February “Vacation” Week

Jim, my husband, teaches sixth grade. Will, my son, is in fifth grade. This is February vacation week for both of them, but I think Will is actually having a bit more of a vacation experience than Jim.

Jim is renovating our pantry/laundry center/storage of miscellaneous items room. You know the room. You may have one yourself. It’s not exactly a showpiece.

Jim started vacation week with a weekend dash to Connecticut to visit his mother. He didn’t ask those of us who remained at our posts to prep for his “vacation project” but we decided to pitch in any ways. Even after I convinced him to do half this project now and half during his April vacation, it felt like what he had planned for phase one was a bit ambitious, as in no time for eating or sleeping.

One child and I spent Sunday taking all the food out of the pantry, sorting it by categories, and putting the sorted boxes in our playroom. Several other children, who will remain nameless, spent the day rooting through the boxes for the food necessary to sustain themselves through an arduous day of sleeping in and having friends over.

When Jim arrived home on Monday morning, he went right to his work zone. Within hours all the miscellaneous stuff I hadn’t sorted was deposited in our living room. After all, the playroom was already full. Jim also demolished the pantry floor and most of the pantry shelving too. He was a man with a mission.

We call our pantry “Jim’s office”. When he wants to have a tete a tete within any of us, he calls us into the pantry with the words, “Please step into my office.” This is his undisputed headquarters. Why? Because St. Jim does the laundry.

The room was under designed for our group. Before Monday, it contained a teeny tiny table for laundry sorting, shelves too narrow for anything but a modest volume of food, and a multi purpose area whose life story would be entitled “A Place who does too Much.” We had only two small children when we designed and built the house. At one point this past weekend, there were eight young adults in residence. You do the math.

The aesthetics of Jim’s office were none too hot either. The pantry was assembled on a shoestring budget. Asbestos tiles seemed like a real splurge. On Monday morning, I noted Jim’s glee as he tossed one splurge after another out of the pantry and onto a trash heap.

Monday night found Jim spackling the sheet rock holes left when he pulled off the shelving. This was in preparation for repainting the room Tuesday. I supervised his spackling for a very few moments then joined the rest of the family in front of the TV for some Olympic knitting. It was convenient that snacks could be reached without leaving our seats. I tried not to wig out that people had been messing with my sorting systems. The box of chocolate foods was moved closer. That kept me quiet.

Tuesday was a haze of paint fumes, wiring problems, trips to Jim’s favorite hardware store, and pleasant searches for breakfast, lunch, and dinner ingredients. The big drama of the day was a small flood at midnight. One child, who will remain nameless, suddenly realized that life on this planet would not continue unless a certain piece of her wardrobe was washed and dried immediately. The washer and dryer that had been moved for construction reasons were pushed back towards their original position, but not quite. Sadly, a drainage pipe disengaged from the out take pipe and the pantry flooded. More laundry was created while mopping the newly exposed plywood sub floor.

I have no idea what will happen today. Jim has come through our office once to check that we haven’t suffered any power outages. Apparently the main house has experienced some problems. I thought it best not to ask for details.

Jim’s mania for doing everything himself should not come as a surprise to me. He comes by it honestly. I met Jim when we were both eleven. He was the new boy in my fifth grade class, having just moved from Jamestown, Rhode Island to Mansfield Center, Connecticut where I grew up. It took me until I was seventeen to get his attention, but it was worth the effort.

The first time his family’s Do It Yourself ethic came to my notice was Thanksgiving vacation of my senior year in high school. Jim came to my house, late for a date, with some strange story of being held up because his father and uncle had everyone in the family fixing a septic system problem by carrying five gallon buckets of you know what up into the woods behind his house. My mind boggled. Still does, actually.

My family of origin was the exact opposite. No one fixed anything. Until then, I had not realized what a shiftless bunch of relatives I had. Once I met the Sheehans it was inescapably obvious that we were a pampered group. For starters, my mother had an ironing lady, cleaning lady, painter on retainer, lawn person, team of builders, and a stone mason. Jim’s mom had herself.

Thank goodness for the Sheehan family’s talents and willingness to roll up their sleeves and help with any task. Jim’s father and uncle wired our house. They showed Jim how to do all the plumbing. The two men also taught him how to frame, roof, insulate a house, do finish carpentry and execute all the other tasks associated with building a house . Basically they were on unpaid retainer for several years. The women in the Sheehan family also pitched in by endlessly sweeping the construction site and helping me shingle the outside of the house. We never could have done it without them.

Nowadays, it’s a little hard to get Jim to slow down his project mania. Once it was a necessity. Now, I point out, it’s an option. The house is wonderfully livable. The office building is fabulous. Jim remains unconvinced that there can be a pause in projects. His favorite conversation is what to do with the kitchen when he blows out the south wall of the house and makes it bigger by 120 square feet or so. Meanwhile, I would rather knit than clean a bigger house.

Good news! I have just seen Jim and Will go by the office windows on their way somewhere. Will reports they are going to a movie! Its 1:30 pm and they are going to the movies! After 26 years of marriage, Jim is having a unSheehan moment!

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