Lessons from the Big House in the Big(ger than I Thought) Woods

Today was the first day up at the farm for me and the kids.*

Since close on Wednesday, Josh has been doing some of the urgent things:  getting the house de-winterized so we'd have water, getting the inspections scheduled, contacting a roofer, getting keys made for when we lose the one set they gave us.  Type thing.  Of course everything turns into a couple of things--task rabbits.  Dewinterizing meant finding a plumber because the winterizer company broke a pipe and refused to come fix it; it meant nailbiting worriedly as the $120/hour plumber no-lie NEEDED five hours to get the two scary houses dewinterized; it meant getting one out of three toilets in the big house working,** getting parts for the others, and making a mental note not to use the one toilet at all because of a sketch flooring situation beneath it.

I'd been pretty jazzed all week to get to the house, mostly because of a set of photos that Josh showed me of our house, all empty and waiting for us.  Josh would take care of the icky toilety things and I would come in and, likely in a day or less, set up a new big house in our own little woods. Because that's how good someone gets arranging and tidying after 41 showings! I'd just take my perfectly well-behaved children for a little picnic day up at the Big House in Our Big Woods.  They wouldn't mind the hour drive, but would fill it with homework, audiobooks, and elevating yet peaceful conversation. 

Big House in the Little Woods

Big House in the Little Woods


As a professor, I believe deeply in life-long learning, and today was full of several the raw materials of said learning: conundra and teachable moments.

And a few gleaned lessons: 

1. The pictures your husband sent you, of the, sure, rough, but still ACHINGLY adorable 19th-century house and all its fun storage can NEVER do justice to two really important features of it:  1. stench and 2. true, disgusting filth.

2. An eight year old's nearly perfect competence at playing outside alone in a suburban half-acre yard is not, in fact, a predictor of whether or not that child can avoid the following yard-playing missteps:

  • wandering off in 32 acres of pricker woods without telling you while you slave over aforementioned stench and filth
  • wandering off the edge of your woods into some other stranger's woods that abuts a frisbee golf course
  • crying adorably in front of the strangers he finds on said frisbee golf course such that they will call the police, who insist that the strangers NOT LEAVE THE BOY (even when his mother, hoarse with calling and scraped all over with prickers, shows up and clasps him to her sweaty bosom), thus requiring you, who have now left your OTHER child in the hands of the kind (but still stranger) neighbor while your phone leeches its last 7% of power, to wait anxiously for the law, worrying how you're going to prove ownership of a child.

3. Police car backseats are straight-up hard plastic. Not even a tiny bit of cushion.

4. Apparently, you can sweep some rooms three times with no discernible diminution of dirt volume.

5. It takes a really long time to passably disinfect every cupboard surface in even a modest kitchen, especially when you have to pause to imagine in detail all the ways your child, whose name you are meanwhile screaming out with all the pathos appropriate to your deep love, could be disappeared, injured, kidnapped, or dead on your watch. 

7. I find myself utterly convinced that doing such disinfection (cobweb sweep, mouse poop and dirt sweep, and a disinfectant wash) is bare minimum necessary to put even our BOXES in there.

Thus, revised goals.  We have a month till we close with the selling of our house in the suburbs.  By then, I will seek to have one house in a condition such that that I'm not scared to a) be in it after dark and b) sleep there through the night. 

Tonight, as I knead a loaf of bread to thank kind neighbor G for all his help with the whole "losing a kid on my first day in the big house in the big woods" thing, my chest feels weird. It's harder than usual to take a deep breath. I think: was there mold at the big house? Is this the Mr. "Neon-Chemical" Clean making its vile way into my lungs? Is breathing in vinegar baking soda dishsoap tincture bad for you?  Then I remember--I know exactly what it feels like: like I've been swimming all day in the deep end of the pool.

*The farm consists of like 20 acres of fields and things, 30 acres of forest, and 5 acres of houses and buildings.  All of the houses and buildings and things are in terrific shape--by which I mean, TERROR-INDUCING.  The farm house (near the fields) was formerly rented by really angry hoarders who left it in a state so bad that the dewinterizing plumber gagged several times, Josh's chest hurt after opening the fridge, and Josh won't even TELL me all the things he's seen there. The little house (in the woods)  is rented by G., a really nice guy, who seems most of all glad to have a place where he can  live in the woods, and just be at peace.  But we don't know much about it, the house.   The big house (in the woods right next to G's place) is a lovely American foursquare once owned by CC. Miller, the great bee-keeper. It  has, in G's opinion, "never had a good tenant" and seems to have animal waste products over a period of years, soaking into most of the surfaces. There is a fine grained dirt covering every surface, like a dust-bowl storm has come through, and it smells like there's a cat-pee rug in every room, even though there are no rugs.  Oh, and we've been strictly warned that there are "foundation issues" even though no one will say anything about what those issues are.

**the term "working" here should not be assumed to connote an apparatus around which you'd feel comfortable pulling down your pants, but rather solely and strictly to denote flushability.