Personal, Stories Told

It’ll be stronger than it was before it broke

First published Sept. 20, 2013. I have a complicated relationship with the futon in my family room. My wife and I bought it while we were still married. The day we brought it home, I regretted the bright blue mattress cover that we chose. Later, as my marriage splintered apart, I spent a year exiled to it at night. I couldn’t resent the situation, for it would acknowledge that our marriage was over. I resented the futon instead, and then it was the one major piece of furniture I got in the divorce, the only thing I owned on which I could sit. I made myself feel glad to have it. Then bouts of mournful insomnia expelled me from my new bed back to the futon, as there I could always eventually find sleep. Now I start my nights on the futon, but wake later and stagger off to bed. More than a dozen years in, I’m no longer happy with its style, springs are starting to poke out on the sides of the mattress, and I still hate its cover. But I fall asleep on it so reliably that I’m reluctant to replace it. A new couch might not carry that nocturnal magic.

Futon1

My relationship with my futon is not as complex as the relationships with those I love, of course. I’m thinking specifically of my youngest son, a teenager. He broke the futon the other day.

My boy lives fully in the moment. He makes no plan and weighs no consequences. Once at motion, he tends to stay there; Newton would be proud. If you spent a day with him you might call him absentminded, but that would be an injustice. He becomes consumed by his activity and the world falls away. His inner world is his best friend. He lives there.

In that state, he has damaged or broken many things. I used to think he was careless or, worse, deliberate, and so I meted out consequences of loud and harsh words, limitations of his freedom, or both. But slowly, thankfully, I’ve come to see the truth: the boy means no harm. He is surprised when he damages or breaks something.

Even though these things are just things, they do belong to somebody, usually me. They have an important purpose or some sentimental or emotional value, and I feel the loss.

My son matters more than these things, and so I absorb those losses. But it’s also my job to help shape the child. Trying to help him to be more self-aware was a losing game that frustrated both of us, so I gave it up. Perhaps time and life will bring this growth naturally. Meanwhile, I intend to teach him to repair the things he’s damaged, both physical objects and relationships. All of us sometimes damage our relationships through our quirks and limitations. All of us need to know how to make amends.

He was standing at the TV deep inside a video game when, in a moment of exuberance, he leapt backward and landed on the futon. I am sure he’s done this many times. But he was much smaller and lighter before a major growth spurt this summer, and the poor futon could no longer bear him. The main beam supporting the mattress split wide, and the futon collapsed.

I called my dad, who made custom furniture for a living for many years, and described the damage. “Easy,” he said. “Get some wood glue and some long wood screws. Glue the board together along the break and then drive the screws in every inch or two. It’ll be stronger than it was before it broke.”

I assembled the materials and the tools and called my son. I showed him what to do and had him do it. As he worked, I spoke gently about repairing damaged relationships. He is my son, and I love him, and he will always receive grace from me. He should accept no less from those who are in his life. But when he causes damage, he needs to try his best to fix it, if he can. I hope my words connected with him.

Futon2

The repair is ugly, as we couldn’t quite get the halves of the board to line up on one side of the break. My son didn’t have enough strength to drive the screws all the way into the hard wood, so he started them and I finished them. As we put the frame back together, I could feel our relationship coming back together, too. I hope he felt the same way. After we finished the repair we turned the futon back over and sat down on it. It supported us as before the break, and I could see the satisfaction of accomplishment in him. Here’s hoping this creates a connection in him that he can mend things broken, including relationships. That he should. That it’s satisfying to do it.

“It’ll be stronger than it was before it broke.” Was Dad really talking about my relationship with my son?

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Personal

When life hands your family too many challenges, coordinated prioritization helps you stay sane

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It’s been five weeks now since I moved out of my former home and into my wife’s home. Since then we’ve found ourselves unexpectedly facing a surprising number of unexpected and unwanted serious life challenges. They consume us.

