“The honeymoon is over,” said Dan, our contractor, as he walked through the front door at 7:30 a.m. on the first day of our kitchen renovation. I figured it was a statement about—how can I say this delicately?—ripping the bodice off my modest budget and having his way with not just my house but my bank account, too, after which he would lay there satiated, smoking a cigarette and talking crown molding. After all, he is a contractor, and that’s what contractors do.
But no. Dan’s not a brute. He’s actually a true-blue gentleman. I now realize that he was referring, instead, to my already tenuous grasp on sanity. Decades of experience had warned him that each day would bring me a little closer to the heavily medicated yet still-shrieking lunatic that I now am. (And no, that’s not normal for me.)
No matter what anyone says to you, a kitchen renovation is the most disorienting, discombobulating, disquieting, disenthralling, and just about every other word that begins with “dis” event that you can ever live through. Well, that or trying to explain to The One why a pair of women’s panties were in my underwear drawer.
The makeover started off auspiciously enough. The entire demo of the kitchen was done during the first day, which ended with a thorough vacuuming of the room. (What contractor cleans up after himself every night?! How gallant, I thought. This is going to be a cinch.)
Day two saw the electric, plumbing, and taping dispatched. By day four the entire room was prepped for the flooring guy to put a spiffy new shine on things, which he did at the end of the week.
But it’s the unexpected that tests your mettle—and your propensity for YouTube-worthy outbursts. Like the cabinets being delivered a week late. Or a 33 percent discount on the sink and faucet that still rung in at more than two grand. Or an innocent chat in the basement about a funky smell—oh, what evil foul smells portend. (While we waited patiently for the kitchen construction to resume, we variously discovered that 1. we have a mold problem, 2. there are leaks in our basement walls, 3. the entire backyard and its 600-square-foot flagstone patio that are pitched to drain water into—not away from—the basement, and 4. every single penny that The One dropped into having the ceiling of the garage insulated and plastered, so that the family room above would be warmer, was wasted because the reno is not up to code and it has to be ripped out and done all over again. [Insert YouTube video of me rending my clothes and banging my forehead against the sawdust-covered dining room table.]
All this would have been tolerable had I not been born with an aversion to people in my personal space. Blame it on being an only child, overmothering, boundary issues, whatever. Frankly, Scarlett, I don’t give a damn. To have three, four, six, eight people in your space at any one time, touching your things, using your bathroom, discovering you never make your bed? It’s intolerable.
And it was about here that I began to call into question my mental soundness. At first, it was just little things, like snapping at Devil Cat when he insisted on bringing his dinner into the family room. Or catching myself drawing cuss words on the sawdust-covered windows. Or, last night, eating almost a half gallon of ice cream alone on the couch while sobbing through the ridiculously melodramatic season finale of Revenge and muttering over and over again, “Declan is dead? Declan is dead?”
Looking back, I think I’d have rather been bent over Dan’s knee and taken like a wench in a Shakespeare play than be violated like this in the name of home improvement.
If, like me, you’re insane enough to choose to live though any kind of renovation rather than high-tailing it out of town for a month or two, even after friends and neighbors have warned you, proceed with caution. After my experience, I’ve created my own 12 Steps to Renovation Recovery. Take heed, my friends, take heed.
1. Admit that you are powerless over the renovation—that your life and home have become unmanageable.
2. Come to believe that a power greater than yourself can restore you to sanity—namely a good shrink, a black American Express card, or (sorry, AA) a superb bottle of vodka.
3. Make a decision to turn your will and punch list over to the care of a good contractor—if you can find one.
4. Make a searching inventory of the contents of your soon-to-be-renovated rooms. (Things disappear on construction sites. Just sayin’.)
5. Admit to God, to yourself, and to another human being the exact nature of your wrongheadedness in having wanted to renovate.
6. Be entirely ready to have your contractor remove the mess and dumpster that are making it impossible to leave your home.
7. Humbly ask your contractor to remove the nail that you accidentally shot through your hand while you were showing him the “right” way to install new studs—as if you ever paid attention in high school shop class.
8. Make a list of all the persons you have 1. harmed, 2. harassed, 3. screamed at, 4. belittled, 5. wept uncontrollably in front of, 6. stolen medication from, and 7. alienated because of said renovation, and be willing to make amends to them all.
9. Send direct, handwritten invitations to such persons, if they’re still speaking you, to your first dinner in your new space—except in cases where to do so would injure them or yourself.
10. Continue to take inventory and, when you’ve wrongly accused the plumber of stealing your highly valued red Fiesta teapot, promptly admit it. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Oh, brother (buries face in hands).]
11. Seek out therapy and anger-management classes to improve your conscious contact with your contractor and his crew members. (As in AA, doughnuts and coffee help.)
12. Having had a home-improvement awakening as a result of these steps, try to carry business cards from your contractor to other desperate homeowners, and to practice these principles in all future renovations.
If you’re looking for a sponsor, I’m available.