Thursday, July 31, 2014

Real Life Through a Reno

The reno is all encompassing. It's all I think about and it's all Jordan does. It's exciting and fun and stressful. But outside of the reno, real life is still happening. And because I'm a big fan of "keepin' it real" here on the blog, I'm going to fill you in on a little secret.

The reno is hard. Hard. Hard. Hard. Hard. Here's why:

Jordan is never home. Ever. He works first thing in the morning, leaving before the kids are up, and then goes to the house until long after the kids (and sometimes me) are in bed. If he happens to be doing an evening shift, he still leaves just as early to go work at the house before work. I am not exaggerating when I say the kids have seen their dad an average of about 10 minutes every two days since the summer started. I luckily get to see him about 20 minutes a day in those precious moments between when he walks in the door and when he falls into bed. I have a brief window where he is consuming mass amounts of food to replenish the calories he's burned all day, plus getting his stuff together for the next day. What do we talk about in those 20 minutes? The reno. Everything that's gone on that day, plus our to do lists for the following day. It's hard not having him around, for him as well, and we all miss him very much.

Because Jordan is never home, I am a single parent. Hard enough at any time, but throw into the mix you aren't living at home and it gets much harder. The kids are starting to adjust to life at my sister's but it has been tough. For as flexible as they all are, I realize how much kids really need routine, even if that routine is as simple as going to bed in your own bedroom. The reno has been stressful and difficult for them to process, and none of them, including Rio, really have the means to express that in a meaningful way. So there have been a lot of tears and a lot of tantrums. A LOT of tantrums. Not the best behaved kids this summer and not the best mothering. I will freely admit I have yelled more in this month than I have in 8 years of parenting. It's exhausting. Sadly, the kids are not the only ones having tantrums. I may have had a complete meltdown one day at our house when I needed to find something that was inadvertently buried under a pile of furniture and several inches of dust. Mama is holding on by a thread most days, I'm not gonna lie.

In addition to the stress of managing the reno and our still busy life outside of it, there's one other big stress: finances. We are essentially building a new house and someone's got to pay for it. Oh that someone is us? Yikes. That's some stress right there, especially when the cost of most things are out of our control.

So this all adds up to a very tired family. A tired dad who is working himself to the bone (but loving almost every minute of it). A tired mom whose children are working her to the bone. Tired kids, who as much as they love living with their cousins, would probably give anything to go back to their own house and just chill.

All that said, this stress was inevitable, and things could be going so much worse. The reno itself could be a sinking disaster of work and money, but instead it is quick, efficient, and so far no major hiccups. Our living situation could also be a nightmare. What if the nine of us cooped up under one roof were at each others throats? Now sure, I'm purposely not including any quotes from my sister's family asking them how they feel about us living here, but in general I'd say we're all doing really well. We have fun, we try our best to stay out of each other's way when appropriate and we're all getting along pretty swimmingly.

So yes, the reality of living through a reno is tough right now, but it's all a means to an end. And the end is going to be a great one, there is no doubt. So we'll just keep on trucking on until the end is here.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Renovation - Week 3

Week three brought some more sizable changes to the house. Not only do we have a roof and a deck, as well as some major plumbing and electrical work, but we also finalized our kitchen and our tile - two big design decisions that I'm happy to have out of the way after soooo much thinking and staring at Houzz and Dwell!

You can really see now how the addition is taking shape. When we first started designing the addition with Piet, it was quickly decided that trying to somehow "match" the look of our 1950s bungalow wouldn't work - mostly because 1950s bungalows aren't the size our finished house is going to be. So instead, we decided to go completely different and modern on the addition. If it's obvious you've added an extension to your house, why not make it stand out? So that's what you'll see with the roof line in particular, and soon the exterior finishing. It's going to be a beaut! As is the front that will completely maintain it's mid-century charm. The best of both really.

If you're friends with Jordan and me on Facebook, these photos will be anti-climactic because he posted a bunch of them yesterday. But for the non-Facebookers, here ya go - week three in photos:

A maze of concrete trenches for all the new plumbing in the basement:

 Roof building:

Look at that roofline! Stunning!

Torch on:

The gods of Glenairlie doing some planning:

Forming deck posts:

Extended deck:

Vinyl laid. Officially the first finished component!

