Some families choose to take extravagant vacations, such as to the Grand Canyon or maybe a week-long cruise. My fondest family “vacation” was of a different breed. Nine years ago, my parents had cooked up a grand scheme to invest in a property and build the home of their dreams in a neighborhood called—don’t laugh—Honeymoon Hill. As the dream was launched in earnest, so too was our trip of a lifetime, as our family of five pressed tightly into the vehicle that would take us there: our foray into general contracting.
Home Number 1 gradually morphed into the construction management office for Home Number 2, and the place where we normally ate soon became affectionately known as the Dining Room Dump Site, a sort of catchall basin littered with artists’ renderings and product samples. Estimates and contracts. Folders and business cards. Carpet swatches and paint chips. You get the idea.
As Home Number 2 began to take shape, it siphoned our attention so that our primary home became the place where we merely slept. The three of us children were enlisted as soon-to-be-skilled laborers, with varying emphasis on the word skill. I quickly learned that personality characteristics are readily displayed in the way an individual chooses to paint a wall. Some stake their claim, refusing to allow others to encroach on their territory. Others systematically tackle the painting of their wall, working from top to bottom in an organized fashion. And one among the group may lose interest comparatively quickly, drawing smiley faces and signing his name while analyzing the personality traits of those painting around him.
Envision a vacationing family gathered in a tent in the Adirondacks after a pleasant day of rafting and hiking. Air mattresses have been inflated, and some of the clan may doze only lightly as they listen for marauding bears to emerge from the surrounding forest. In Home Number 2, we camped on air mattresses too, with similar nighttime vigilance but without the thrill of a state park adventure. With locks not yet installed, we were keeping protective watch over the valuable new kitchen appliances.
Of course, a journey of this length doesn’t come without a few lessons learned. I came to understand that paint would never be removed from denim, no matter how many laundry cycles I subjected it to. I learned to cringe—or hide—when my parents began a Saturday morning with the question “What do you have planned for today?” I came to appreciate that there is a subtle difference between Shelburne Buff and Waterbury Cream (because my mother told me so). We learned two other important lessons when my dad attempted to demonstrate his skills as an amateur aerialist, trying to shingle a roof with an 8/12 pitch, 45 feet in the air: safety is indeed important, and sometimes money is well spent in the hiring of a professional.
And a Mother’s Day dinner served on a makeshift table—an uninstalled door—could actually taste far better at the end of a long day’s work than the everyday meals we remembered back at Home Number 1. At least that’s the way it will be recalled in the mental scrapbook. Most importantly perhaps, I learned that my family can certainly forgive each other’s barks in close quarters. Over the excruciatingly long road, our raw nerves meant nothing more than that this project had begun to matter to each of us, in our own way.
When we finally “arrived,” after 28 months, the resort we now call home exceeded all the hype of the travel brochure, and our family not only survived the odyssey but grew closer because of—or maybe in spite of—it. But as anyone who has ever taken a family vacation can attest, the trip wouldn’t be complete if someone in the back seat hadn’t asked, multiple times along the way, “Are we there yet?”
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