“I’m so happy to see you here!”
I gush to the crew digging in our side yard. They grunt in response and continue straining to shovel out the hard-packed clay. Who can fault me for my enthusiasm? We’ve been talking about remodeling for 12 years and have been waiting for the project to start for more than six months.
Now that the actual work has begun, we’re thrilled in spite of the mess. I compare the minor inconveniences to how a woman struggling with infertility must feel when she finally gets pregnant. All of the discomfort and changes to her body seem minor after waiting indefinitely for a child to be conceived. So, initially I’m not frustrated by the noise and disruptions.
The first real inconvenience occurs when the crew unhooks the washer and drier in our garage without bothering to tell me. I walk out ready to change the loads of laundry and find both appliances disconnected and shoved away from the demolition.
All of the wet clothes remain inside. It is frustrating, but a sign that work continues moving forward. I laugh it off and ask the neighbors if I can use their drier.
I still have a sense of humor a day later when the crew again moves our washer and drier without telling me first. They’ve been re-located outside where they’ll be for the duration of construction. Assuming everything is hooked up; I throw in a load, pour on the liquid soap, pull the “start” knob and wait for the tub to fill.
Nothing happens. I investigate and discover the appliances have not been connected to power or water yet. Another neighbor happily obliges when I ask if I can bring down my dirty “pre-soaped” laundry after I fish it out of the washer.
Eventually we have a nifty open-air laundry room on the back patio under a temporary plywood lean-to. It works well as long as the run off from the rain doesn’t drench the clothes coming out of the drier. Our boys think this arrangement is so “awesome” that they beg to keep it permanently in spite of our plans for a new laundry room.
The rhythm of construction falls into place: one worker comes every day by 9 am. He putters around waiting for instructions from the contractor, who will call or show up at some point. Another worker comes a bit later. Construction slowly progresses. Every few weeks our contractor arrives with a truckload of supplies and extra guys who work feverishly. He updates us on plans for the coming weeks, notes all of the materials on order and answers our questions. What follows are several days of total silence and inactivity. We try to reach him through phone calls, texts, and e-mails. We hear nothing until he’s ready to respond.
If the contractor doesn’t want to deal with a task, he avoids it and us. When we ask about it, he laughs or makes a joke and quickly changes the subject. No matter how angry we feel when he disappears, we try to remain level headed and give him the benefit of the doubt. He writes important information on scraps of paper that we know he’ll never find again. He is constantly “checking” on things and promising answers to our questions. He’s rarely on time and often leaves us waiting for hours to meet with him. Sometimes I have to pinch hit for him when he doesn’t make it for a scheduled inspection on time.
Still, he’s doing good work and the project is progressing. We try to overlook his flaws; he’s a likable person with a disarming way about him. His crew and sub-contractors work hard and aren’t bad to have around all day. He always seems to have a rational explanation for delays in the project or his own lateness. He is apologetic and owns up to his mistakes. We are understanding, but firm; we ask him to keep the lines of communication open and to call when he’ll be late. He says he will and improves temporarily, but the cycle continues.
One cost that we haven’t considered is the emotional toll that the remodel takes on us. There are abundant opportunities for growth, but the growing process is a painful one. The project is messy and complicated in both our physical and emotional space. It reveals ugly parts of our characters that need refining and tries our patience way past the limit. The anger and frustration we experience are like nothing we’ve ever faced.
People share nightmarish remodel stories, but living it firsthand is entirely different. We struggle to figure out what we’re learning from working with a crazy-making contractor and living in a house under construction, but we keep trying. We want to focus on how great it will be when it’s done, but that seems a long way off. Renowned writing teacher Donald Murray says: “Problems make good subjects.” The more I write, the more I believe the truth of his words.