Our old kitchen taking shape as a bathroom:

If all goes according to plan, week four will see some major exterior finishing, along with more electrical, plumbing, concrete and ducting. Have I mentioned how much FUN it is, watching this unfold?! Every time I visit I cannot believe THIS IS MY HOUSE! We feel very lucky indeed.

Onward week four...

Monday, July 21, 2014

Renovation - Week 2

After the progress made in week 1, I assumed that in week 2 we'd see fewer major changes. I mean come on, how could they continue the pace they were working at? Surprise, surprise, I was wrong and week two's progress was equally as mind blowing. We have a completely framed addition. It's amazing.

Jordan and I continue to be humbled by how hard everyone is working. It's always been our dream to have our friend Piet build us a house, and then for many years we didn't think that would ever be a reality. Now it is and we couldn't feel more blessed that he and his business partner Brad (along with the rest of their crew) are at the helm. They truly are masters of their craft and it is evidenced by not only their product, but by how enthusiastic they are about their work.

Enough chit chat, I'll get to what you're all waiting for - week two in pictures:

Big fat doorways:

Party shower:

Gross electrical. Gross plumbing. Gross basement. All being remedied.

The addition:

Elevator shaft:

Week three will bring more significant plumbing and electrical as well as the sourcing of roofing, insulation, drywall, siding, and deck. My head is spinning with details and decisions, and single parenting (because of a hardworking husband who is either at his real job or the house 16 hours a day) but I am remembering to feel thankful and not complain - always keeping my eyes on the prize.

Onward, week three. Let's see what you bring.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Lessons on Love From Kids

Nolan: "Mom, a boy can marry a boy, right?"
Me: "Of course!"
Nolan: "See Rio! I told you!"
Rio: "Nolan! I KNOW a boy can marry a boy! I said you can't marry Grady!" (their 13 year old cousin) "Mom! Tell him he's not allowed to marry Grady!".
Me: "Rio, if Nolan grows up to be a man and still wants to marry Grady, we'll address that problem then".

I am not telling you this conversation because we have a potential incestuous situation on our hands in 20 years. I'm telling you this because I'm proud of our children for never questioning who can love whom.

From day one, our kids have never learned marriage is a husband and a wife. We've never specified a man marries a woman, or a woman marries a woman, or a man marries a man. We've just talked with our kids about "the person you marry" (or love without marrying, for that matter). Not husband, not wife, just "the person you love".

We've never explained why so and so has two moms or why so and so's partner is a man because we haven't had to. Unless you make it matter to your kids, it doesn't matter. Our kids don't care who's married to whom or who loves whom. Two people love each other and we've never had to explain why. They just do.

Why can't everyone see the world - and love - like our kids do? And why isn't everyone as lucky as us to live in a country whose marriage laws don't care about your gender? So you go ahead Nolan, and marry a boy if that's who you love. Just not your cousin, ok?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Renovation Update - Week 1

The first week of the reno is done, with the second week having started early this morning. To say progress has been made is the understatement of the year. According to Jordan "you will never find a harder working crew". Based on the physical evidence of our house and the work ethic of the men involved, I'd have to agree. 

We are very blessed that our builder is not only Jordan's long time friend/the best man from our wedding, but an incredibly talented and creative builder. His team is outstanding and our house is in the most capable hands I could imagine. They are traveling from out of town to work for us each week, so they work very long hours in order to maximize their time away from their families/lives. I can't fathom how they have accomplished so much in so little time. Along with a crew working on the demolition and construction, an electrician, a plumber, and their respective crews are there today. It's all so overwhelming and exciting at once to visit the house each day and see what's been completed. 

We're all tired and still a bit out of sorts from the upheaval, but hopefully week two will begin to feel a bit more "normal". In the mean time, here's just a handful of the million photos we took last week. Stay tuned for weekly updates each Monday.

Can I remind you that all of this (and a whole lot more) happened in just four days? Amazing or what?!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Tales from the Vault - The Shadow it Casts

Tales from the Vault is a feature where I bring back some of my favourite posts from the archived blog. All text from the original posts has been left completely unedited; however, where I think context is required it's been added.

I haven't done a Tales from the Vault for a while, and figured now's the perfect time. I have zero energy for anything BUT this reno at the moment, so good chance to recycle a blog post.

