Life under construction

April's guest blogger, Andrea Mulder Slater, writes about how house-building became a family-bonding experience.

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Photo: Andrea Mulder-Slater

A year ago, some friends offered us the opportunity to purchase a piece of raw oceanfront land at a price we could afford. We were living in town at the time and were tempted by the idea of “getting away from it all.”

So, we put our old Victorian on the market, confident we would have a year (or two) to think things over. Instead, the realtor barely had time to place his sign on the lawn before our house sold. It was a record, in an area where nothing moves faster than a lunar cycle.

Transitioning from the home we knew and into a rental (while we built), was bittersweet and, tricky as it was, we were mindful to include my daughter in all of the planning. Still, how do you explain to an insightful two-year-old that she has to leave the only house she has ever known, to move into a house that doesn’t belong to us, in the hopes of living in a house that doesn’t yet exist?

Three weeks after we signed the papers, Geoff, Jantje and I sat in our temporary home, explaining the ins and outs of home construction to a toddler, as we looked over the plans we had ordered online. It was déjà vu. My late father, who was as comfortable in overalls as he was in a suit, once cut our house in half with a chainsaw, so he could build a new one in its place. As it turns out, my husband is just as adventurous.

First, we cleared our land by hand — and by we, I mean Geoff. Not that Jantje, the kiddo and I didn’t make frequent appearances in our new roles as coffee truck operators, while my daughter uttered her favourite phrases, “Are we at the land?” and “Did daddy start the house yet?” from the backseat. The start date was of great importance to the littlest one who was keen to tell all who would listen, that she was going to help with construction — mostly because we told her she could.

By mid-summer we were ready for the big equipment to arrive. There was only one problem. The men we had hired to build our driveway were like groundhogs in February. Perfectly willing and relatively able, but not even homemade soup could coax the buggers out for more than a few minutes at a time. At one point, three weeks went by with a stalled dump truck sitting at the entrance to our property, prompting my daughter to repeatedly ask, “Why don’t they fix it?” Why indeed.

Well into autumn, hope returned when a man named Smiley (who digs by moonlight) swooped in to excavate our foundation in a matter of days. By December, Geoff, with the help of a small squad consisting of a retired high school principal, two home-schooled teenagers and a foul-mouthed carpenter, framed and roofed the house over a period of weeks.

It was like a reality show but without the cameras (or the paycheques).

Through it all, Jantje, the kiddo and I managed construction material orders and visited the site to deliver food, forgotten tools and encouraging words. Because we felt it important to include our now three-year-old in the process of building, Geoff regularly had a box of scrap wood and drywall available for her to move, stack or hammer with nails. Who knew you could buy a mini tool belt at your local home improvement store?

Eager to stop paying rent, we moved into our new house the first week of March with not much left to do, except of course, the kitchen, the bathrooms, the hallway, the laundry room …Minor details, right?

My next post will explain how we managed to keep my daughter from falling into the basement, stepping on nails and tripping on tools while we all settled into life under construction, at our house.

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