We’ve kept making time to talk through each day’s events and figure out our priorities. And that’s key, because we don’t always agree on those priorities at first. One of mine is to get our house in order. We are blending two complete households and have stuff piled everywhere while we sort it. I hate clutter! Living with it really makes me nuts.

If I could, I’d make sorting the house our first priority. But Margaret needs us to resolve other pressing matters first. So we worked it out. Getting the house in order is still on the priority list, but it is at the bottom while we push through these other challenges. We both are moving forward with the house when we can, as best we can. In these five weeks we’ve made respectable progress, all things considered. But we’re also pushing powerfully through the other challenges.

Blogging has cleared my personal priority bar, albeit at reduced capacity. You’ve noticed, I’m sure, that I’ve posted some reruns, and that new articles are pretty fluffy. But sitting down to write is a pleasure and a wonderful distraction. I’d be ill served to give it up entirely.

Photography, however, does not currently clear the bar. When I moved I had a half-shot roll of expired Konica Chrome Centuria 200 slide film in my Spotmatic. I did finally finish it and send it for processing. The scans are back, and they’re all badly underexposed, so now I’m looking for time to see if I can make them usable in Photoshop. And I’ve been playing with some manual-focus lenses on a DSLR when I have five or ten minutes to spare. So I’ll have images to share soon. But otherwise, I’m not really taking pictures right now.

We are pushing through our challenges. They will end. And then we will get our house in order, and I’m sure time and energy for photography and more serious blogging will return.

I can share the photos I took as I walked through my old house for the last time. Because Margaret and I had two completely furnished homes, we each got rid of some of our furniture. This was surprisingly easy. In the wake of our divorces we had both accepted unwanted furniture from family and friends. I like to joke that we both decorated our homes in “early post divorce.” Neither of us were attached to very much of the stuff. And then I got a giant break when the young woman who bought my house offered to buy any furniture I wanted to leave behind. For saving me the hassle of having to donate it all, I just gave it to her! So here are the photos of my final walkthrough, with everything I left behind still in place.

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Personal, Stories Told

It’ll be stronger than it was before it broke

Bonus Garrett story #2, from four years ago, a moment that in retrospect was a turning point in our relationship.

I have a complicated relationship with the futon in my family room. My wife and I bought it while we were still married. The day we brought it home, I regretted the bright blue mattress cover that we chose. Later, as my marriage splintered apart, I spent a year exiled to it at night. I couldn’t resent the situation, for it would acknowledge that our marriage was over, so I resented the futon instead. And then it was the one major piece of furniture I got in the divorce, the only thing I owned on which I could sit. I made myself feel glad to have it. Then bouts of mournful insomnia expelled me from my new bed back to the futon, as there I could always eventually find sleep. Now I start my nights on the futon, but wake later and stagger off to bed. More than a dozen years in, I’m no longer happy with its style, springs are starting to poke out on the sides of the mattress, and I still hate its cover. But I fall asleep on it so reliably that I’m reluctant to replace it. A new couch might not carry that nocturnal magic.

Futon1

My relationship with my futon is not as complex as the relationships with those I love, of course. I’m thinking specifically of my youngest son, a teenager. He broke the futon the other day.

My boy lives fully in the moment. He makes no plan and weighs no consequences. Once at motion, he tends to stay there; Newton would be proud. If you spent a day with him you might call him absentminded, but that would be an injustice. He becomes consumed by his activity and the world falls away. His inner world is his best friend. He lives there.

In that state, he has damaged or broken many things. I used to think he was careless or, worse, deliberate, and so I meted out consequences of loud and harsh words, limitations of his freedom, or both. But slowly, thankfully, I’ve come to see the truth: The boy means no harm. He is usually very surprised when he damages or breaks something.

Even though these things are just things, they do belong to somebody, usually me. They have an important purpose or some sentimental or emotional value, and I feel the loss.

