That’s what I thought when we first turned the key to the new, old house. Eww. Uh-oh. What have we done? A thick layer of dirt and dust everywhere I looked. The floors, the blinds, the cabinets, the stairs, the porch. Dirty. And I guess I did not do a great job of concealing my disgust.
“This is a yucky house, Mommy.”
“No, no, Finn. It just needs a little cleaning,” I said. Cleaning that should have been done before I got here, I thought. “Let’s go down to the basement.”
“This basement is poison, Mommy.”
“Posion, huh?” I said, but I did not disagree with him. The cement walls and floor chipping away, dark rooms, old junk, rusty pipes, a toilet caked in…something…brown. Poison was a real possibility.
But the kids found the fun. Big, empty house with lots of doorways, lots of stairs, lots of room to run and chase and laugh after a long car ride. So they laughed as I cringed at the dust cloud that formed when they banged on the blinds, at the many wooden stairs they would now have access to and would no doubt be tumbling down head-first, at the hive of yellow jackets between the window panes in Finny’s room.
When we went out to the front yard, the yard of weeds and a rotting old stump, I laid it on thick in my discussion of the street.
“Finny, you must never, never, never go into this street. The cars will come very fast. And we must always watch Charlie and if you ever see him going into the street, you call to Mommy and you bring him back. Do you understand?”
And he did understand because he repeated this to me at least eight times over the next four days.
When we got back into the car, I bit my lip to keep from crying and told David to call the movers to move it back a day, so that I could clean, clean, clean.
And then I had to pull it together because they read me like a book, especially Finny, paying attention to every last worry that crosses my face and recording every last word I try to utter in confidence. My fears easily became his fears.
And the newness was frightening to him too. The first few nights, he trembled and screamed in his bed at what he imagined was a bug moving around in a spot on the wall where the window frame was pulling away from the wall. Bugs for Finny were suddenly everywhere he looked. Crumbs, fuzzers, spots in the hardwood. Bugs attacking him from all angles.
But we adjusted. We moved in. I wiped down the floors and cabinets and dusted the radiators, David filled in the hole where the window was pulling away from the wall, and my mom dusted every blind she could in the short time she was here. Slowly, but surely we are making it our home. We are putting things away and hanging things up and finding our favorite spots to sip coffee and eat Cheerios and build towers out of blocks and put together puzzles. Even the poison basement, with a carpet runner, a big Windex wipe down, and the door shut tight on the yucky old toilet, is not so poisonous after all.
The house, it turns out, is actually quite lovely. Stained glass windows, beautiful woodwork, big front porch, a view of Lake Calhoun from Finny’s bedroom window. Now that we’ve cleared away the dust, the charm is shining through, and our rented house on Irving Avenue is actually a pretty cool place to settle in for a while. Even despite a few new fears and worries.
A couple days ago before my mom left town, she noticed we had an ant problem in the dining room. After dropping her off at the airport, our big adventure for the day was to find a Home Depot and buy some bug spray. When we successfully found the Home Depot after a few detours, Finny told me I had won ten gold doubloons and we went home to put them in our team treasure chest.
But a few minutes later, Charlie wandered into the kitchen with a new word in tow. “Yu-Cky.
Yu-Cky. Yu-Cky,” he kept repeating as he backed into the kitchen away from the dining room.
“What’s yucky, Charlie?” And he led me to a spot on the dining room floor where an innocent old brownie crumb was hanging out. When I picked it up and put it my hand, he ran away from me in tears, “Yu-Cky! Yu-Cky!”
I laughed out loud. Charlie who drinks toilet water, Charlie who eats bird poop, Charlie who sticks his tongue in any dog bowl he happens upon is now grossed out by a brownie crumb?
We are teaching these little boys a lot of things and fear is one of the trickiest lessons. We have to get it just right. I want them to get over their fear of bugs, but not their fear of the street. I want them to learn to use the toilet, but not drink from it. I want them to be afraid of the water, but I want them to learn to swim. I don’t want them to fear the jungle gym, but I do want them fear the gaping holes at the top that they are not yet big enough to maneuver.
I want them to be full of fear…and then I want them to learn to overcome it.
And the best way to learn this is by trying something new.
By moving to Minneapolis.
By finding what’s yucky and scary and different…
and making it clean and fun and our own.