Renovations with Kids. What I’ve Learned.

Our house is being renovated. And I’m not talking a new paint job. I’m talking “rip-everything-out-renovated. You-can’t-live-there-while-they-do-that-renovated.”  Let me first say that I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do this and incredibly lucky to be able to live with my in-laws while the work is done. (Think of all the material I’ll get out of that living arrangement!)

This is the first time in my entire life I’ve been able to choose how my home will look. I’ve spent years in tiny New York City apartments, charmingly labeled “pre-war.” Do you know which war that refers to? World War II. Meaning, the apartment was built BEFORE about 1939 and most likely hasn’t been renovated since. Layers of different colored chipping lead-based paint, rusted sinks, and weird pink and green bathroom tiles are prime features.

So up until now, we’ve squeezed our growing family in these apartments, done what little surface decorating we could do, tested our kids for lead, and mostly just ignored how our habitat appeared.

Now,  we own our first actual house, after doing everything we could to meet the selling price. I get to choose things like tiles and appliances! It’s fun and a little daunting. And since we don’t have an unlimited budget, I’m doing a lot of the sort of researching, comparing, purchasing stuff that a full-service general contractor usually takes care of. So I thought I should share with you some of what I have learned during this process.

renovations with kids
FINALLY allowed to draw on the walls! (just before they are demolished!)

Construction site=Death trap

First rule of renovations with kids.

My youngest is three. She has no fear of injury or concept of death. On several occasions, I’ve had to take her to the house with me to meet vendors, etc. It is a miracle she is still alive. She’s tripped over wires and almost fallen into saws, picked up tools, eaten sawdust, and knocked over equipment. At first I thought I could just hold her the entire time, but between my bad back and her squirming, this plan never worked. We have resorted to keeping her strapped in her car seat, watching cartoons on my phone, and hurried meetings.

Renovations with kids
“Seriously, Mom. How long do you need to discuss tiles???”

Eight Year Olds Do Not Make Good Architects

My oldest is eight. He is delighted to be involved in this process. Unfortunately, he thinks he is also an adult and entitled to the same amount of input as his father and me, who are paying for this house. He listens to our conversations with the contractor for about thirty seconds before interjecting excitedly with, “I have an idea!”

Some of his best ideas included replacing an ugly staircase with a fireman’s pole and a mini-fridge in every room.

renovations with kids
“So, mom, like a trap door, would be great right here!”

Middle-Aged Men Have Some of the Same Ideas

My husband is a real “think outside of the box” kind of guy. It’s one of the things I love about him. But sometimes he promotes a ridiculous idea as if it’s the most normal thing in the world. (Remember when he wanted to build me a breast pump out of an aquarium pump and plastic tubing?) Some of his ideas during the renovation have included a dumbwaiter and (wait for it…) a model train that circumnavigates the house, carrying drinks and snacks.

renovations with kids
One of Daddy’s best ideas–new windows here!

Stressed Out Moms Have Their Own Demands

Lest you think I’m only ragging on my family, let me look at my own behavior during this renovation. I’ve always been relaxed by a hot bath so the one thing I dreamed of having is a more-luxurious-than-normal bathtub. The old bathtub in our house was some weird size that I could only sit in and barely recline. When we went to choose fixtures for our brand new master bath, (we’re finally getting more than one bathroom!) I was devastated to find out that the kind of tub I’d been dreaming of cost more than my first car. 

And so the quest began. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent scouring the internet looking for a way to afford the bathtub of my dreams without selling my soul to the devil. I became obsessed. One night, I awoke at 3 am, had an idea about how to stack coupon codes, and ran to my laptop to order my darling whirlpool tub. My son heard the keyboard clicking and stumbled out of bed to ask what I was doing. I then realized how crazy my behavior seemed… but not before clicking, “Buy.”

Disclaimer: I realize obsessing about getting a special-order bathtub is the epitome of a “First World Problem” when there are people in the world who don’t even have clean drinking water. I am fully aware of how lucky we are. Now that I think about it, there are people even in this country that don’t have indoor plumbing. Which brings me to…

Potty Training Doesn’t Go Well When There’s No Toilet

Our house had one bathroom for the four of us. In all of my adult life, I’ve never rented or owned a home with more than one bathroom. Now, we are renovating our house to have three! But none of them are operational yet. So whenever we have to go over there, there’s nowhere to “do your business.”

My daughter is being potty trained. Luckily, it’s summertime and her older female cousin taught her a technique for peeing in the grass. But pooping is a whole other story!

The other day I had to be at the house to receive a delivery. I was avoiding my daughter’s death by keeping her outside, playing in a sandpile. But she kept insisting she had to poop. Our nearest neighbor is almost a mile away, so that’s not an option.

And so she had to poop in the grass. Like a dog. Luckily I had wipes in the car. Poor girl. We’ve all had to make some sacrifices for this renovation.

renovations with kids
When mom and dad are taking too long talking to the electrician, so you take a nap on a discarded piece of cardboard.


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