My son matters more than these things, and so I absorb those losses. But it’s also my job to help shape the child. Trying to help him to be more self-aware was a losing game that frustrated both of us, and so I gave up. Perhaps time and life will bring this growth naturally. Meanwhile, I intend to teach him to repair the things he’s damaged – both physical objects and relationships. All of us sometimes damage our relationships through our quirks and limitations. All of us need to know how to make amends.

He was deep inside a video game when he leaped exuberantly backward and landed on the futon. I am sure he’s done this many times. But he was much smaller and lighter before a major growth spurt this summer, and the poor futon could no longer bear him. The main beam supporting the mattress split wide, and the futon collapsed.

I called my dad, who made custom furniture for a living for many years, and described the damage. “Easy,” he said. “Get some wood glue and some long wood screws. Glue the board together along the break and then drive the screws in every inch or two. It’ll be stronger than it was before it broke.”

I assembled the materials and the tools and called my son. I showed him what to do and had him do it. As he worked, I spoke gently about repairing damaged relationships. He is my son, and I love him, and he will always receive grace from me. He should accept no less from those who are in his life. But when he causes damage, he needs to try his best to fix it, if he can. I hope my words connected with him.

Futon2

The repair is ugly; we couldn’t quite get the halves of the board to line up on one side of the break. My son didn’t have enough strength to drive the screws all the way into the hard wood, so I finished them all. As we put the frame back together, I could feel our relationship coming back together, too. I hope he felt the same way. After we finished the repair we turned the futon back over and sat down on it. It supported us as before the break, and I could see the satisfaction of accomplishment in him. Here’s hoping this creates a connection in him that he can mend things broken, including relationships. That he should. That it’s satisfying to do it.

“It’ll be stronger than it was before it broke.” Was Dad really talking about my relationship with my son?

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Personal, Stories Told

Warm memories of my first apartment

Does a particular home in your past bring especially warm memories? What made the place so special? I’d love to hear about it in the comments, or better yet, on your blog — especially if you have photos you can share.

Last month I shared this post about my first apartment, with some photos from just after I moved in. That place was special not just because it was really nice for the money, but because I did a lot of growing up there.

I just found some photos from after I’d filled the apartment with furniture and decorated the place, and I want to share them.

Here I am, relaxing in the big brown La-Z-Boy in my living room. I was 25.

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Here’s a view of my bedroom. I was never crazy about that wallpaper. The framed Disney images on the wall were gifts from my Uncle Jack when I was a boy. He drew them himself. The dresser was an antique-store find. Despite being probably 50 years old then, it was like new. It was such a pleasure to use! I still have it, but when I got it back after the divorce I was sad to see how battered and scratched it had become. One of these days I’l just replace it with something else that doesn’t come with bad memories.

PICT0049

When I moved in, my bathroom walls were hot pink above the tile. I asked if that could be changed, so my landlady hired a fellow to peel off nine layers of wallpaper, mud the walls smooth, and put up new wallpaper. My dad, who made a living making custom wood furniture, made the cabinet that hangs on the wall. I still use it in my bathroom today.

PICT0072

I used to rearrange my furniture three or four times a year. In the process, I’d clean thoroughly. I took these photos of my living room after one such rearrangement to record the fresh and clean. I had begun to accumulate a little original art. The painting on the left is by Dean Porter, a family friend and former Director of the Snite Museum of Art at Notre Dame. The painting on the right is by a longtime friend who still paints.

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This view from just inside the front door shows the coat closet and the hallway. I always hated that yellow checked wallpaper in the hallway, but my landlady said that it was too new to replace.

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Every arrangement of my living room involved my La-Z-Boy being directly across from my TV. Except for the TV and the futon, every other piece of furniture in the room came from used-furniture stores or was given to me. Notice the corner shelf filled with old cameras! I recognize my Kodak Duaflex II and a bunch of Brownies: a Starflash, a Starmatic, a Reflex Synchro Model, and a Six-20. I was fascinated with prewar folding cameras then and several of mine are on the shelf. I also see a couple box cameras. I had probably a hundred more cameras, stored in boxes in a closet.

