Just Hang The Darn Curtains

Our home is currently the site of an aggressive marketing campaign. Every door in the house, as well as the headboard of our bed and several walls are sporting hand-crafted posters, all bearing the same message: We want a dog.

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Apparently our children feel they have been in pet-limbo for long enough, and the Betta Fish–beloved as he is—is not meeting their snuggling and playing needs. Hence: Operation Wear Down The Parents. With Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs met, they are tackling their Hierarchy of Wants, and in their vision of what makes a house Home, a dog is high on the list. We’ve been putting it off for years.

Nearly four years, to be exact.

This Fall will mark four years since we bought our first house. Before then, our reason for not having a pet is that we were renting, and our lease agreements forbade pets. Then we bought a house, and found a new reason: we had two kids in diapers, and There’s Only So Much Poop Mama Can Handle. “Not until you’re potty trained,” we told the kids (a process that took YEARS longer than expected). But it finally happened, and with the potty-training obstacle removed, the real reason for our reticence was exposed: a dog is a long term commitment, and we didn’t want to make it. Not here, and not now.

The dog conversation has been tabled, but it raised another question for me: what else have I been putting off because I didn’t want to commit? As it turns out, a whole lot. Grateful as we were for our house, we have never thought it was the place we would stay in long-term, and as a result didn’t want to invest in it too deeply. Improvements—if any were to be made—were for the purposes of resale, not for our own enjoyment.

We’ve done things that needed to be done (like replace the A/C and the carpet which got doused with the neighborhood cat’s pee), but not much more. We have done no landscaping. We never hung curtains. The few artworks we own remain in the same places we put them when we first moved in, saying “it’ll do for now”. Part of this decorating malaise is certainly attributable to a my having 0% of Martha Stewart’s design genes and a pathological fear of Pinterest. But that’s not the deeper issue.  Thinking it wouldn’t be long until we moved house again, we didn’t commit to making this our home – a subtle but not insignificant reflection of our general tendency to find excuses to delay living fully in the moment.

We save a bottle of wine for “a special occasion”, and in doing so let multiple small but real opportunities for rejoicing pass by unnoticed. 

We buy a beautiful dress and keep it on the hanger, letting season after season go by without pulling it out and enjoying it just because we can.

We think of a friend we haven’t seen for a while and, wishing we could spend hours catching up, fail to send a text or call for a few minutes just to maintain connection. Months and years go by, and friendships wilt under our silent good intentions.

We see something that needs doing and, fearing we might not do it well enough, leave it undone.

We move into a house and, knowing we won’t want to live there forever, fail to live there well now.

This weekend I called a friend I haven’t spoken to in over a year, and while we were on the phone, I hung curtains. It took several trips to the store to get the right combination of mounting hardware and fittings, and the curtains aren’t perfect, but as we tumbled into bed last night after a weekend of team work, I looked up at the newly hung drapes in our room and couldn’t help but smile. The room that had felt like a workable “transitional bedroom” until we found the “home we really wanted” all of a sudden felt a lot more like our space.

Hang the darn curtains because THIS IS YOUR HOME RIGHT NOW. Break open the bottle of wine BECAUSE YOU’RE HAPPY. Wear the nice outfit just because it’s TUESDAY. Invite over the new person even though your house is messy BECAUSE WARM HOSPITALITY IS ALWAYS WELCOME. Call that friend, even if you just have five minutes: because never mind birds and bushes – A BRIEF TEXT IN THE HAND IS WORTH TWO IN THE DRAFTS FOLDER.

There’s value in investing in life now, even if our efforts are impartial and imperfect. As G.K. Chesterton said: “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”

Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.

Which includes my half-baked efforts at hanging curtains.

(But we’re still not ready for a dog.)

Martha Stewart and The Ghost of Christmas

 

Martha Stewart & The Ghost of Christmas Present

Confession: I am not one of those people who LOVES Christmas. I like Christmas, and I have good memories of family holidays and piles of gifts and too much food… but I was not one of those girls who just-couldn’t-wait to have a home of my own to turn into our personal winter wonderland each year. Much of this may have to do with the fact that I grew up in the Southern Hemisphere and our most popular Christmas Day activity was to go swimming at the beach, but I digress…

Our first Christmas as a married couple was spent in the USA, and it was the first year I felt the pressure to wave my Christmas wand and magically produce sparkle and memories and happiness in the living room. As it turned out, my Christmas wand had been snapped in two by the purse-string Grinch: we were broke. And Christmas sparkle costs. And even if we hadn’t been broke, I still don’t think I could have made it happen. Pinterest had not yet been invented, but I was already intimidated by it.

My knee-jerk reaction to the pressure was to boycott the whole thing. We don’t celebrate Valentines Day, we don’t decorate for the seasons – we could just add “not decorating for Christmas” to the list of ways in which I am Not Like Martha Stewart. (Also, I don’t bake brownies from scratch. And I can’t fold a fitted sheet, even though I watched the video a dozen times. And I don’t iron. Ever. That handsome genius going to a meeting in a crumpled shirt would be my husband. Sorry.)

But back to Christmas: in my heart of hearts I didn’t want to boycott it. I wanted a Christmas tree. No, I wanted a FABULOUS Christmas tree. I wanted something in my living room that would bring warmth to my hearth and literally put a twinkle in my eye. I wanted people who visited our little house to take a deep breath when they walked in and to say: “Wow! It’s Christmas in here! Your tree is gorgeous – I LOVE it!”

And that was when I realized what the problem was: I had been thinking about Christmas decorating as if it were for the guests who walked into our house. I was decorating so that OTHERS would love and admire it. I was looking for arts-and-crafty affirmation from friends, and feeling all tied up in knots because I KNOW I’m not arts-and-crafty enough to outbow outdecorate and outglitz anyone on Survivor Christmas Island.

It was at about 2am one December morning, as I sat nursing my firstborn child in a sleep-deprived haze, that the Ghost of Christmas Present gently pointed me in a better direction. I had been decorating with the hope that OTHERS would love it, and feeling frustrated that it wasn’t gorgeous enough and simultaneously snarky that I didn’t want to decorate anyway.

20131201-214304.jpgBut as I looked at our rustic (read: cheap) Christmas tree with its dim and gentle lights that morning – I LOVED it in all its quirky and quaint oddity, and the Ghost spoke to me: This is how you decorate. You decorate because YOU love it, and because those you love will love it. Decorate for your joy, for your family’s joy, and screw the rest.

Sometimes, the Ghosts of my imagination are quite rude. Occasionally, they are quite wise too.

The grinch has been fired, and Christmas decorating is no longer the emotional burden it was. Just as I can embrace that my house is not messy (I prefer to think of it as “well loved”), so too my house is not particularly Christmas-pretty. However, it IS decorated, and since I’ve set the bar really low, I always clear it.

Yesterday we dragged the Christmas tree down from the attic with our box of decorations. The kids put their less breakable art-project ones at the bottom, and we hung the glassy baubles at the top. Drape lights, affix star, and VOILA! Christmas in my house. We had a blast. The lights make me happy. We hung stockings on the banister. There is a wreath on the door. And we are DONE. Regardless of what anyone else thinks when they walk through the door, the important thing is that when WE come into our house we say “Wow! It’s Christmas in here! It’s home and we LOVE it!”

And you know what, friends? It is. And we do. Ghosts: be gone.