So, the thing is… there was no column last week.


Some people wrote in to ask if I’d sent one out because they hadn’t gotten one and, given the fact that certain mail servers won’t deliver my columns because they think I’m a Spammer, they were concerned.  (As an aside, I bet if I used the word “viagra” in the subject line, I’d have no problem at all with delivery.)  The truth is, I didn’t send out a column last week.  I missed my deadline and it’s all my husband’s fault.


See, he went out of town.  It was a great trip: a chance to reconnect with an old buddy and to soundly trounce him in a triathlon – apparently, this is the glue that bonds male friendships.  Anyway, he went for four days and I stayed at home with the children.


Usually when he travels, I get some kind of project going.  (That’ll teach him.)  This time, I decided to retexture the walls in our half bathroom.  The half-bath was bad —water-damaged baseboards and ugly vinyl floor tile and the most horrible plastic and brass light fixture ever.  (I didn’t understand why every room in our house had water damage until the girl next door told me our house had seen some wild times. “Like when the six college guys rented it.”)  Anyway, I suddenly had an urge to have one room in the house that wasn’t decorated in “Early Preschool.”  I love to entertain and it would be nice to have a guest bathroom in which adults felt comfortable.  In other words, I was ditching the toilet lock (not that it ever slowed Smiley Jane down from Water Play.) 


So, I textured the walls and then decided to take out the cabinet that was hanging over the commode.  But I couldn’t get the darn thing out.  So I called my neighbor and asked him to help.  (Actually, I called his wife and asked if I could borrow him –this being the glue that cements female friendships.)  He’s a big guy and fit and strong and even HE had a tough time getting that cabinet out.  Finally, he had to resort to breaking it apart and of course, a piece fell onto the toilet lid and broke it.


Well, it turns out that you can’t just go into a Home Depot and buy a lid for a twenty-year-old commode.  So you can understand why I felt that we should just buy a whole new toilet.  And then, if we were going to buy a new toilet, which meant pulling the old one, I might as well tile the floor, right?  Especially with this very cool slate tile I found.  But then I didn’t want to tile around the gross cabinet and sink combination that was already in place, so that meant choosing a new pedestal sink.  And as long as the room was gutted, I might as well scrape that popcorn texture off the ceiling –-that’s only logical.  So, one new mirror, new towel and toilet paper holders, one light fixture and one very expensive special-order faucet later, we had a brand new half-bathroom.  And it only took three weeks and a lot of unbudgeted dollars.


My husband says he’s never leaving town without me again.


I have to confess that somewhere in the process, I painted one of the walls this unbelievably hideous terra cotta orange.  Think pumpkin.  Think, “I went to the University of Texas, hook ‘em horns” burnt orange.  Terrible.  I have no idea what possessed me –normally I like pristine, white-white walls.  But there’s something about going to Home Depot.  I stood behind this immaculately attired woman, a woman who could no doubt choose a new pair of brown pumps in less time than it takes to brush her teeth and this poor woman was reduced to asking the grungy, body-pierced, slacker clerk which color HE thought would be better, the Pearl Essence or the Essence of Pearl or Not Only the Essence But The Barest Hint of Pearl?  I talked to another woman who said she’d just had her whole house painted a color she HATED and that despite her husband’s threats of divorce if she chose any color other than Eggshell, she was eying that Essence of Pearl.  “What do you think?” she asked me, because we’d known each other for at least two minutes.  I couldn’t tell the difference between Essence of Pearl and Eggshell, but her marriage was hanging in the balance. “Well, the CLERK really liked it.”


I had the opposite problem.  I am so decisive that I marched right in there, looked at 750 shades of orange and chose the most hideous one possible.  And then I was so disbelieving that it didn’t look good on the wall, I tried it on at least seven MORE walls, including our entry way, just sure it was the LIGHT that made it look like a Halloween project gone terribly, horribly wrong.


It wasn’t the light. 


My mom came to visit while the front entryway was painted orange and to her credit, she said nothing disparaging.  She likes white-white walls, too.  I humbly admitted that the color was ghastly and while she kept the children, I headed back to Home Depot to buy some white paint.  I came home with Venetian Red.  When I painted it over the orange, it turned the most awful purple you’ve ever seen.  My four-year-old came down the stairs as I was hoping/praying it would dry a nice red and, looking at my dismayed face, said, “Purple is a nice color for a wall, Mommy.”  (My mother almost fell off her chair she was laughing so hard.  This is apparently the bond that cements mother-daughter relationships.)


But things could have been worse, as I repeated over and over again to my husband.  Take my friend Marianne –and you MAY since she walked in after the entry was Venetian Red and said (almost) innocently, “You didn’t go to Texas A&M, did you?”  Anyway, Marianne tells the story of how she remodeled her house like this: “The doorbell was broken, so we thought we needed an electrician, so we might as well redo the lighting in the kitchen, which meant we'd need to paint the ceiling, which was good because the house needed painting inside and out, and we might as well get rid of that old linoleum and carpet that the cat had peed all over, etc.  $50,000 later, we had all new flooring, all new appliances, new countertops, new lighting, new paint, inside and out, and oh, by the way, the doorbell only needed the button replaced, which would have been about $2.”


I’d laugh at her but it’s clear that I have no inner Martha so I am completely humbled by the fact that Marianne chose all that new stuff and still remained married and sane.  My taste doesn’t even please my CHILDREN and THEY have been known to wear flowery chintz shorts with tie-dyed shirts.  This past week, my husband brought home a big appliance box and the girls had much fun pretending it was a boat.  So, while Ana was at school, I lovingly cut portholes into it, affixed a steam funnel to the top, crafted a bow out of another box and then painted the whole boat a jaunty red and blue.  When Ana came home from school, I chatted for a bit with the carpool driver and then went inside to see how Ana liked her surprise.  She was furiously attacking the boat with scissors.  “I wanted a plain brown BOX!” she wailed.  “You painted it and ruined EVERYTHING!”


I should have gone with my first instinct and painted it orange.




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(c) Barbara Cooper 2002


Barbara Cooper is the mother of Ana (4.5) and Jane (23 months).  She lives in Austin, Texas and sent out this column on a pristine, white-white (no essence of pearl) background.