This was first published on the blog December 2010. I've cut out all the original preamble explaining the essay, but left the essay untouched. This was the first long essay I wrote for the Momoir Project. It's interesting for me to re-read this now...there are definitely still times of resentment in my life, but not nearly to the extent there were 3.5 years ago. Growth people, growth. And I have the essays to prove it.

Without further ado, I give you "The Shadow it Casts":

Our seats have been painstakingly chosen on the arena seating chart, only to be second guessed a hundred times since the arrival of the tickets. My outfit has been carefully picked out for days, changed, then changed again, trying to avoid looking either too young or like some sort of aging predatory cat. My girlfriend hosted a night recounting trivia and watching old videos on YouTube so we could reacquaint ourselves with lyrics and dance moves. Weeks of obsessing over details have led to our ultimate teen dream come true: New Kids on the Block - now older, slower and even less talented, compromising their dignity for a reunion tour. But who are we to judge their self respect? We're four thirty-something friends reduced to bubbleheaded thirteen year olds. To us, this is all very serious business, business that my husband neither understands nor has any appreciation for. Relieved to be excluded from the madness, he's happily staying home with our daughter so I can have a much needed night out. The last few months since we lost our second daughter have been stressful and wearisome for all three of us, especially me. 

We arrive at the concert and clearly aren't the only ones who have been feeling the anticipation. The crowd is electric and the energy is palpable. We take our seats at a perfect side angle view of the stage. We anxiously await our first glimpse of the group as we shriek at each other, barely able to hear over the buzz of the crowd. Just as the show is about to start, another group of giddy women sit down in front of us. As the usher shows them to their seats, one of them points to her friend, softly puts her hand on her, and says with excitement "She has a baby in her belly!" My heart sinks. "Of course you're sitting right in front of us and of course you're pregnant, why wouldn't you be?" Despite her fitted t-shirt I wouldn't have noticed she was showing, but I can't erase what I've just heard. I try to shrug it off, hoping I can stop myself from angrily fixating on this woman I don't know. I look at my friend, knowing she has also overheard, and bravely roll my eyes at her. I try to convince myself not to ruin this night I have been looking so forward to, but I can't hide from it - my resentment casts a shadow on not only this night, but my entire life. 

I wasn't always like this. With my first uncomplicated pregnancy we had a beautiful, healthy daughter. I was full of optimism and thought that I had been put on this earth to be a mother. A second seemingly normal pregnancy abruptly ended at twenty weeks upon learning the devastating news that our baby girl would not survive past birth. My third pregnancy then surprised us with twins and I once again became hopeful. But tragedy struck when my boys arrived fourteen weeks early and were fighting for their lives. Apparently we couldn't catch a break. 

Although I have been blessed with my daughter and my infant twin boys, they did not come without an emotional price. The obstacles we have overcome have left me unable to let go of my pain and the envy I feel towards other families and their healthy children. I am burdened with grief, cynicism, and bitterness towards those who have what I've been denied - a simple path to motherhood. I know that everyone has a story, and few have the perfect road to a happy ending. Despite this, I still can't help but resent others and assume they've traveled an easier road than I have.

The loss of our second daughter was like nothing I could have imagined. I had experienced profound loss before - my mom, from cancer, when I was nineteen; a grandma, an uncle, close family friends. But this was something different. I had lost a part of me; someone I had created.

I heard countless stories from friends and family about someone they knew that had a pregnancy loss. They were meant to inspire me and let me know I wasn't alone. But none of it helped. It wasn't a spontaneous miscarriage, or a still birth, or the loss of a living child. It was undefinable. I felt trapped in a strange purgatory for which there were no appropriate words of comfort. 

It had been a painless, yet invasive procedure, and my body was confused. Milk came in for a baby that no longer needed nourishment, and hormones made my arms ache for a baby that could only be held in my heart. I alternated between hiding in bed and moving through the house on auto-pilot, trying to maintain some small shred of normalcy for our daughter. 

In the days following the surgery it had been snowing heavily. I should have been excited by this irregular occurrence but I was too absorbed in my own grief to care. My sadness did not however dampen the enthusiasm of our daughter who desperately wanted to make a snow man. So I put on my bravest face, dressed us all in snow gear, and we went out to the yard. 

