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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

how building a house is like having a baby

You've been dreaming it up, imagining how life will be different, picturing your family with its newfound treasure....

Congratulations! You are now parents of a!

Yes, I have decided that building a house is a whole lot like having a baby. Here's why:

When you are about to have a baby, you think about that baby all the time. What will it look like? Whose hair will he get? What colors eyes will she have? A baby hijacks your thoughts. When you build a house it is the same except instead of wondering about eye color, dimples, freckles or nose size, you wonder if the sketch on paper will come together to look good, or let's be honest, even decent. Instead of hoping for 10 fingers and 10 toes you hope your kids' rooms allow them space for a bed and to actually turn around. You assume the layout of your master bath is perfect until your bathroom designer points out that when you are lying in your bed and look through the door to the bathroom you will be looking straight at your toilet.  In short, you wonder how it will all come together.

When you are expecting a baby, you spend so much time waiting- an eternity it seems!- that you  think the day may never come when the baby actually arrives. It may just live in the belly forever. Waiting for a house to be done is much the same except you wonder if you have just invested your life's savings into a structure you will never get to live in.

When you build a house, you can plan all you want on a due date but, like (most) babies, it will be done when its done, not when it's convenient. In both cases, it is best not to get too attached to a date.

When you name your baby, it's often wise to keep the name to yourself. Rarely are people as excited about the name as you are, especially if it is at all outside of the box. ("Oh. I see. You named your child Boxer. How interesting.")

The same is true of a house. It can be downright disappointing to share your house plans with people. They may not like it as much as you do and may struggle to hide it. ("Oh you are building a yurt/craftsman style house with a windmill farm in the backyard. Love it.") Like safekeeping baby names until there is an actual breathing human being associated with the name, it might be better to keep your house a secret and just invite people to the housewarming. (Word of caution: this is hard to do in a small town.)

When buying things for your baby or for your house there is a common theme. Everything costs more than you think it will. "Do we really need this swing that plugs in instead of using batteries?" (You do.)  "Do strollers really cost this much?" (They do.) "Wait, how much did you say that faucet is? Is it made of unicorn horns?" (No. That one would be 20 times the cost.)

When you have a baby, you get loose with your mouth. You don't mean to but you talk about things you wouldn't ordinarily discuss (nipples, hemorrhoids, excrement, etc.) in common company. You must also watch your mouth with house building because when people ask, "Hey, how's the house coming?" they might not have the time for the 20 minute monologue on your dilemma over choosing a heating system, the intricacies of granite striations or the pros and cons of wood versus engineered flooring.

When you have a baby you are starving for information ("Yes, I would love a DNA map of our fetus, thank you very much.") and especially for a sneak peek at your little one. Each ultrasound, no matter how much the image departs from that of a human baby, is a source of pride and glee. The same is true when the foundation goes in for your house and the roof trusses show up. Even though they don't actually resemble a house, they practically bring a tear of joy to your eyes. ("Will you just look at how beautiful those triangles are! Have you ever seen a nicer shade of gray?")

House building, like parenthood, also provides an instantaneous bond between people. Folks you might not have sought out for conversation become the ones you turn to for commaraderie or to celebrate a progress made ("She rolled over for the first time!" or "We have electricity!") or to ask advice ("He wakes up at 4:30 every morning for the day. What do I do?" or "We need to decide if we want vinyl balusters or aluminum. What did you pick?").

When you are preparing for the arrival of your baby, every detail seems of the utmost importance: what texture the baby blankets should be, if that shade of yellow is warm and sunny or looks like pee, if it is better to get the mobile with the sheep or the ducks. Never has there been more on the line.

When you are building the house, there are are exponentially more choices and you make each with painstaking care (bi-fold vs. pocket doors for the closets, backsplash or no backsplash, track light vs. recessed light) not sure which ones will matter in the long run, which ones to make a priority in your budget and which ones you will be so relieved you spent and extra 5 hours of your life deliberating about.

Both house building and parenting require a couple to foster positive relationships with everyone who will be helping them along the way (you would no more want to get on your pediatrician's bad side than your builder's), to quickly establish each other's strengths and weakness and divide and conquer along those line and, most essentially, to cultivate a generous sense of humor with each other. It may be hard to laugh it off when you co-parent pretends to be asleep when the baby cries in the night or when you spouse contemplates a helipad on the roof, but truly, laughter is the best prescription here. That and some carefully chosen words. 

In the end, it won't matter how close or far from her due date your baby was born or what exact date you moved into your house. It won't matter how many pounds you gained while pregnant (unless of course you still have them and then it may matter a lot).  You won't remember most of the sacrifices you made during the building of your house, the near argument you had over the tile for the kitchen or the 50 houses you drove by to pick the perfect color of siding.  You won't care that your house wasn't tight by winter the way it was supposed to be or all the days you drove by and no one was working and you were in danger of throwing a two-year-old tantrum. 

Because now you are holding that baby in your arms and your heart is melting as he smiles at you for the first time. You are cooking in your dream kitchen or sitting by your brand new, push button fireplace. And because now you have new things to think about. You have another human being to take care of. You have a mortgage to pay.

Congratulations! Your worry and angst have just begun. Best buckle in and get ready to ride.*

(* I am joking, of course. House building, like becoming a parent, has been one of the most joyful and fulfilling experiences of my life. As I have brought more mindfulness and appreciation to my role as "Mom", I have cultivated the same with our house. I am aware of how fortunate we are to be building a house at all, especially one that is nearly everything we could dream of, and I told myself early on that I would not complain when things didn't go right or there were stresses or setbacks. This attitude has made all the difference and, as a result, the experience hasn't been the harrowing one you hear about time and again. Instead I am approaching it with excitement and amazement. It isn't every day you see a 40-year-old woman jumping up and down at night in the light cast from from her headlights because there is a roof on her house. 

As I get older, and infinitesimally wiser, I know this to be true: it isn't life that makes you happy, it is you that makes a happy life.)

 Wait, did I just make up my own quote?
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