Ten years ago, Tony and I signed on the dotted line and took possession of the house that would finally be our home after a long and frustrating search. We thought we’d found the one. I tried to keep my ginormous pregnant body comfortable through the mountain of paperwork, thankful I hadn’t gone into labor and thrown a wrench in our closing plans. Once the property was finally ours, I waddled out of the title office and back to our packed up apartment, unaware that only a few hours later I would wake up in full labor and bring Fulton into this world in the early morning hours of June 28th.
We moved in a month later. The floors were refinished and the downstairs bathroom was still in mid-renovation, but Tony was convinced that it would be wrapped up in no time. The antique claw tub we planned to install sat in our backyard and until the bathroom was finished, we washed our older kids in freezing cold well water outside. Thank goodness it was July. Within the month we had our first bat sighting. Unfortunately, everyone immediately had to go pee and the only working bathroom was upstairs with the bat. I argued with the girls that going pee outside was just like camping!
Eventually we finished the bathroom, and many other smaller jobs. Somehow I’d imagined I’d be able to paint all the rooms and redecorate with a newborn and three other children five and under. There’d been a lot of red flags with this property, but we ignored them all and pushed forward towards closing. The housing boom was over, but the crash hadn’t happened yet. We thought we were getting a good deal, only to find ourselves underwater within a few months when the bottom completely dropped out of the housing market. The few problems we thought we’d correct quickly, multiplied and became more and more complicated. But, overall, we were happy. Tony and I made plans for a chicken coop, and some raised bed gardens. The kids had a huge yard to run around in all day, after being confined to a small apartment balcony for two years. Fulton was a fussy baby, who didn’t gain weight, and didn’t sleep, but I didn’t think anything of it.
One of the things I loved about our home was the spacious second floor; two good-sized bedrooms with huge closets, perfect for lots of kids, plus a bonus room that would be great for a playroom / guest room. Even the upstairs hallway was wide enough for a table and art supplies. The first floor bedroom, although tiny, was perfect for Tony and I. With 95 percent of the toys upstairs, the downstairs, even with four kids, didn’t feel chaotic. When friends came to visit, I sent the kids upstairs while the adults sat downstairs to talk. It wasn’t a huge home, but it was perfect… at least for a while.
Less than a year after the closing, we learned Fulton had Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Now instead of being the perfect homestead, all I could see were all the potential problems our house would present to a child in a wheelchair.
After Fulton’s diagnosis, it was hard for me to see anything but problems in our house, probably because I was viewing everything in life as either accessible or not accessible to him. Knowing we wouldn’t have to put a gate around our woodstove because he wouldn’t be able to crawl over and accidentally touch it made me cry as much as thinking about how he wouldn’t be an altar server.
But because the housing market had totally tanked, and we’d already sunk in tons of money we’d never recover, we knew we needed to stay and make it work.
Through the years, I vacillated between loving the challenge of making due, and loathing it; of wanting to save money and make it work, to wanting to walk away and risk foreclosure. The kids got bigger, Tony’s parents moved into the extra upstairs room, I got pregnant with Teddy, and then Tony got laid off. When Teddy was born, we had nine people in our 1,700 square foot house all the time. We moved Fulton and Byron downstairs and thus began the chore of walking up and down the stairs at night to roll Fulton over while waking up continuously to feed Teddy. It seemed that every inch of our home was packed to the gills with people and stuff. We didn’t have money for date nights, so every morning we drank our coffee on our screened in porch and tried to plan for the future.
We needed a ramp, so people donated time, money, and a sliding glass door so Fulton would be able to drive his wheelchair into our home. All the home renovations and decorating that I envisioned initially, gave way to talk of widening doorways and making it easier for wheelchair maneuverability. We got a specialty bathchair to wash Fulton in the beautiful antique claw tub.
We considered selling at a loss and moving, or enclosing the front porch. We went with the second option and moved the kitchen from the back of the house to the front. On the first day of construction, the contractor opened up the ceiling of the porch and discovered a main support beam was completely rotten. The next big surprise was when the same contract quit in the middle of the project leaving us to finish the kitchen ourselves. And we did. And I still love that kitchen. I personally picked every color, every fixture, and laid out every cabinet. When I first suggested to Tony that we move the kitchen to the porch, he questioned whether it would fit, so I took sidewalk chalk and drew on the porch’s concrete floor how the cabinets would fit around the room.
Shortly after we finished the kitchen, a massive rain storm sent water into the ceiling. The new roof, the one thing we didn’t think we’d have to worry about with this house, was not installed correctly, likely a poor DIY effort, and we needed to redo the entire thing. We’d suspected problems for a while, and even did some small patches, hoping other leaks were isolated events we could manage. But a ruined ceiling in our new kitchen was too much to take.
We now had a beautiful front to our house, and a gutted former kitchen as our back entrance. We made jokes about it for a while with friends (it’s was our “rustic” mudroom). When we were finally ready to move the former kitchen doorway, to make it centered and wider to accommodate the wheelchairs, we learned the upstairs bathroom toilet pipe turned wildly, and diverted right through the middle of our new doorway. Oh, and it had leaked at some point because the floor around it was completely rotten. Our doorway widening project now became a ‘re-plumb and redo the upstairs half bathroom project’.
Nothing about this house went as planned. Nothing was easy. Nothing didn’t have a million surprises that cost more money and added lots of time. It was hard to start each project because we never knew what else we’d discover. Along the way, I gave up plans to decorate. All our money and energy went into fixing problems. It seemed impossible that our home would ever look good.
I have tried, and failed, to not pass on my frustration to my children. Sometimes I’d hear them asking to move to a nice home, like their friends had, and I’d talk about how wonderful our house was and how lucky we were to live here. And I’d have to remind myself that yes, there are good qualities to this house, despite all it’s problems.
I love our wood floors, upstairs and downstairs. I love our unique, open floorplan. I still love the claw tub, even if I hate trying to use it with the boys. I love our huge deck that overlooks our yard and gives beautiful views of the farm field to our right and the sunsets that fill the evening sky. I love that my kids have grown up with space to run, and climb, play outside, get dirty and go on adventures. My kids have picked and eaten food from our yard and the farm, watched chickens being butchered, and rescued kittens and birds aplenty. I love the hours we’ve spent around the bonfire pit as a family, and with friends, eating, praying, laughing and setting off fireworks. In the winter, I love the crackling woodstove and warming pots of chili on its top. I love to look around and see everyone peacefully playing or reading around the warmth of the hearth as the wind blows outside. I love all the windows and how you can see the through the house, from the kitchen in the front to the deck and yard in the back while working in the schoolroom. I love the memories we’ve shared here and I’m proud of the creative solutions I’ve found through the years to maximize our space and make it work as well as it has.
I window shop on real estate sites for stress relief. Saying, “I’ve found the perfect house!” followed by showing Tony a real estate listing is nothing new for me. But this past year as we’ve prepared for Fulton’s surgery, I started to get nervous. I had my concerns with his Hoyer Lift and where exactly we were putting Teddy for 8 weeks. The limits of our quaint bathroom were gong to be put to the test. The three big kids needed more quiet space for school and their books and laptops filled our tables. Storage was limited in our damp, leaking basement, but medical equipment was getting damaged in our barn as well. I was running out of creative solutions; there was nothing left to try. I wondered if now was maybe the time to move. For once Tony agreed that it was either sink a ton more money into our current house to give the boys the first floor bedroom and bathroom they needed, or take the money and find a more suitable house.
Next week, part two; the new house. Link up your posts below with a link back to this post so your readers can find the rest of the Quick Takes. I look forward to reading your posts!