We need roooooommmm! Basement remodeling decisions

I was going to write about my sister and how she’s really pissing me off by making my mom feel guilty and she’s passive aggressively dissing mom on social media. But when I started writing, I realized giving Julie that much of my time and attention was making me really, really angry. She’s crazy, and always will be. (And for anyone I know IRL who’s following Julie’s FB “health” drama, don’t believe the hype, and please don’t think my mom and I are not involved. We just know how this plays out because we’ve been there, done that, and we’re over it. Julie’s using and abusing the new BF and his family – they’re just too new to know who/what my sister truly is. But, hey, Julie’s getting a newly remodeled home out of the deal, so grossly exaggerating things and lying is okay, right?)

Ahem.

Let’s talk basements. The topic will still stress me out, but in a much nicer way.

When I bought this house, I really liked that the basement was unfinished. I’d seen some homes with poorly designed basements, so a large, empty, open concrete slab (with decently tall ceilings), was a selling point. Clean slate. Do what I want, when I want, figure out what works for the kids and me.

In the four years since we’ve lived here, the basement has become a four corner dump pile – storage here, kids’ toys there, stuff for a yard sale here, holiday decorations there. There are also about 15 large moving boxes STUFFED with packing paper, making a cardboard wall separating kid space from yard sale stuff. Organized but not useable.

Sure, the kids will play down there every once in a while. And I’ll run/walk on the treadmill (which can’t be plugged into the outlets in the basement, so a heavy-duty extension cord runs up the stairs – super classy). But it’s cold (no heat), and a little dark, and really not inviting.

Last year, I thought I’d get it finished, but, you know, cancer. (Damn, 2015 was a wasted year.)

Now this, THIS is the year: the kids are older and need more space – Lauren’s dollhouses and dress up clothes and babies are taking over the living spaces where I never intended toys to be (dining room, front room, living room, entryway, kitchen – girl stuff is EVERYWHERE); Ethan doesn’t always want to watch “Wild Kratz” or other Lauren-type shows and is at an age where he needs to have a little bit of his own time and space. And I’m tired of stepping on Legos when he spreads himself – and those damn plastic foot-destroyers – across the living room floor.

And, as B and I work toward merging our family together, more usable space is becoming necessary – a place where all six of us can (comfortably) gather, a place where he can play his bass and I can arrange/organize/use crafty and gift wrapping stuff.

I started getting bids for the job.

  • First guy: REALLY young (not that age is a big deal), ridiculously quick, didn’t seem super thorough, plans didn’t reflect some of the things I asked for, some of the design elements didn’t make sense (i.e., walling around the furnace and water heater so close that neither would be able to be removed should I have to replace them in the future), kind of got the sense he might nickel-and-dime me when things don’t go as planned.
  • Second guy (and his wife who is his design partner): straight shooter, super thorough, pointed out some things I should correct now (whether or not he does the job), his bid was about $10K more than I want to spend BUT I think he’d do an amazing job (and he guarantees not to go over the budget).
  • Third guy: walked him through what I wanted, spent half the time he was at the house talking on his phone to someone (I was upstairs; he was supposed to be doing measurements), pointed out stuff I should do now (like guy 2), can’t get me the estimate until he has his electrician AND plumber AND carpenter all come out separately – like “Hey Dude 3, what’s your job if you’re not qualified to figure this shit out?!”
  • Fourth guy: got his name from an remodeling referral service at a home improvement show this weekend (he was the only one of four names sent that had a website, and I’m leary of builders and remodelers who are not showcasing their work on the internet or social media), from his website he is really receptive to working WITH the homeowner on budget and design, GREAT phone conversation with him, he’s coming out tomorrow.

This is a CRAZY big decision to make. It’s a lot of money. I want it done right. I want it to feel like part of the house, not just an afterthought or nasty scary basement. I don’t know enough about remodeling or building or plumbing or electric or drywall to know if someone is doing a good job or not. I need to have full-faith in the person doing the work.

Guys 1 and 3 are out.

I like guy 2, especially his no bullshit attitude, but he’s expensive.

Guy 4 *might* be the answer.

Oh boy, adult decisions are hard.

To Kill a Mockingbird, err…To Kill a Kid’s Desire to Read

News of Harper Lee’s death dominated the internet late last week. It prompted some serious conversation at Chez Jax. “To Kill a Mockingbird” remains one of my favorite books, and the movie is at the top of my list also. The book is so dear to me that I refuse to read “Go Set a Watchman” because I really don’t believe the beloved Ms. Lee wanted it published.

