Raising young kids in an old house

By: Shannon Lee , Contributing Writer
In: Old House Musings

My children grew up surrounded by renovation. I have photographs of them when they were toddlers, standing in their playpen with stacks of new flooring in the background. I have memories of them playing with baby tool sets while they watched me put up wallpaper, clean out an ashy old fireplace and painstakingly buff and polish hardwood floors.

When they were a bit older, they wanted to help. So I enlisted my miniature construction gurus in painting the front porch, setting old bricks around the flower beds and cleaning out the dusty attic. Soon they started to realize the thrill of accomplishment, and that led to begging to do even more.

"I like being able to say I did this," my son said to me one day as he tossed aside the prospect of video games in order to help me create a tile backsplash. I watched him as he worked, his tongue planted firmly against his teeth as he concentrated, and thought about how sometimes, the true gifts of an old house can't be seen, only felt.

"It's just an old house."

It wasn't long before the children understood the little quirks of the old house as well as I did. When the power abruptly went out in our old Victorian, my son would yell "No worries, it's a fuse!" and then disappear downstairs with a flashlight. Two minutes later the lights came back on. When the house creaked madly during a frightening spring storm, my daughter sat quietly in the middle of her bedroom without a care in the world.

"It sounds scary," she shrugged. "But it's not. It's just an old house."

The kids always loved showing off their old house handiwork. They would invite friends over, then open the front door and step back to get a good look at the expressions of awe when their guests caught sight of the 15-foot ceilings in the entryway or the ancient piano that graced the front parlor.

"It's so old!" so many of them would say.

"And it's awesome!" the kids would reply.

Soon they bribed their friends to help with the renovations, and that's when things really started moving. Rather than working on my own to strip the paint from the old windows, I now had helpers -- half a dozen of them, who would laugh and joke in the front yard as they made quick work of the job with their fast, nimble hands.

Want to get a home improvement project done fast? Bake cookies, make pizza and mix up some homemade lemonade. Then invite the neighborhood teenagers over to earn their food. You might be amazed at how fast things move along!

Finding the old in the new

This summer, my son went away to boarding school and my daughter moved to Pennsylvania with me. Though my son lives in a dorm that was originally built in 1903 (which makes him feel right at home), my daughter has found herself in a much more modern atmosphere. It has been interesting to watch her handle the transition from an old house to a not-so-ancient abode.

For the first few weeks, she was puzzled when the water from the shower stayed at a consistent temperature. Then she was baffled by the fact that all the doors closed just fine, without having to wiggle them shut, slam them closed or otherwise throw her body into it. The windows were a novelty, because they opened without a good supply of elbow grease.

But as the saying goes, good things come to those who wait.

Last night, she walked through the kitchen. Suddenly, a board creaked under her foot, and the sound turned her into a bouncing bubble of happiness. "This house is getting older!" she announced, and walked over the creaky board more than a few times, just to hear the beloved sound.

When she grows up and has a house of her own, I'm willing to bet it's an ancient Victorian.