Trading Spaces

Not the wildly popular 90’s TV series that launched a million homeowner dreams of impossible makeovers and a generation of buyers who fall asleep with visions of shiplap dancing in their heads.

I'm talking about a real life trade of spaces when I moved back into the house I used to share with my ex-husband and our children.  Yeah, it's different.  Except shiplap.  That's the same.  There is shiplap at my house.  

This month marks two years since I moved back into my house as a single mom with co-parent.  

A bit of context, I decided to give my blog, Build Like a Girl, a makeover and remove it one step from the Garman Homes and Fresh Paint brands because I wanted the freedom to talk about building things other than a home.  I wanted to talk about building a life in addition to companies, homes, and brands.  I wanted to write about what it feels like to RE-build a life.  Turns out I have some first hand experience at this.  So this entry falls under that new broadened umbrella - I'm still building like a girl - right now,  I'm in the midst of building a new life with my three girls.

Initially, I moved out of the house I shared with my ex-husband and kids.  And then I moved back and he moved out.  I'm skipping parts but I'm giving you the gist.  What I’ve learned in the past two and a half years is we each have our own narratives about what happened and out of respect for each narrative and each person’s truth, it’s best to stick to agreeable facts.  

So that’s when we traded spaces.  When I moved back into our old house and the girls’ dad moved to an apartment and eventually a townhouse.

When I moved back in I felt a tremendous responsibility to do two things at the same time:

1.  To make the physical space inside our home reflect our new normal.

2.  To honor the history and memories we all shared inside this home.

You know, no pressure.

As builders, we can create spaces from scratch that reflect a specific purpose all day long.  We start with that intention and we carry it through to completion.  But, to transform a space for a new purpose can be a little trickier so I started slowly.  

I started with the physical space - specifically, the formal living and dining rooms because I couldn’t see the point of either in our new life together.  The formal dining became an art room because my kids love to create and draw and paint.  And because our new normal was a departure from the rules - it gave me permission to use the space however we wanted.  Resale value be damned!

The formal living became a mudroom of sorts...I used vintage lockers for backpacks and coats, I anchored the room with a small pink couch to send the ‘all girl household’ message loud and proud and I kept the children’s playroom table and chairs in there because that’s where they’ve always been.  And also because I wasn’t ready to let go of that image of them playing there, just yet.  

We all adjusted well.  They love the art room.  They tolerate my demands for the mudroom - although there is so much stuff in those lockers and none of it belongs there.  As parents we can really try for organized but low level chaos is more often the norm.  

This year I decided I would repurpose the Bonus Room we no longer use.  And in pursuit of that, we had to clean out the IKEA playroom storage furniture in there.  Initially, I didn’t think it was going to be an emotional process but once we came upon all the books we read them as children, the whole experience took on a different tone.

One by one they pulled out all the books we read them as kids: You’re All my Favorites, The Adventures of Frog & Toad,  Owl Babies,  The Witches Ball, The Okay Book and Room on the Broom.  And with each book, a flood of memories.  How their dad was the best at Frog & Toad and how he giggled the whole way through the story because he loved their adventures. How in a rare departure from being the serious parent, I gave all the Owl Babies new potty humor names [Poopicus, Tooticus and Farticus - plus the Mama Owl, Gaseous].  How one year for Halloween we all dressed up like the Witches from The Witches Ball.  Their memories were happy and sad.  Far away but near enough to relive it all so clearly.  How in the world were we going to part with these books?   

It was easy.  We weren’t.  This was what it looked like to honor their history and the memories shared inside this home. None of us was ready to let those memories leave the house, our hearts, or our minds.  We could all keep living together.  In this new normal.

We packed them up instead.  Safely inside the closet that used to be their dad’s.  

Two years in I think I was surprised to feel that tension between transforming our physical spaces while honoring memories so acutely. I guess it had just been a long time between emotional landmines. Maybe that was the crux of it..I can usually anticipate those moments but I didn't see this one coming.

I've learned it can all exist together - the past, the present and the new normal - however we choose to define it. These days it feels less about the physical space and more about the space we give each other to be exactly who we need to grow into our best selves...and to let our physical spaces continue to evolve and reflect what we need to stay inspired, connected and most importantly, to just be together.

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