At the same time, I received a note (the second in two weeks) from Ethan’s teacher about his reading grade. Part of the grade relies on students reading books and taking online quizzes about the book contents. Students can pick any book, as long as it’s within their individual reading level and part of the database program from which the quizzes originate.

Ethan LOVES to read. The kid will literally spend hours in his room reading. It’s awesome! As a former literature major, it truly warms my heart that my kid – my SON – loves reading. Unfortunately, the kinds of books Ethan likes to read aren’t on the program list. He likes reference books, encyclopedias, text books, and not-kid books. Seriously, the kid reads text books and encyclopedias FOR FUN.

As long as he’s reading, I encourage that. Read what you want, I say! Just read.

Because he’s not reading books in the database program, he can’t take the quizzes. (Reference and text books are not on the list.) So this quarter, he’s at 35 percent of his reading goal, even though he just finished David McCullough’s “The Wright Brothers.” (Not on the list.)

“To Kill a Mockingbird” was on the list, within Ethan’s reading level, and worth 15 points, which would put him over his reading goal for the quarter. I dug out my old copy and handed it to him, explaining I read it for the first time in the sixth grade.

He started reading it that day. The first chapter, he said, was slow, but he reasoned, most books start a bit slow. By the second chapter, he was hooked. He read it all weekend. And he took it to school today.

At 9:30, I received an email from his teacher:

Ethan brought To Kill a Mockingbird to school to read today.  I told him that book is not appropriate for his age given one of the adult topics in the book.  I did not tell him it was concerning rape.  He thought I was talking about racism, which is fine. Nevertheless, that book is appropriate for the higher middle school and high school student.  At SCHOOL NAME, we read the book in 8th grade and it is not on our AR list of quizzes for anyone but the 8th graders reading the book.  Ethan asked me to email you and explain that to you.  If you’d like him to read it that is not my business but it won’t work for his AR goals and I’d prefer that he not discuss the topic in school at this age. 

WTF. So my kid reads at a ninth grade level (this book’s at an 8th grade level), but books at that level aren’t appropriate? Color me confused…

Sure, the book includes racism and rape and a whole host of other social issues. Those SAME issues are talked about on morning drive radio, or the nightly news, or referenced in TV shows. Issues Ethan and I frequently talk about, openly, at the dinner table or before bed. Things that are part of our world. Things that I don’t hide from my kids. Things that require open and honest discussion.

I’m not raising my kids to live in a bubble. I want them to form their own opinions, to be able to dialogue about issues in our world. I don’t shy away from the “hard” topics. I want my kids to understand that there’s some nasty bad people and things out there – and some really good people who fight for what’s right.

Decision made: fuck his reading grade. I’m letting the kid read what he wants – even if it’s not on the “list” or deemed “inappropriate.” I’m going to tell him to read “To Kill a Mockingbird” BECAUSE his teacher doesn’t want him to – that’s reason enough to read it, talk about it, and learn from it.

Update to -1

Ethan’s teacher responded to my email. She was “surprised” that I sent an email and “sad” that I thought she “would be such an inconsiderate teacher.” After a couple of email exchanges, I have a bit of clarification, but not satisfaction.

Students were told to ask “any adult” to tell the story of where they were when the Challenger exploded. Some parents, as the teacher pointed out, were only a year old at the time, so it could be any adult. (A year old in 1986!? Now I feel ancient…) She said she specifically told Ethan he could ask his grandma for a story. Students received one point for each “story” they brought in.

Fine. However, “story” seems to be a pretty broad term. Literally, most students had one line – “my dad was home sick.” That’s not a story. That’s a statement. I wrote a story. A one-page story. The only story.

Also, while the kids see my mom regularly and B is becoming a more regular fixture during the week (YAY!), there’s one “adult” with whom the kids have regular contact. Me. It’s presumptuous to assume there’s anyone else around the kids on any given day. There is simply me. That’s only one extra credit point because there was only one adult around the dinner table with whom Ethan could get a “story.”

On the night of the assignment, I picked E up from school, and he was with my mom for about 40 minutes while I went to the gym. In that 40 minutes, at minimum, she emptied the kids’ lunchboxes, made snacks, ensured Lauren had all her winter snow gear for the next day, went through Lauren’s school folder, listened to Lauren read a story, helped Lauren with homework, and took the dog out to potty. She probably also moderated arguments between E and L, coerced them to change out of school clothes, tracked down Lauren’s water bottle (she always leaves it in my mom’s car), and who knows what else. Point being, there wasn’t  a lot of time for my mom to chat with Ethan about her recollection of that historical day.