PICT0068

The apartment lacked central air; a lone window air conditioner was my only defense against hot days. That was more AC than I’d ever had before, though, and I was perfectly happy with it. The doll on my speaker is John Lennon dressed in his Sgt. Pepper getup. The speakers were Infinity Studio Monitor 100s. Audiophiles panned them, but I liked them fine. My receiver, an NAD 7125, could easily outpower these speakers. Still have that receiver; replaced the speakers a few years ago with something smaller and sweeter.

PICT0067

As you can see, maroon, green, and blue was my living room color scheme. Those are such early-90s colors! The coffee table and end tables served for a long time but during my marriage were pretty badly abused. The coffee table came back to me post-divorce in such bad shape that I just threw it away. The end tables were battered but serviceable; I used them until just a couple years ago.

It felt good at the time to furnish and decorate my home. I still feel like I made it look like more than the little money I had available to put into it. I was happy and comfortable in my little home.

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Stories Told

It’ll be stronger than it was before it broke

I have a complicated relationship with the futon in my family room. My wife and I bought it while we were still married. The day we brought it home, I regretted the bright blue mattress cover that we chose. Later, as my marriage splintered apart, I spent a good year exiled to it at night. I couldn’t resent the situation, for it would acknowledge that our marriage was over, so I resented the futon instead. And then it was the one major piece of furniture I got in the divorce, the only thing I owned on which I could sit. I made myself feel glad to have it. Then bouts of mournful insomnia expelled me from my new bed back to the futon, where I could always eventually find sleep. I still start my nights on the futon, but wake later and stagger off to bed. More than a dozen years in, I’m no longer happy with its style, springs are starting to poke out on the sides of the mattress, and I still hate its cover. But I fall asleep on it so reliably that I’m reluctant to replace it. A new couch might not carry that nocturnal magic.

Futon1

My relationship with my futon is not as complex as the relationships with those I love, of course. I’m thinking specifically of my youngest son, a teenager. He broke the futon the other day.

My boy lives fully in the moment. He makes no plan and weighs no consequences. Once at motion, he tends to stay there; Newton would be proud. If you spent a day with him you might call him absentminded, but that would be an injustice. He becomes consumed by his activity and the world falls away. His inner world is his best friend. He lives there.

In that state, he has damaged or broken many things. I used to think he was careless or, worse, deliberate, and so I meted out consequences of loud and harsh words, limitations of his freedom, or both. But slowly, thankfully, I’ve come to see the truth: The boy means no harm. He is usually very surprised when he damages or breaks something.

Even though these things are just things, they do belong to somebody, usually me. They have an important purpose or some sentimental or emotional value, and I feel the loss.

My son matters more than these things, and so I absorb those losses. But it’s also my job to help shape the child. Trying to help him to be more self-aware was a losing game that frustrated both of us, and so I gave up. Perhaps time and life will bring this growth naturally. Meanwhile, I intend to teach him to repair the things he’s damaged – both physical objects and relationships. All of us sometimes damage our relationships through our quirks and limitations. All of us need to know how to make amends.

He was deep inside a video game when he leapt exuberantly backward and landed on the futon. I am sure he’s done this many times. But he was much smaller and lighter before a major growth spurt this summer, and the poor futon could no longer bear him. The main beam supporting the mattress split wide, and the futon collapsed.

I called my dad, who made custom furniture for a living for many years, and described the damage. “Easy,” he said. “Get some wood glue and some long wood screws. Glue the board together along the break and then drive the screws in every inch or two. It’ll be stronger than it was before it broke.”

I assembled the materials and the tools and called my son. I showed him what to do and had him do it. As he worked, I spoke gently about repairing damaged relationships. He is my son, and I love him, and he will always receive grace from me. He should accept no less from those who are in his life. But when he causes damage, he needs to try his best to fix it, if he can. I hope my words connected with him.