It was late afternoon, so the setting sun and the snow clouds made the sky eerily grey. The snow was falling in large crystals, melting as soon as they hit your face. My husband and daughter were rolling an enormous snowball for the snowman's base and apparently it was my job to make the middle of the body. I ignored the aching I felt and focussed on the task at hand, listening to orders from a bossy toddler.

We worked to finish the snowman, complete with a cedar branch moustache. My daughter was thrilled, and so proud of our accomplishment. I then taught her to make snow angels, and as she made them over and over she gleefully exclaimed "Look mama, I do it again?". I gave her a distant smile and nod, focussed more on how cold and miserable I was than on her delight.

This moment was beautiful, I had to admit in spite of myself. But hard as I tried, I was only partially present. I got up and dusted the snow off myself, wondering when I would return to myself again; when I would stop hating the world and be the mother my daughter deserved. Would we ever return to that smiling Christmas card photo we were at this time last year? I was painfully unsure.

A year later I'm at the bedside in the neonatal intensive care unit and my twins are over two months old. They have recently been moved from the acute care unit to the intermediate care unit because they no longer need a ventilator to mechanically breathe for them. Their condition is still critical, so despite their relocation the road to their homecoming is still a long, treacherous one. 

A baby is wheeled in near to them, full term and otherwise healthy but requiring observation after a difficult delivery. As soon as I see her I look away as I always do when babies more robust than mine are admitted. I don't want to see an eight pound, crying, writhing baby, when mine do not yet have the strength nor lung capacity to make a peep. Only when another preemie or otherwise seriously compromised baby comes in can I look and give the parents a sympathetic nod. 

Almost immediately, the father begins to argue with the nurses about his daughter's treatment. This is not the first time I've witnessed a scene like this, so I can imagine how it's going to unfold. The nurses respond calmly, but his belligerence escalates and necessitates the involvement of a pediatrician. In the close quarters I'm overhearing too much. I start to feel my face flush and my eyes sting with tears so I get up to leave. I am not trying to afford him more privacy, just the opposite in fact. I wish it were acceptable to scream out loud the words that are in my head. "How dare you argue with the nurses, these same nurses I have entrusted my babies' lives to for all these weeks? Don't you think they know best?". 

I can't excuse this father's lack of respect, but I can't even empathize with the emotions that are causing him to behave this way. While his baby may not yet be stable, her life is not in imminent danger and he knows this. I, unfortunately, do not share this luxury. I quietly and bitterly take my leave, remarkably devoid of any compassion towards them. 

When I return later in the evening, his baby has been discharged to the care of its mother as I have come to expect in situations like theirs. While that family will soon be able to look past these few worrisome hours in the NICU, I still have months of this excruciating journey to live through. I say hello to the nurses and hear about what the boys have been up to in my absence. I unpack some freshly washed linens from home. I shuffle over to the fridge to put away my recently pumped breast milk, carefully labeled with my babies' names, identification numbers and the time of day it was expressed. I search for my favourite chair, then sit next to my boys, singing the same songs over and over, and telling them about the day's events. And then finally, after kissing them, telling them I love them, and begging them to have an uneventful night, I go home, like every other night, without my babies.

The boys have been home with us now for several months. The memories of their five long months in the hospital have faded more quickly than we could have imagined, and we have settled into life at home. On most days, we are more challenged by raising twins and a preschooler than we are by the boys' health issues.

Today is a good day. Our son is in a good mood and has greeted his physiotherapist with an instant smile, instead of looking at her with uncertainty like he does on some days. She's been coming every couple of weeks but we still can't predict what his mood will be when she arrives. Sometimes he is tense and unwilling to cooperate. He may be tired, or for once doesn't feel like trying so hard. Today I am thankful that he seems to be showing what he's capable of.

He is working so hard at his exercises; exhausted, but still happy. He blows raspberries to say he's done so she turns him over on our living room floor, giving him a rest. She walks us through what they're doing, ensuring that we'll be able to reproduce this sequence of movements when she's not here to help. 

He catches a glimpse of me and flashes a giant smile so I clap and cheer and tell him what a great job he's doing. He babbles away, so proud of himself. His brother crawls over to steal some toys, oblivious to any therapy going on next to him. Their sister decides that this pause in action is a good time to step all over both of them to get a piece of the attention. She too does not understand that this visitor that comes to play with her brother is here because he needs help. To them, their brother is the way he is, no questions asked.

