer and insisted on putting it on display next to the stuffed snowmen, because “Christmas is not just about Santa.”

My thrifty Yuletide was off to such a good start!

Then I got an offer on the minivan, and my good intentions went up in smoke. It’s hard to pinch pennies after someone hands you a wad of hundreds, especially right before Apple’s Black Friday sale.

I drove to the mall (not in the minivan, obviously) and grabbed two laptops.

I hadn’t been this excited for Christmas day to arrive since I was ten, and had the sneaking (and correct) suspicion that my father got the hint about the 13″ black and white TV I wanted but didn’t want to be greedy and ask for. I wrapped the Macs immediately and stashed them in the super-secret hiding place in my closet. For weeks, I played out in my head how I would tell the kids, after they thought everything was opened, that there was one…more…thing.

I worried that the real-life scenario couldn’t possibly turn out as well as the ones I kept tweaking in my imagination. That would require 1) my actually keeping a secret for four weeks, and 2) the kids being happy and grateful before they even got the computers, then afterward, stunned and excited and overflowing with gratitude for the most fabulous mother on the planet.

(Of course, I would explain that the computers were a gift from their father, because I wouldn’t dream of spoiling them like that.)

I’m happy to report that the plan exceeded my expectations to the point that my teenagers let me drag them to a 2:00 movie — I’d always wanted to see what it would be like to see a movie on Christmas day — without complaining. I remarked on what good sports they were being. “Of course we’re being good sports, Mom,” said Patrick cheerfully. “We just got new computers.”

They remained in great spirits for days, too, until Kim came down with a splitting headache that the nurse attributed to “too much screen time.”

Oh well. It was fun while it lasted.

Seeing my children genuinely surprised and thrilled is the most beautiful gift I could have gotten for Christmas, though I will admit that using expensive devices to accomplish that was a bit of a cheat. My goal for 2012 is to cultivate the spirit of the season without maxing out my credit cards.

But I have a whole year to figure out how to do that.


I’m such a nitpicker.

Writing a blog has been liberating and healing, and I am so appreciative of the warm response to my ramblings and reflections. But one recent experience was so scary and distressing it gave me my first ever case of writer’s block.

It involved lice.

A couple of weeks ago, I got a call after dinner to inform me that one of my daughter’s friends, with whom she’d just spent the weekend, had lice. It was too late to go to the lice lady to have Kim checked out, so I made an appointment for the next morning. Then I raced to CVS and purchased an at-home treatment (after a quick survey of the store to make sure no one I knew was on the checkout line), because of course I couldn’t wait overnight to find out from an expert whether Kim had it, too.

Dr. House was was determined to make that diagnosis herself.

That night, as I combed out Kim’s hair with our new blue plastic nit comb, I found dozens of tiny white eggs.

I cannot tell you how grossed out I was, so I won’t even try.

As I made the dreaded calls to the moms of the friends Kim had seen since the weekend to warn them their daughters might be infected, too, my head started to itch.

First thing the next morning, I took Kim to the lice lady, who said I had done an excellent job with the at-home kit, because after an hour combing Kim’s hair, she didn’t find a single egg.

Evidently I was quite the lice-slayer. I was very proud of myself.

I had a comb out too, and the lice lady didn’t find anything because, she explained cheerfully, a) I’m old, and b) there are some people lice just aren’t attracted to.

Thanks, lice.

I thought we were home free, but two days later I did a comb out on Kim as a precaution, and found more eggs. I had already changed Kim’s bedding and tossed her stuffed animals in the attic, but evidently that wasn’t enough. I boiled her brushes (again), and put everything she touched in the dryer, not to mention vacuuming like a madwoman (once I figured out where the cleaning lady keeps the vacuum cleaner, and how to operate it).

But the next day, more eggs.

This cleaning frenzy continued for two weeks, with me spending hours a day doing laundry, and evenings in front of the kitchen sink, combing out Kim’s hair. At one point, I gave Kim a hug (being careful to avoid her head) and told her it was nice to have this bonding time with her, just the two of us. “WHAT KIND OF MOTHER ARE YOU,” yelled Kim, “THAT YOU’RE HAPPY YOUR DAUGHTER HAS LICE?!”

That’s not exactly what I meant, but she had a point.

