We raised our children in old homes. It was weird and wonderful, but potty training turned into raining pee.
My family has lived in several old homes while the kids grew up.
Old homes are porous, and have drafts, leaks, and critters living in it.
When I was potty training my daughter, I learned how porous those old wood floors can be.
What do raising a young child and owning an old home have in common? For starters, the need to adapt. And if you're doing both at the same time, the adaptations multiply.
Since having children many years ago, my wife and I have lived in several near-century homes. We love the character and architecture of such houses, including the sublime notion that generations of families have already made the house a home for future occupants.
Old homes come with dangers for little kids
On the other hand, our family has certainly had to adapt to built-in child dangers that old homes often pose. A few examples would be radiators with no covers, windows that either close dramatically or don't open at all, and random staircases whose use has changed over time.
Another aspect of old homes that requires adaptation? Their porousness. Drafts from original windows, cracks in walls and floors, and occasional leaks from aging pipes combine to make an old home feel especially well-traveled — whether by spirited critters or spirits of past owners. When I'm in a good mood, I frame the porousness as evidence of how irresistible an old house is to all humans and animals, living and deceased. In a sense, you are never alone, and even the weather wants to come inside.
On darker days, I lament the extra company we have to host.
It's hard to parent in old houses
The raising of very young children in such a porous environment can be especially lamentable. I learned this one day when I was a stay-at-home dad and began potty training my oldest daughter. At that time, we owned a 90-year-old center hall Colonial with original hardwood floors throughout most of the first floor, including the kitchen and a half-bathroom.
As parents know, potty training is a complicated endeavor filled with surprises, most of them moist. My first surprise came early in the training. For some reason, my daughter would race to the toilet in the half-bathroom, but then instead of jumping on the seat to go, she would lose control right next to the toilet, creating a large puddle on the hardwood floor. As I cleaned up each mess, I thought about how great it would have been if she had just made it that extra foot. But then I would console myself by thinking at least it was better than her going on the living room area rug.
The business of stopping just short of her destination continued for a few weeks. Sometimes she would go on the hardwood floors in another room, but usually, her urine was reserved for this quasi-litter box known as the bathroom floor.
In the meantime, I made a discovery in the basement. I started to notice in my basement office what I thought was water damage to areas of my desktop and bookcases. Some papers were stained, and the wood seemed blemished.
I don't know if it was the sleep deprivation of a young parent or my constant Bounty "Quicker Picker Upper" auditions, but I could not connect these two moist surprises. I could only speculate that maybe a pipe was dripping somewhere.
Then one day during my daughter's potty training, I happened to run downstairs — probably for more paper towels — immediately after wiping up the bathroom floor, and there it was: the missing leak. I was horrified to learn it was raining urine in my office. I started grabbing absolutely everything in sight, beginning with the electrical equipment, to get it out of harm's way, all the while trying to block out my disgust at the situation.
It turned out several sections of those beautiful hardwood floors were not quite leakproof due to their age. Fixing those floors rose to number one on my to-do list (no pun intended). But before I had time for the repairs I needed a short-term solution, since my daughter wasn't going to postpone her next urination just for me. After a short brainstorming session, I decided that a large umbrella for my office would not be very practical. What I needed was a tarp like the groundskeepers at baseball fields use for heavy rain. Of course, they don't carry a tarp at OfficeMax, and I decided not to shock the salesperson with my disturbing dilemma. So I improvised with some large plastic bags to cover the area. I'm not sure this qualifies as weatherproofing your basement, but it solved my immediate problem. Talk about adaptation.
There is no moral to this story. And I will admit that when you are parenting a very young child in a very old home that has "character," the combination can sometimes turn the owners into characters in an absurdist drama. But I always take solace in knowing that generations of parents before me have no doubt shared some of these adaptational struggles in the house. Most likely, many future parents will as well. In a sense, an old house is a palimpsest of potty training and other parenting trials that whispers like a ghost to comfort its current residents: "This too shall pass."
Vincent O'Keefe is a writer and former stay-at-home father with a Ph.D. in American literature. Visit him at VincentOKeefe.com or on Twitter @VincentAOKeefe or Facebook at Vincent O'Keefe.
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