My friends were ready to stage an intervention. It wasn’t a dangerous situation — I wasn’t drinking too much or using prescription painkillers. What caused them to question my mental state was an inability to make up my mind on a seemingly simple issue. But as we all know, things are so often not what they appear.
My problem was with doorknobs. Yes, you heard me: handles, knobs, and hinges.
A spiral of indecision began when I decided to fix-up our aging house. My husband and I had been in the same suburban home for 20 years, ever since we left NYC when our sons were toddlers. Now the boys were grown and the youngest was graduating from college. My sons were only two years older than the house, but while they’d become more independent, the house had regressed to the terrible twos — demanding time, money and lots of care and attention. I meanwhile, could barely keep up with my own maintenance. My knees creaked about as much as the floorboards did, and I didn’t want to take care of kids OR the house anymore. If we were going to spend money on a facelift, I’d rather it be on my 56-year-old face, and not our center hall colonial.
The entry hall had cracks in the ceiling, wood rot ate at the door frames, the kitchen needed some new curtains and every room needed a coat of paint. So when a friend and real estate broker mentioned that new door handles were an easy upgrade I thought it would be a quick fix. Shiny new knobs had been known to spruce up an aging gal before, so off I went to the hardware store.
Easy fix? Not quite. Who knew there were so many choices? Handles, levers, round knobs, egg knobs, and so many finishes! Then there were hinges that needed to be matched. For a perfectionist like me who perseverates over details, this was overwhelming. A salesman at Gracious Home helped me pick a classic style and went to get the order form, but he would have needed a degree in abnormal psychology to help me stop changing my mind. I went home and pored over websites and catalogs. The fourth time I showed up unannounced, I saw him run and hide behind some lampshades. Worrying he might call the Bellevue psych ward, I just moved on to another store where I could start fresh. I stared at doors everywhere I went, asked friends to take pictures of their door handles, then made them look at pictures of my door handles. I nearly fell off the Pilates reformer as I found myself staring at the handles of the classroom door, instead of my feet. My husband thought I was insane for asking him his opinion on something he cared so little about. I literally began dreaming of knobs. I couldn’t sleep. I was stuck. I couldn’t get a grip.
. . .
Just when I thought I was on the brink of becoming unhinged, I went to my intuitive internist’s office for a well-timed routine physical. She asked how I was. I mentioned that my eldest son was working in the city and the other had graduated and would be moving soon to Chicago. Unexpectedly, I burst into tears. The floodgates were opened. That’s when it hit me. Transference.
All this obsessing about handles and hinges — it was never about that. It was about the doors. I was feeling emotional about the ones that were closing on a chapter, as my youngest son was about to start on his own life. It was about the once locked doors on their now abandoned bedrooms — museums of their childhood, filled with stuffed bears, class trip souvenirs and other ephemera. It was about the door to the basement where they played with toy cars and Legos before graduating to video games and contraband beer bottles during high school.
I used to dream of the time when the house would be quiet and clean and I would have freedom and time to myself, and yet now I was surprised by my ambivalence about it. I missed the energy and noise that made the house alive. I missed the fridge door opening to shelves full of food and snacks instead of only water bottles and condiments. When the boys came home they were only visiting. I felt like the proprietor of a vacant inn.
Once I realized I wasn’t going crazy, I felt unburdened. I listened to my youngest jamming on his guitar in his room and enjoyed the soundtrack as I reflected on a job well done. A few weeks later when he packed up his Fender and took it on the plane to the Windy City, I was able to see the empty rooms as a testament to a job well done. Whether we were in the same house or across the country, we would always be a family. It was time for me to start a new chapter too. Time to travel to the places I’d dreamed of. Sign up for an art class. Learn Spanish. We could sell the house and move to New York City. Or we might stay awhile and get to know the younger families who moved to the neighborhood to start their own cycle. I’m leaving the door open on that decision. The one with the shiny new polished nickel handle I finally made the decision on.
Susan Stern Kravet is a New York based writer on the topics of parenting, women’s issues and relationships. She enjoys finding the humor in her observations of everyday life. She and her husband have two sons in their 20s who provide lots of material. In her spare time, she enjoys photography, gallery hopping and the pursuit of great cocktail bars.
You can follow her on her blog at MyMothahood.com