I wish I could follow my their example and accept things without question. Our baby needs physiotherapy because the bi-lateral brain hemorrhages he suffered soon after his premature birth have caused motor deficiencies. Yes, he has defied many odds. He could have required brain surgery. He could have developed seizures. He could have had endless unrelated issues with his heart, lungs, digestive system, eyes or ears. He could have died. None of those things happened, but sometimes I need to be reminded of this.

Like when he is yelling at his favourite toy in his outstretched arm, frustrated because his brain won't tell his arm to bend. Or watching him stuck face down on his tummy because his leg is at a strange angle, preventing him from rolling over. Or seeing him in the tub, trying to flail his arms and legs, yet one of them is oddly stiff. At times like that, it's hard to remember how "lucky" he is. 

I can't accept why this happened. Other families have healthy babies that grow to be healthy children - no complications, no questions asked. Other preemies even get through their ordeals mostly unscathed, his twin brother included. So why did this happen to us, but most importantly to him? My prince, my miracle, my hero. The happiest baby anyone has ever met, whose smile lights up a room and whose spirit is so fierce and strong, never seeming to feel burdened by how hard he has to work. If the delays he is suffering now should result in lifelong impairments, I can't handle the thought of him struggling through life; being teased or stared at for being different; suffering in any way. And sometimes imagining the worst consumes me, feeling like a full time job.

I look over and they're back at their exercises. He's not only making great progress, but he's being his charming, flirty self. I realize that today's session is going even better than I'd hoped. I put on my brightest smile, knowing that he feeds off my positive energy. But as genuinely happy as I am to see the progress he is making, the worry and anger are in the gritted teeth behind that smile. 

I'm now lying on the bed with the boys beside me. One is asleep, thumb in mouth, with his leg flopped over mine. His brother is lying beside him crying out every few moments, desperate to stay awake. Fingers twitch next to their faces and their long, thick eyelashes flutter. Laundry is piled at the foot of the bed, with the sound of the dryer whirring in the background. The house is otherwise silent - our daughter is asleep in her room and my husband is working in the yard. The light of a sunny autumn afternoon is peeking through my window, casting shadows from the Japanese Maple tree beside. I can’t pull myself out from under my baby’s leg. It's not that I'm afraid of waking him, it's that I don’t want this perfect moment to end because I don't seem to have enough of them. 

In this moment, none of our previous setbacks matter, nor does the bitterness. My children are so peaceful, and for once, so am I. I take a deep breath and close my eyes, realizing that without all of our obstacles, I would not have this - a beautiful, loving family, and an intense appreciation for the little things that others may take for granted. 

There are no pregnant women here to resent. There are no healthy babies to be jealous of. There's no one else's less complicated life to envy. There's just us.

Monday, July 7, 2014

And So It Begins

This morning demolition begins on our house. It's exciting and scary all at once.

The past week has been busy to say the least. Not only packing up all of our belongings and moving into my sister's, but also organizing trades, ordering materials, tree and hedge removal, and a whole lot of other planning. The transformation has already begun on the exterior.

Walking away from our mostly empty house yesterday, I felt a bit sad. For all intents and purposes, it's like we're getting a new house. And as much better as this "new" house is going to be, it's still a bit weird to say goodbye. This is the end of an era....but I'm confident it's the start of an even better one.

While this is underway, please keep your renovations horror stories to yourself - trust me, thus far people have not held back from sharing them. Sure, things could go wrong outside of our control, but anyone who knows us should know we're going into this eyes wide open, having done a tonnnnnnnne of research and planning. Every risk that can be possibly mitigated - be it timeline, budget or resources - will be. (I was a project manager, right? I think all that experience was bringing me to right now, managing my most important project). Besides, no matter how overwhelming this is and no matter what goes wrong, nothing will ever come close to what we faced while the boys were in hospital. That was 5 months of hell; this will be 5-ish months of plain old stress. Big difference, and a pretty easy way to keep things in perspective.

The end result of this will be magical, yes, and our house will be amazing. But we are going to try to enjoy the journey, not just the destination. We have a bright future ahead, and our home will be at the centre of it.

July 2007 - when we first moved in 

July 2014 - our last day in the house

Jordan was so excited he head over to start at 6 am, with the rest of the crew arriving by 8. Wish us luck and stay tuned for weekly updates on our extreme home makeover!