Monday, January 16, 2012

Update: on newlywed bliss and feathering the nest

Old tenants used this room as a messy dining room; we're making it a living room.
We’ve been in our new place for six weeks now. Believe it or not, I think we’ll be throwing the last cardboard box out this Monday. Despite the grander size of the new place (or at least, it feels bigger because it’s two storeys of a real old house in Hintonburg), it took a long time to find homes for everything. I am typically unpacked from a move within two weeks, but it just wasn’t possible this time; because the new place is laid out so very differently from the old place, it wasn’t the usual simple matter of unloading a ‘living room’ box into the new living room.  Each item had to find a proper home, sometimes in odd locations—my bakeware is in the living room closet, for example—and many ‘homes’ had to be built or rigged.

Old tenants left holes and chipped paint.
Brian really took the lead and shone as my housewarming hero by putting up a pot rack, new shelves in the bathroom, and various other hardware/hardwired things involving screws, nails, and levels. This freed me up to focus on layout, organization, and style, and consequently, we’ll be settling into our new digs, box-free, with about 50% of our decorating vision already realized. Without Brian, I wouldn’t have made it this far, I can tell you. As the various troubles we inherited came to light over the first week (holes in walls and ceilings, crooked floors, no heat, etc), I would find myself despairing, but Brian would be there in a flash, with a hammer and drill, distracting me with more spacial planning details. Thank god for Brian, or I would probably be sleeping on a pile of dirty laundry surrounded by boxes, whimpering quietly.

We patched and painted...looking good!
It’s taken me six weeks to realize that Brian is best left to these ‘broad stroke’ type of tasks, and that it’s self-defeating of me to put him on small detail duty. Yesterday I stuck him in the dining room and told him to sort through and stash a bunch of computer cables, a socket set, and a tangle of extension cords. I came back two hours later to find he’d wandered off after sort of nudging the piles around the floor. I realized that these last finishing touches will be my sole responsibility, even though it inevitably means that Brian will one day go looking for those computer parts and will be pissy when they aren’t where he left them…yes, in the middle of the dining room floor.

BEFORE shot: Old tenant's junk room (above) is becoming my office.
But it’s important, I’ve found, to establish what your teammate is good at, and then just let them be good at those things. For example, if Brian had met me, dated me, and then upon marrying me, had demanded I become skilled at geometry, we would have had quite the fight. I can no more measure an equilateral triangle than I can perform my own dental work, and the same is true of Brian and little details. He is a big picture fellow, and the sooner I embrace that, the better we will both feel. This is easier in word than deed, of course; naturally, I am weary of labelling storage boxes and arranging knickknacks, but I am more weary of harping at Brian for not doing these things well himself.

New Years - nice to get out, finally!
In the interest of full disclosure, I can tell you this is not quite what I’d thought that our ‘honeymoon period’ would look like. Currently, I’m working about fifty hours a week, winning the bread that keeps us going as Brian works his butt off back at college, where he (thank the heavens) is enrolled through a government grant for EI recipients. Between Bri’s school, my two jobs, blogging, volunteer work, and unpacking the house, we’ve been stressed out and not really enjoying each other’s company very much. My television upbringing tells me that the first year of marriage should start off with me as homemaker in a circle dress, baking casseroles and welcoming Brian home, his skinny tie and briefcase indicating his status as a young executive climbing the ladder. At night, we should light candles to eat by, then go out dancing or at least out for drinks, before curling up in bed together…and the camera fades to black. Wink.

So far, the first five months has started off with me running all over the city with two jobs that have a lot of travel, coming home to a half-time house-husband who is stressed out with studying and way too distracted to do much cooking or cleaning. I come home, throw on his old shirt and PJ pants, and attempt not to burn a tofu stir fry, then we both spend the evening arguing about how we’re going to store a Christmas tree when we’ve already squished all my linens onto a shelf with Brian’s ratchet set. We do fade to black in the evenings…but not with any winking innuendo. I mean, we literally pass out, sometimes still wearing the wrong pyjamas.

Strangely, though, as I write this out, I don’t feel despairing or distressed; I feel kind of like laughing. I think I was, indeed, stressing about all this, until the new year hit and I started making some changes. For one, I’ve started jealously guarding my weekends, committing at least one of the days to fun time. This is crucial, it turns out, because—who knew—we apparently like each other best when we’re having fun. Dating is a funny thing, isn’t it? You invest a couple years spending time with each other, primarily engaged in activities that would be enjoyable almost regardless of the company…and then you settle in with that person and suddenly the majority of your time together is spent on miserable tasks like paying bills, cleaning dishes, or grocery shopping. Play is vital to a happy relationship, and that’s a hard thing for an A-type like myself to remember. Generally, I operate like a sled dog: the harder the work, the better I feel. Well, I’m learning that relationships need a gentler touch, though I still insist we play hard, too.

I digress. The moment just recently that made me laugh a bit about the pitiful state of our honeymoon period hit me while I was finishing up the dining room. For lack of a better space, we’ve put our book shelves in there, and I was admiring the neatly organized books when I noticed the layers of cardboard stuffed under the righthand edges of both structures. It dawned on me that Brian had stuffed about two inches of cardboard under each bookshelf in an effort to straighten them out, because the house is so ridiculously slanted. As I wandered around the apartment, I realized that over half of our paintings and photographs have been weighted on one edge with taped-on pennies and bolts. (It’s an easy trick, just tape them behind the frame, not in front.) Again, this is an attempt to compensate for the crookedness of the leaning house. It dawned on me that everything in the house was jury rigged in these improvised ways; that my lemons-into-lemonade apartment is held together with packing tape and good wishes. For reasons I do not fully understand, this made me sublimely happy. Perhaps because it’s really like a little nest now, made out of spit and branches and mud.

We’re having a small housewarming gathering to kick off my 30th birthday month in a couple weeks. I think the place will be looking pretty swell by then. As for the two of us, well, I’m okay with the weird turn our newlywed journey’s been taking, but I’m pretty tired of finding upbeat ways of answering the question, “How’s married life?” as it’s posed to me a dozen times a week.

Maybe my answer should be, “Married life, like our nest, is off-kilter, exhausting, and held together with taped-up pennies.” After the circle skirts are stowed away and the casserole’s been eaten, isn’t that the bones of marriage, anyway? I shall strive to embrace my slanty little nest and my modern mishmashed marriage; it’s a little off-beat, but I think I like it.


  1. Love this post! Six years later I'm still reminding myself Eric isn't and never will be good at certain things no matter now much I want him to be. He wasnt before and being bitchy at him isn't going to change that :)

    1. Good to know I'm not the only one who had to *learn* that we can't nag new skills into our loved ones. :) Thanks, Lara!

  2. Hi Jordan,
    Since your weekends are so precious. I would like to invite Brian to the wet felting workshop. If you wish you can both work on the same piece? Let me know what you think.

    1. Annie, this is lovely! I was okay either way but when Brian heard your offer, he was STOKED to help create! We'd love to work on our piece together. Thank you so very much! -Jordan

  3. I relate so well to this. It's been 11 years, but I remember those first few months being such an enormous shift in my life. It's funny how a piece of paper that declares you legally bound to each other has such a momentous impact on the way you think and how you go about the same life you had before. You guys will figure it all out and if you feel like you're getting off-kilter, just blame it on the slanty apartment. ;)

    1. Ha, Karen, I love this! I frequently do blame my woes on the Lemon Apartment. :) Like the hotel in The Shining, thought hopefully never THAT bad. :P