When I gave birth to our twins 32 years ago, my postpartum mental state involved a sudden obsession with acquiring a beach house. My thinking went like this: If I were going to be spending the foreseeable future nursing two babies at the same time while gazing out the window, could I at least be gazing out a different window? My husband greeted this brilliant idea with the insistence that this was the world's worst timing.
I agreed. I couldn't argue. But, weirdly, I kept right on scouring the ads.
Well, it's said that you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. Fortunately, I have a pretty good record of getting this horse to drink if I can just lead him to the right water, so when we ended up at the little house in Neskowin and my husband stood on the deck and took in the amazing ocean view, he drank.
Nice that I didn't get my way in wanting a 1920s fixer cottage, though. So many babies, so little time for projects. The newly built house, in no need of maintenance for years, suited us much better.
In recent years, though, I've been slowly transforming it into the cottage I wanted all along, first with cottage-style windows and then a papering of the white sheetrock bedroom walls with lovely Arts & Craft style reproduction wallpapers from Bradbury & Bradbury. This past winter I delighted in figuring out how to turn the exterior into a proper bungalow. Shingles…check. Wide board fascias and window trims…check. And then….corbels! Yes, corbels would be just the thing. I painted these massive wooden braces on sawhorses in our gravel driveway at the farm and we hauled them to the beach for our contractor to install.
Let's call this amazing guy Steve. (You don't think I'm going to hand out his actual contact info, do you? Maybe when I'm all done with him, ha ha!) He shows up when he says he will, does fine work, and has a sense of how things ought to look, an eye for design. And I love how he always says I have good ideas.
His one flaw turns out to be a tendency to forget whether I said to do a certain thing one way or the other. If he remembers I wrote it down, he's not sure where to find that note or email. Couple this with a gambler's willingness to just go for it, and we had several incidents where things went wrong. Still, I have never dealt with a guy more eager to cheerfully correct his errors. Usually these guys are surly about it, right? Not Steve! Wrong siding in this one band? No problem! The right stuff will go up tomorrow.
Well, I knew the corbels could be problematic. They had an upside and a downside, but the difference was subtle. Communicating these things from a distance wasn't always easy. To make it clear to Steve which end was up, I emailed him about it. I put blue tape marked "Top" on the corbels when I left them at the beach. I emailed him the picture of the corbel, right side up, from the catalogue. I repeatedly said, almost unnecessarily, I thought, "Be sure to put them right side up!"
When he texted that the corbels had been successfully installed, I couldn't wait to check them out. Imagine my shock. You guessed it: he'd bolted them on upside down. And no, they couldn't simply be turned around; he'd had to shave them in places and make cut-outs in others. When I told him, he was horrified. "I really screwed up!" He insisted he'd cover the cost of new ones because he wanted to get it right. He said he feared every time I looked at them I'd be bothered and mad that he'd blown it and it wasn't how I wanted it.
Well, maybe not. I've been reading a lot of Pema Chodron lately, discovering some of the Buddhist ways of looking at things. The idea of not forever insisting on total control really spoke to me, because I've always struggled with a certain crippling perfectionism. I am working on learning to let certain things go. Relax my grip. Because--duh--life's short.
I studied the corbels. It seemed so unfair that after all my efforts to head off this very problem, I did not get to have them the way I wanted. The RIGHT way. On the other hand, they didn't look bad. I mean, they were good solid corbels and they had the effect I'd been after. If they'd really screamed WRONG, Steve never would have chanced doing them this way. He does have a good eye.
I decided that every time I look at the corbels, I will not think that I did not get my way. I will not be the woman cracking the whip of perfection at everyone. I'll be the one who said, "Good enough! What's next?" What should make me think I'm in charge of the universe, anyway?
And why not stay on Steve's good side? I have a lot more projects for him. Maybe next time I'll just stand right there as he's making some crucial decision!