Friday, March 16, 2007

House Anxiety

This morning, while we looked through the paper and had breakfast, my wife and I talked about what we’ve talked about most mornings for the last few weeks. Our downspouts.

Actually, I was the only one talking about our downspouts. My wife, bless her, just listened patiently and only rolled her eyes once or twice.

I’ve developed a little bit of an obsession with our downspouts over the past few weeks. It was a brutal February where we live—long stretches of below-zero cold, some big snowstorms, and in general, there was a feeling of being under siege. Winter always makes me a little crazy, but this year my anxieties rose to a whole new level. My downspout obsession is a good example. One of our downspouts froze solid for a stretch of about seven feet and stayed that way for a few really cold weeks. The seams of the downspout were splitting and water seeping out and freezing again and big icicles running down the house. I had never seen such a thing happen before, and I was pretty sure it was a bad thing. In fact, as long as I had that big block of ice attached to the back of my house, I really couldn’t bring myself to believe that my world was a safe one. Something had to be done. I ended up detaching the downspout from the gutter and using a board to direct the meltwater away from the house. It worked pretty well, but as my wife can tell you, I still went out back to check on the arrangement approximately hourly.

Like I said, I was developing a little bit of an obsession.

You have to understand that home repairs seldom seem like simply home repairs to me. They often seem more like a kind of threat to my family.

We moved into this house, our first house, not long after my son was born, so that the new house and the new family seemed all part of the same momentous and life-altering event. Like most novice parents and homeowners, I was overwrought and self-absorbed and got way too wrapped up in my domestic world. Our house started to seem like the very substance, the manifestation of the life our family was trying to build together. This was going to be the place where we watched our boy take his first steps. This was going to be where we romped in the yard and dozed on the porch. This was going to be the perfect place to launch our new lives.

Put that kind of ridiculous burden on a house and of course it’s going to start faltering. And when things start needing fixing, that registers for me as some kind of test. And so what for most people might be ordinary house trouble--the kind of thing you take care of in a few spare hours, or call someone to take care of for you--ends up being a source of anxiety for me, having to do with my ability to protect my family.

When the thaw finally came, about 18 inches of snow started running off our roof and down the gutters. The downspouts were thawing, too, but they were dumping this flood of water in places that didn’t want any more water. And so I started messing around with the downspouts again, rigging up some extensions and redirecting things to move the water away from the house.

If your eyes are glazing over as I tell this downspout story, you can probably appreciate what my wife has been through over the last few weeks, watching me act out my downspout obsession and then having to listen to me explain why my latest solution was a brilliant piece of engineering.

The good news is that the downspouts are working perfectly now and the ground is firming up and everything seems to be getting back to normal. The family is safe.

Except last night, the furnace sounded kind of funny.

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