Home renovation with a baby, a toddler and a pandemic

By April Wallace, nwaMotherlode contributor and Northwest Arkansas mama

My husband and I decided that caring for two kids ages three and under wasn’t challenging enough, so we added a major home renovation to the mix.

Just kidding! It is hard enough as it is. But we did it anyway.

Living in a 93-year-old home has its own difficulties and quirks, such as the tight space leading my husband to shimmy to his side of the bed each night. After 7 years of this, he had enough. He was ready to buy a brand new house and be done with it.

I went along to look at a couple options, but he could tell my heart wasn’t in it.

Our home is where we fell in love, where he carried me across the threshold on our wedding night and where we brought each of our two tiny babies when they were brand new.

Our compromise was to renovate, with the construction of a little home addition. It would give Sam the little extra space he craved and allow me to stay in the home he courted me with.

At first this seemed like an excellent arrangement for our two boys who are (and I don’t say this lightly) obsessed with construction. They were delighted when a tiny digger took up residence in our backyard. They watched, completely enraptured, as it and a cement mixer truck worked together to form the foundation. The newness was intoxicating and entertaining for them. It was better than TV, and it was happening right outside our window!

Each delivery truck carrying supplies and each pickup full of construction workers was a fully exciting thing for them. They’d rush right out with me as I greeted and/or directed each one, and Henry would ask them questions.

Of course this enthusiasm was a bit of a chore on my end. Knowing when to pull my boys away so the workers could do their thing, for instance. Not to mention all the regular dangers that came with the power tools in easy reach (sometimes just left unattended on our deck) or intercepting construction trash before it made it into little hands, mouths or general possession.

Unfortunately all this work started on March 2, meaning we also had to navigate the beginning of our pandemic lives with the beginning of our home project lives. And that’s where things really started to get hectic and messier for me.

When a well meaning representative from the local gas company came by to talk details I saw him—as if in slow motion—high five my toddler before I could utter any warnings. He wasn’t wearing any gloves or mask, and promised me that he had washed his hands copiously that morning.

But to a scared mama, this was not reassuring.

It was just the first of many times I had to lay down new rules about what was acceptable in our household as it became a revolving door of new people while we learned more about this new era we’re living in.

We created this outdoor “construction site” for our boys, which helped keep them out of the real one happening nearby.

Our contractor limited work to one crew per day, which helped. But the rest was up to me.

The outside work they did for the first two months was hardly a concern, but any time they set foot in our house, I was the gatekeeper. Not knowing much about this new virus, I opted at first to always schedule outings for my boys if workers were going to be inside. We would load up in the stroller and take off, or I’d urge them to come back after lunchtime or naps were done.

And let me tell ya, this slowed things down. Of course it did. But I felt more confident that I was keeping my family as safe as possible.

Once they were regularly traipsing through, it was more uncomfortable having to ask men older than me to yes, please wear a mask in my house, or if they declined, to please take another pace or two away from us. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t shut the door on an entitled guy or two if they refused to comply.

As the work drug on, the newness wore off. My boys grew more accustomed to it and didn’t always find it so engrossing.

At that point, the usual parts of our days became struggles. How do you feed your kids when every kitchen cupboard and pantry shelf is wrapped and taped in plastic? How do you get a baby and a toddler to settle down and sleep when drills and hammers are still working directly under their little nursery, when doors are opening and shutting, when people are talking loudly and vehicles are starting in your yard?

Even now I’m not sure I could tell you how we did it. Toward the end, this mama had to literally take it one day at a time and have her own fit or two.

Ask me about the time a saleswoman knocked and entered my house (without my answering the door) while I was trying to get two kids upstairs for a nap. Ask me, I dare ya.

During this phase, men I’ve hardly known have seen me in my pajamas and heard me yell at my kids, have walked up as I had to discipline one, have poked their heads in while the whole family was having a meal privately (or so it seemed).

But the work got done, my kids got taken care of, and our home has come out on top.

The bottom line is that, like everyone else in 2020, we’ve had to face a lot of circumstances we weren’t prepared for. It’s meant keeping our eyes on the things that mean the most to us, and letting go of everything else. We take it one small step at a time, celebrate any little victory we can find, and at the end of the day we are thankful to be together no matter what our house looks like at the time.

We moved into our new home addition in late September, and the workers straggled back through our doors here and there for a couple weeks still after that.

Meanwhile my boys’ imaginary playtime is suddenly very informed, as they “shut off electricity” before working on the plumbing, casually use “impact hammers” or pretend to use a particular imaginary saw to cut planks of wood.

And as for this mama, I’m taking comfort in the fact that we won’t be moving from our lovely little home for a very, very long time—if ever.

April Wallace is a stepmom to one smart, funny teenager, mama to two beautiful and curious baby boys and wife to a very kind and generous man. She spent the past decade as a news reporter, sometimes lifestyle writer, and recently left her job at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to be with her babies while they’re still babies. When she gets a few minutes to herself, April loves to run local trails and read fiction. For more of April’s posts on pregnancy, babies and toddlers, click here.