Futon2

The repair is ugly; we couldn’t quite get the halves of the board to line up on one side of the break. My son didn’t have enough strength to drive the screws all the way into the hard wood, so I finished them all. As we put the frame back together, I could feel our relationship coming back together, too. I hope he felt the same way. After we finished the repair we turned the futon back over and sat down on it. It supported us as before the break, and I could see the satisfaction of accomplishment in him. Here’s hoping this creates a connection in him that he can mend things broken, including relationships. That he should. That it’s satisfying to do it.

“It’ll be stronger than it was before it broke.” Was Dad really talking about my relationship with my son?

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Personal, Stories Told

Anchors

Do you have any possessions that connect you to times in your past?

My end tables and coffee table came from a used furniture store just after I graduated from college and got my first apartment. A matched set in the fussy Colonial Revival style, they were inexpensive when they were manufactured, which was probably during the 1940s. They were well used by the time I got them. They weren’t my style, but they cost just $50.

I figured that I’d replace them soon enough with nice, new furniture, but fortunes never allowed. Time and, eventually, two small children were not kind to the tables. I had not seen the tables for two years when I got them back after my divorce was final. The coffee table was so badly damaged that I threw it away. The end tables were missing some trim and the legs were a little chewed up. But they were serviceable and I was broke after buying my new house, so I put them in my family room.

BatteredTables

Money isn’t so tight anymore. Recently I bought new end tables and a matching coffee table. I ordered them from Target.com and assembled them myself, so they’re not fine furniture. But they’re square and strong, which is much more my style. I was so pleased when they took their spots in the family room.

My older son walked in. “Oh,” he said, disappointed. “I had hoped those were going into the living room instead.”

I asked him why, puzzled.

“I like the old tables. They’ve been around all my life. I hate to see them go.”

I understood immediately. My mind turned to the old family TV I made my parents save for me.

In my room

A 1966 RCA black-and-white console television, partially pictured above, served my childhood until 1977 when Dad finally, finally sprung for our first color set. The old set moved to our basement rec room where it served for a few more years until the picture went out. Dad kept meaning to have it fixed, but the money wasn’t there. Eventually we had gone for so long without it that the family didn’t miss it anymore.

Except that I did, a little. Soon Mom started pestering Dad to dispose of it. I insisted they hang onto it, because when I moved out in a few years I’d take it with me and have it repaired. It would serve again!

The tables and that TV were anchors in our lives, my son’s and mine. The TV was not special in and of itself. But it was a tie to my family and the home my parents made for us, and to some of the feelings of my childhood. I wanted to cling to those feelings by clinging to this object. My son, apparently, felt the same way about those banged-up tables.

Mom and Dad did save the old TV, and I moved it to my first apartment. One of my electrical-engineering buddies from college came out to try to fix it. A nearby electronics store kept a selection of new-old-stock vacuum tubes and a tube-testing machine. The crusty old guys who worked there were very amused to see two 21-year-old kids with a box full of tubes we’d pulled from the TV. We replaced several bad tubes and improved the picture situation slightly – we got a thin line across the screen where there had previously been nothing. But in the end, we couldn’t restore it. My buddy traced the problem to some power inverter thingamabob, or something, that he explained would be impossible to replace. This was long before eBay; I’m sure that such a doodad is available there right now. But back then this diagnosis meant the end of this TV.

I used it as a table for a couple more years but finally, reluctantly, left it at the curb on heavy trash day. I was so sad when I came home from work that night to find it gone. It was as though I had let go of a big part of something good from my past. The memories were still there, but they were somehow less tangible from then on.

And so I empathize with my son, who apparently is enough like me that he laments the loss of one of his life anchors.

I tried to explain to him is that those tables anchor me to a bad time in my life, the time when his mother and I were falling apart. There were too many fights in the living room where we used these tables. Those sad memories overwhelm the good memory of bringing my bargain home and furnishing my little apartment with them. They served well but I’m glad they’re gone.

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Things are just things, but it took me most
of my life to learn that. Read that story.

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