15: Thumbs Up!

15: Thumbs Up!

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Home Sweet Home

Thumbs Up!

Family: A social unit where the father is concerned with parking space, the children with outer space, and the mother with closet space.

~Evan Esar

Jack and I spent eight years gut renovating our little suburban farmhouse. We built red oak floor-to-ceiling cabinets in the entrance, added wide plank floors, constructed new kitchen cabinets and counters, and even put in a dunking claw foot tub in the small guest bath. It was perfect! Well, it would have been perfect except that we had outgrown it now that Emma was six, Tucker was four, and Sam, our puppy, was now a sixty-five-pound Lab.

To test the waters we decided to put our house on the market ourselves. We figured it would take two to three months to sell. To our surprise (and fear) it sold in two days. We knew we had to act fast.

We called a real estate agent to show us houses. Jack and I were very specific about the property we wanted. We wanted a dead-end street (or a “cul-de-sac” as they say in Connecticut). Something private, with just enough land where the kids could play with Sam and I could plant the perennial garden I had dreamed of all my adult life. We loved the idea of finding the perfect location and then transforming the house that accompanied it into what suited us. We also wanted to stay in Stamford.

Jack and I sat down with the kids and explained that we had outgrown our house and that we thought it would be fun to start looking for a new place. We asked each of the kids to tell us what things they would want in their dream house.

And when I say dream house, their desires were just that. Dreams. Emma wanted enough land for a horse and paddock, a lake to fish in and a forest to keep a real-life Simba lion. Tucker also wanted a lake where he could keep a fishing boat like his Grandpa’s, plus a cave to explore with his many Batman action figures and Sam.

After culling through dozens of listings, Jack and I found fifteen properties we were interested in. They were scattered all over town and I knew it would be hard coordinating the hunt. Jack was in town that next weekend, but scheduled to be out of the country for the following three weeks, so our window for family exploration was short, as would be the attention span of our two little angels.

How could we make this fun and keep them engaged and us focused?

Then came the idea.

The next day the kids and I took a trip to the local arts and crafts store. We bought a piece of poster foam board, some construction paper and tape. When we got home we stapled a map of Stamford to the board. That night, Jack and I sat with the kids and looked at the specs for each of the houses we were considering. If we all agreed that a house was interesting, one of the kids would cut out the picture and attach it to the map. By the end we had selected eight houses to visit.

The next day the kids took out their construction paper and traced out eight thumbs. Emma used green construction paper, her favorite color, and Tucker chose Batman blue. Next, they cut them out and put them in two separate Baggies.

That Saturday we awoke early, had breakfast and packed a special snack bag along with our map board, thumbs and tape. Then we were off to start our adventure.

We went through the first house quickly, as it was so close to the main street and had such a tiny yard. The kids couldn’t wait to run out, meet at the back of the car and post their thumbs down.

The next house was somewhat controversial as Jack and I shook when we saw Tuck run towards the looming cliff in the back yard. Thumbs up for him and after some discussion between siblings, Emma agreed with her brother and posted a thumbs up as well. Jack and I just gave each other the look.

This went on for the balance of the properties. After walking through and around each house the kids would get a twinkle in their eyes, run back to the car, open their Baggie, reach in and grab their blue or green thumb. Then they would carefully pull off a piece of tape and attach their thumb next to the corresponding property on the map. Great giggling would ensue as they would count the ups and downs on the map.

We made it through five listings that first day: six thumbs up and four thumbs down. Tucker really wanted the house with the huge rock ledge in the back so he could climb. With his young history of cuts, bruises and stitches, we didn’t feel this would be wise. Emma liked the house with the pond in the back so she could go fishing and swimming whenever she wanted. Given the two huge snapping turtles we saw in the back, that didn’t sit well with us either.

Although the kids were optimistic, nothing inspired Jack and me. The next morning we set out again on our hunt. The first house seemed like a contender. Perfect size, quiet street. The only drawback was that it was a bit too far from the schools and town. I was feeling a little better.

The second and third houses that day were nothing special. The last house was a nice-size split-level on a beautiful, tree-lined cul-de-sac right down from the elementary school, but from the curb it was less than appealing. The inside wasn’t much better: it was dated, with shag carpet and shiny silver-felted wallpaper on the bathroom walls and ceiling. The kids loved going up and down the three levels. Despite its overwhelming décor there was something homey about it. It wasn’t until we went into the back yard and walked through the overgrown yard with what was left of an aboveground pool that Jack and I fell in love. The property was adjacent to a 100-acre nature center and preserve. Suddenly the kids’ dream lists didn’t seem so crazy.

When we got home the kids were exhausted, as were we. They went off to bed while Jack and I added our own thumbs to the board.

One property got all four thumbs up. The ugly tri-level on the jungle-like property. We went back the next day and made an offer.

~Jeanne Blandford

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