May 26 2015 04:05 PM

A kitchen re-do can be emotionally exhausting

Aaryn Belfer

It was sometime during the early- to mid-'80s when my mother took our kitchen down to the studs. I was between the ages of 12 and door-slamming angst, which, come to think of it, may or may not be all that temperamentally different than the me of today. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

The total renovation has come to be known in family lore as the Summer of Domino's: A bittersweet season in which a six-week enterprise turned into a six-month calamity. We were already in perpetual upheaval following my father's exit a couple years earlier. Now, our gutted and discombobulated house was the physical embodiment of what was happening in our hearts. I distinctly remember whipping up Stouffer's Frozen Dinners and Betty Crocker Stir and Frost cakes in a microwave that had come to live on a bookshelf in the living room. But that "summer," my shattered little family subsisted on a preposterous number of pepperoni pizzas. To this day, it is comfort food.

I've tried to prepare myself emotionally as my husband and I embark on our own kitchen renovation. Like becoming a parent, this experience is giving me an enormous appreciation for what my mother accomplished, and with so little. We haven't even knocked down the first wall but the breathtakingly expensive act of purchasing a sink and all the accoutrements has caused me to phone my mother (previously referred to in these pages as The Gaydi Project), to repeatedly apologize. In so many conciliatory tones, I offer my deepest regret for having drummed like Sheila E. with a steel kitchen knife against the brand-new, chrome, swan-neck faucet my mother had installed. Of course, I lied about having made the hundreds of tiny scratches that ignited her fury, little reminders that she couldn't own anything nice with kids around. I would let my brother take the blame for those marks for more than 20 years.

Anyway. It was while she was raising three kids and working as many jobs, that The Gaydi Project became the general contractor for the massive overhaul of my childhood home. I had an epiphany recently that I am going to have my very own Summer of Dominoes as one thing (the need to frame out a space for new cabinets) leads to another (must move the water heater), leads to another (moving the water line), leads to another (purchase of a tank-less water heater), leads to another (is there power on that side of the house?). Let me just tell you that an electrical panel upgrade ranks right up there with new bras on the Expenditure vs. Gratification line graph.

"You have seen The Money Pit, haven't you?" my mother asked when I told her about the sales-guy-in-reverse at Standard Plumbing who talked us out of buying anything at his store. Or about the absurd process of obtaining anything that's been backordered at IKEA. Or about our uncountable visits—made exponentially greater thanks to the back-order issue—to that awful place where there is no shortcut to the kitchen area. (Believe you me, I've tried every possible path and never failed to end up following the white arrows, skulking along behind the Duggars and their 19 children slurping soft serve and gliding aimlessly while stopping to touch All Of It. WHY DO YOU HAVE TO TOUCH ALL OF IT?)

And then...then there are the IKEA kitchen experts. What to say about them? 

Those salespeople have no fucks to give. Not one. They do not care about the fact that the CAD system is down. They do not care that their colleague told you yesterday the exact opposite of what they are telling you today. They do not care about any of the middle-aged ladies in their lip gloss and over-priced jeans arguing with their grey-goateed husbands in their Tommy Bahama shirts. After my eleventeenth trip to that paradise, I couldn't help but wonder how many kitchen upgrades have been ditched in favor of a trip to the divorce lawyer instead. 

Fortunately, during the Summer of Domino's, my mother was already divorced, a status that freed her from such renovation-induced marital conflicts. It also freed her to sleep with her contractor, who moved in, lived with us for two years, and was never late for work. (For the record: He was awesome and I adored him. Also for the record: I won't be sleeping with you, Sean. Please do a solid job, anyway, okay?) 

The kitchen reno, as it's called in contemporary circles, wrapped up mere moments before Thanksgiving that year, when the long-delayed stove arrived just in time for turkey baking. (The stove was its own mini-drama and had to be powder coated at the last minute.) We did not have Domino's pizza for dinner any more that year, or the next, a reality quickly noted by the local store manager. My mother received a concerned letter from him asking what they'd done to cause such a sudden and precipitous drop in orders from our house, which was now whole and functional, just like my mother, my brothers and I hoped to be some day.

Email Aaryn Belfer. Aaryn blogs at and you can follow her on Twitter @aarynb.


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