Friday, March 30, 2012


Tonight we reclaimed the living room and the dining room after more than two months of renovations that are not complete but at a standstill in the face of Passover. Our black and red leather couches -- covered by the coats that had been removed from our front hallway to allow access to the construction crew -- shyly reintroduced themselves to us in their naked glory. Our long wooden Ikea dining room table -- pushed up against the far wall -- reasserted herself in the middle of the room, stretching out luxuriously, like a cat or a princess or a beautiful woman posing for a master painter, nude and unashamed.

To achieve this transformation, the long, narrow Upper West Side corridor between Little Babe and Middle Babe's post-college bedroom was temporarily filled with the boxes, clothing and artifacts that had cluttered our two common living spaces.

We will deal with the hallway traffic after the holiday. Then, we will slowly unpack, weed out what is worthy and decide what to do with the rest.

Unless something is broken or heinous, I prefer to hang onto my possessions. In Manhattan, such a preference is a great liability.

Urban dweller though I am, my soul yearns for a sprawling home with an attic and a basement and too many closets to count. Returning my exiled coats to overly heavy coat hooks, squeezing dresses and blazers into closets that are stuffed like rush hour subway cars, I feel frustrated by the constraints of space in our apartment: the classic New Yorker's lament.

These past couple of months were dislocating as renovations tend to be, both practically and metaphysically. For three weeks, HOBB and I slept in the living room. For two weeks, so did Little Babe and Middle Babe, respectively.

From the dislocation, there were lessons learned -- some sweet and some bitter. HOBB and I found ourselves in rare agreement over the new configuration of our bedroom, resulting in a space that feels thrillingly new. The three weeks we spent sleeping in the living room felt like a camping trip; we imagined ourselves teenagers playing a trick on time, a boyfriend and girlfriend on the lam -- something that could never have been possible due to our 11-year age difference. 

Yet as our living quarters became closer and more stressful, it was impossible to ignore some of the patterns of dysfunction within the Bungalow Bunch. There were behaviors that surprised me and made me angry. There were assumptions and demands I found unreasonable. There was less family cooperation than I had expected.

There were evenings where, pensive and exhausted, I fantasized that the newly-painted walls, restored ceilings and perfect wooden floors were mine alone to enjoy. I imagined repurposing the apartment to my specifications, finally having the office space I craved, the drum studio I dreamed of, the exercise room I coveted. I imagined coming home whenever I wanted, never rushing out of the gym before I was able to complete at least an hour on the elliptical or treadmill or having to pop into Trader Joe's or Fairway when I didn't really want to.

I imagined stretching out in the freshly painted space, occupying the Urban Bungalow, marking it, making it my own, teaching the apartment to breathe in rhythm to my own inner clock.

But these are entirely age-appropriate fantasies, after all, I am, by rights, almost an empty nester, with my two oldest children finished with college and my youngest child at the tail end of his Junior year in high school. Adapting the jokey prayer from Fiddler on the Roof, I found myself thinking, "God bless and keep my family...far away from me."

Still, I was completely overjoyed to give Little Babe the room he deserved after years of living in Big Babe's room, replete with the possessions his big brother left behind when he moved to Berlin. As we moved furniture and possessions back into his room -- choosing to throw out the wooden This End Up bed frame that traveled with us from our house in New Rochelle, bought when Big Babe was four years old, in favor of a mattress-on-the-floor that jived more with Little Babe's rock musician persona and possessions -- I felt that something wrong had been set right. 

Similarly, I see the transformation of Middle Babe's room from little girl lair with a loft bed into a sunny, sophisticated studio as a practical and positive move. Emotionally wrenching though it was for her to bid farewell to "loftalvania" -- the little kingdom she called her own, seven feet off the floor -- it was a necessary sacrifice. The open layout and newly mauve walls make it an ideal guest room but the space is hers while she figures out the choreography of her post-college life.

Though Big Babe moved out of our apartment months after graduating from college five years ago, his influence is palpable in the thousands of books that we stacked inside our tiny second bathroom while his room was being transformed into Little Babe's man-cave.

On Sunday, with the help of a Columbia student, I plan to box the books and put them in storage, together with his clothes and other possessions, our suitcases and the treadmill I bought on Craigslist seven years ago which never found a good spot in our home but which I refuse to part with.

The storing of Big Babe's stuff, more than anything else, seems a dramatic step towards our empty-nest phase. Except possibly the tossing of our kids' old school notebooks and the toys we discovered on top of the loft in our bedroom -- similarly removed -- which we didn't even know we still had.

This apartment -- the Urban Bungalow -- has hosted so much life and parties and dinners and strife and homework and music and food and holidays and celebrations and sad commemorations. There has been the laughter of kids at sleepovers and the angst of sleepless nights and everything that lies between. There has been the clutter of family life, messy and marvelous. 

Though typically sentimental, I do not long for what was, but look forward to what lies ahead.

This is not a farewell to a beloved home but a hello to its next incarnation.

And an exercise room, drum studio and actual office with a door that closes sounds like a fine plan to me.

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