One of the stories that I remember from childhood was “Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving. The story takes place at the foot of the Catskill Mountains in New York. It’s about a well-liked man who does all he can to avoid doing actual work. His wife is portrayed as a nagging woman who constantly chastises him for his laziness. His home and farm fall into disarray while he wanders happily about town playing with the kids and telling tall tales at the local bar.
Eventually he wanders off into the woods where, after a rousing bowling game and shared drink with some Dutch men he encounters (the ghosts of Henry Hudson’s crew), he falls asleep under a tree. The rest of the story is how he wakes up to discover that he’s been asleep for twenty years. He returns to his village. His now adult daughter takes him in and he continues life much as before, wandering about town being amiable. Henpecked husbands everywhere would daydream of falling asleep in the very same woods.
I fantasize about falling asleep for a week, only to wake up to contractors reporting that they’ve finished the kitchen, cleaned the gutters, painted the downstairs and snaked all of our drains. For free. When we first married, my husband and I were ambitious. The deck got stained regularly, new gardens were put in, rooms were painted. We were “do-it-yourself” people and proud of it. I’d spend all day hauling dirt and mulch and tracking down unique, native plants. He’d be out in the garage coming up with a plumbing solution or installing shelving.
Cut to eight years and one child later. Icicles hang from the eaves due to uncleaned gutters. Blueberry bushes have been nibbled to the ground by rabbits since the gardens weren’t fenced. Our kitchen remains unfinished after six years of starting the project. The garage is a mess due to hasty work for a guest room this summer – the flotsam of drywall, trim and the things removed, in order to lay carpet, are still lying about. Our deck badly needs to be stained. Rooms need to be patched and painted. We live in Rip Van Winkle’s house.
Working from home, writing, parenting, doing housework, gardening and grocery shopping take up most of my “free” time, while the big projects have been put off, renegotiated or forgotten. But I’m painfully aware of the neglected projects. Now we’re in a maintenance mode that I find slightly embarrassing. We’re beyond the superficial appearance mode and heading into the “things will start to break and shit will fall on our heads” mode.
One of the things I look forward to, when my paid work ends, is turning a new eye to our surroundings, to our shelter and sanctuary. We’ve pondered hiring out some of the work to be done, with the upside that we can spend the next thirty years bitching about someone else’s shoddy workmanship rather than our own. The downside is that we miss the satisfaction of solving problems and making things better through our own ingenuity and hard work. There is something immensely satisfying, almost bordering on spiritual, about taking care of your surroundings.
I’ll be the first to admit that working as a team has never been one of my strengths. My husband, I think, is disappointed by this fact. I imagine that for the first ten years that he lived in this house on his own, he daydreamed about a partner who would joyfully hand him tools and nod agreeably as he went on to the next phase of the project. What he got was someone as argumentative and set in her ways as he is in his. And nothing breaks a deadlock better than doing nothing.
I’ve attempted the “I’d rather apologize than get permission” mode to get a few things done on my own, but I think things have reached the point where we need to get our act together. I’ve started to make a list of small projects I can complete over the winter, in the hopes that we can take on some bigger projects in the spring. First, though, I’m going to take a nap. May it be a long one.