Sometimes adulting is hard. Sometimes it sucks. Today is one of those days.

 

Ours

“Beautiful children. Are they all yours?”

We stopped for lunch at a mom-and-pop restaurant in a smallish town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, on our way home from spending Thanksgiving with B’s parents. (More on that another time.) An older woman behind the counter asked the question.

B was carrying his youngest daughter, following the server who was taking us to our table; Ethan was close behind, talking nonstop in B’s ear about something or other; and I was shepherding Lauren and B’s other daughter as we traversed the small entry of the restaurant, filled with knick knacks and tchotchkes for sale.

“Yes. Yes, they are,” I said, barely making eye contact with her as I made sure the girls’ heavy winter coats didn’t knock over something I really didn’t want to buy. I was busy holding the hand of one girl while directing the other by the shoulder.

The woman behind the counter followed it with, “But you both look so young…” and a sort of tsk-tsk sound.

Crazy lady, I thought. Of course they’re ours. What other kids would be with us? Does she think we found some kids alongside the road and brought them in for Swedish meatballs and limpa bread?

We were at our table at the back of the restaurant when it finally hit me what the woman meant.

“Are they all yours?”

Oh… are they OURS? Like O-U-R-S, mine and B’s? Well…

I felt a little foolish for  misunderstanding the woman. Yeah, they’re ours, but not technically O-U-R-S. Like if we start getting into if they’re our biological children and genetics and stuff… well, then…

But then, I realized I didn’t misunderstand the woman at all. YES, they are O-U-R-S. Damn, it, all four of them. For all their faults and all their goodness. For all the little arguments we referee. For all the cuddles we share. For the goodnight stories and kisses and late night movies and board games. For the helping make Christmas cookies. For the knock knock jokes at dinner. For the tears, for the laughter. For better or worse.

“Are they all yours?”

Hell, yes. Yes, they are mine. Yes, they are B’s. They, all four of them. They are ours.

I’ve been Sharpie’d

Surgery’s tomorrow.

I feel comfortable in my decisions. I fully trust my medical team. B will be there for me tomorrow. I feel pretty good going into the day. I just need to get through the surgery to keep on track with the treatment plan (radiation next, then reconstruction).

Today was filled with doctor appointments and pre-surgery stuff. In between the stuff relating to my surgery, Ethan had a cardiologist appointment in the afternoon. He was born with a bicuspid aortic valve, and he’s monitored every few years to make sure the valve isn’t leaking. Good news: he’s good to go for another two years.

My big appointment today was the “marking” visit with the plastic surgeon. I figured there’d be a couple of lines, like where the incision would be, but…

This was a “no pomp and circumstance” kind of appointment. Just right to the point. Change into a gown. Doc in the room right away carrying a large bin of Sharpies.

He sat on a chair, face level with my breasts and started with a thick black marker making a vertical line directly down the middle of my chest – collarbone to half way to the belly button. Then the underboob, both sides. He lifted my breast, made the line, tracing the natural curve, then dropped the breast. Flop! I’m not as perky as I was 20 years ago, but I’ve never felt so “floppy” in my life.

Next a bullseye sort of pattern on the right side. Four rings from mid-breast to nipple. He drew another vertical line from collarbone to the center of my right breast. And a vertical line from the nipple to the outside of the breast.

The doc then switched Sharpies. He picked up a red one and drew a two-inch line in between the lines making the bullseye. “This is where the surgeon can make her incision,” he said. “There’s plenty of room to work within the length of this line.”

A few more lines completed the design, then he unwrapped a sterile, orange-capped marker. With surgical scissors, he pulled out the felt tip of the marker and used the tip to retrace all the black and red lines. He labeled a few things, then we were off to the photography room again.

Seeing the image of the lines on the computer screen next to the images taken during my last appointment was weird. I hadn’t realized just how many lines he drew, and how some of them were already “running” ink across my skin.

I was ushered back to the exam room, told to change back into my clothes, and waited for the nurse to conduct the patient education session.

We talked drain maintenance, pain meds, bra requirements (24-hours a day for the surgical bra until my follow-up visit) and physical restrictions (lifting nothing over 10 pounds and not engaging in any activity that will raise my blood pressure for a month).

I had two pre-op calls to clarify my medical records and reiterate restrictions before surgery. Now I wait for 6:30 a.m., when I need to be at the hospital. Whew!