Finally, right before Christmas, I decided we had to make another trip to the lice lady to figure out why we couldn’t shake the problem. The lady did a comb out, and found the eggs, just like I had.

Only it turns out what I’d been combing out for two weeks weren’t eggs. They were towel lint. “So you’ve been combing my hair for an hour every night til my neck hurts, and using that nasty shampoo that smells, and boiling my brushes til they melt, and ruining my North Face jacket in the dryer, all because I have TOWEL LINT?” asked Kim with a look.

All things considered, though, she took it pretty well. Good thing for me Christmas was right around the corner.

Needless to say, Santa brought her a new coat and a new brush.

Christmas is what I’ll write about tomorrow, but I had to get this story out of the way first, the story of the last time I play doctor because I am too impatient to spend one night waiting for a proper appointment.

Ho ho ho.

Who is that nice teenager, and what did he do with my son?

Unwashed dishes in a sink; an authentic situation.

Image via Wikipedia

I think I can do less preparing for the worst when it comes to my teenage son, and do more hoping for the best. Patrick really seems to have turned a corner, and I don’t mean the one by the gas station that sells beer to minors.

Last night he slept at a friend’s house, and came home at nine this morning instead of sleeping until noon. I asked him if he’d come home so early because his friend had soccer practice. “No,” said my son. “I wanted to come home early to finish the essay for my college application.”


And yesterday, he got a job — the real kind, not the kind where I slip someone a twenty to hire him to pull weeds. Apparently, the owner of a restaurant in town asked around for the name of a responsible boy who was a good worker, and the mother of one of Patrick’s friends recommended Patrick.


I wish instead of getting annoyed yesterday wondering where Patrick was all afternoon, I’d gone out for an omelet. I could have seen him washing dishes at his new job.

Still, I was uneasy. Something is wrong with this happy picture, I stewed. Having been blindsided by bad behavior in the past, I was afraid to trust that things were changing for the better.

I know how to get a cold splash of reality, I thought. I’ll check Patrick’s new school progress report online.

“Effort is good,” I read. “Participates in class.” “Good understanding of concepts.”

What is happening? I thought. Where is Patrick’s real progress report?

Or is there some kind of crazy new drug they are selling at the gas station that turns alienated, churlish teenagers into capable, cheerful “A-” students?

Because I want some of that drug, too.

I went to the basement to congratulate Patrick on his good grades. I found him watching cartoons, surrounded by wet towels, dirty clothes, an empty bag of pretzels and two apple cores.

That’s my boy, I smiled, and went upstairs to make him an omelet.


Paper ghosts

I will not be buying Halloween decorations anymore. I used to festoon the first floor of my house with hanging witches and ghosts and spider webs, adding more every year to the collection I keep in the holiday decoration room in my basement. But my kids are teenagers; they don’t care about black cats and pumpkin candles. Besides, my plan is to be in a smaller house by this time next year, and it probably won’t have a room just for holiday decorations.

It might not even have a room for my son, but that’s next year’s problem.

I did put two scarecrows on my front porch yesterday.

My neighbor Annie noticed them and pointed out that I really shouldn’t be spending money on Halloween decorations right now. (I KNOW, ANNIE.) But the scarecrows aren’t new; I found them in my decoration room. They seem like new because I haven’t used them for years — they were hidden in a corner that’s very dark because I can’t figure out how to change the light bulb. (That sounds like a joke but it’s not.)

Unfortunately, my dog is terrified of the scarecrows. I discovered this after I vacated the house so a realtor could show it, and returned an hour later to find holes dug in the pots and dirt all over the stairs, which the dog had apparently tried to spray at the scarecrows to make them go away.

(I shouldn’t be surprised that Dylan is afraid of scarecrows. He is also afraid of cardboard boxes and his food bowl.)

It makes me sad that my children aren’t wide-eyed with excitement about Halloween anymore. I miss tailing the squealing, happy packs of kids as they raced from house to house trick-or-treating.

Now I just sit home Halloween night, hoping my son can outrun the police.

But I have such memories: the hay rides and little girls giggling in Disney princess gowns and pillowcases full of candy. I don’t need to string up a line of pumpkin lights in the family room to bring it all rushing back.

It was wondrous, wasn’t it?

No, I don’t need paper ghosts swinging from my trees Halloween night, much less a room to store them in.

They’ll always be with me anyway.