Tim Gunn and a leaky shower: Wel­come to my life, lit­tle guy

The Washington Post - - FAMILY - BY MAG­GIE DOWNS

One week after our son, Ever­est, was born, the shower on the sec­ond floor of my condo be­gan leak­ing into the garage un­der­neath. The land­lady hired the company that gave her the low­est es­ti­mate.

The weeks that fol­lowed were filled with con­struc­tion, start­ing as early as 6 a.m. and fin­ish­ing well after dark. The work­ers used sledge­ham­mers to de­stroy the ex­ist­ing tile, and the con­crete un­der­neath was smashed away with a slow, con­tin­u­ous bang! bang! bang! They thun­ked and clat­tered and car­ried sacks of tile shards down the stairs. They piped a pu­trid, tar­like sub­stance into the gap­ing sore that used to be a shower, then laid sheets of con­crete.

It was not an ideal sit­u­a­tion for any­one, let alone a new­born. My bed­room, which is con­nected to the bath­room, was un­us­able, ev­ery sur­face cov­ered in a thick layer of fine pow­der. My asthma flared, and I wheezed while I rocked my baby. My hus­band went to work, and I stayed at home to over­see the con­struc­tion.

Out­side, it was hot. This was sum­mer in the desert, when the days ranged from 105 to 115 de­grees. Inside was nearly as hot as out­side, the ag­ing air con­di­tioner too dis­tressed to keep up with hell­fire. Ever­est and I set up camp in the liv­ing room. I swad­dled and shushed him, I sang and rocked, but he howled any­way. I was un­rav­el­ing, too — ex­hausted and sore, hor­mones ping­ing, the wound from an un­planned Cae­sarean sec­tion still open and raw. As a means of es­cape, I turned on old episodes of “Project Run­way” and jacked up the vol­ume to drown out the cry­ing and ham­mer­ing.

I binged on show after show, all while feed­ing, di­a­per­ing and try­ing to soothe my cranky child. Mean­while, wellinten­tioned friends sent me e-mails filled with ad­vice for a first-time mom. Mostly they told me this: “Sleep when the baby sleeps!”

Sleep? There was no way. Sleep was so far from my life, I could only vaguely re­mem­ber it.

This baby didn’t sleep. Not re­ally. Not with the bang­ing that shook the walls of our home. Not with the men stomp­ing in and out of the house, up and down the stairs. Not with the whoosh of hot air that tun­neled through the hall­way ev­ery time a worker opened the front door.

On the TV screen, Tim Gunn ad­vised a de­signer to lis­ten to his gut, even though his gut was telling him to make the model look like a trou­bled clown.

This was what I needed. I needed my own per­sonal Tim Gunn, a steady and com­mand­ing pres­ence who would in­spire me to power through this mess and craft a gown out of cof­fee fil­ters.

My Tim Gunn would peer over his rim­less glasses at the crew in my bath­room. “Gather ’round, shower de­sign­ers,” he’d say. “Frankly, I’m con­cerned about your lack­lus­ter ap­proach to this project.” He would be diplo­matic but res­o­lute and tell them they had just 20 min­utes re­main­ing. With Gunn’s guid­ance, those guys would re­al­ize their tiling po­ten­tial, whip the shower into shape and fi­nally leave. Then Tim would look at my radish-red, scream­ing baby, press his per­fectly man­i­cured fin­gers to­gether, and say, “Have you ever con­sid­ered us­ing a softer muslin for that swad­dle?” And he would be right.

That’s how I imag­ined it any­way. But there was no Tim Gunn at my house. There was only me. This was my “make it work” mo­ment.

“Make it work,” of course, is Tim Gunn’s sig­na­ture catch­phrase. As I watched Tim Gunn en­cour­age har­ried de­sign­ers with those three lit­tle words, I re­al­ized his ad­vice was far more help­ful than any­thing else I’d been told. Parenting, after all, is kind of like the ul­ti­mate re­al­ity show. It’s about as­sess­ing your chal­lenges and trans­form­ing them into some­thing man­age­able. I didn’t need to make things per­fect; I just needed to make it work. That meant clos­ing the door on a silt-cov­ered bed­room and mak­ing the nurs­ery floor my tem­po­rary bed, eat­ing on pa­per plates so my hus­band and I wouldn’t cre­ate any dirty dishes, giv­ing up the guilt that came with or­der­ing take­out.

This wasn’t how I en­vi­sioned early moth­er­hood, but it was the un­sightly bro­cade fab­ric I had to work with.

The con­struc­tion crew fin­ished within a day or two of my “Project Run­way” rev­e­la­tion. A dif­fer­ent crew came to in­stall shower doors.

Ever­est was sleep­ing in my arms when the glass man gave me the bad news. The new shower floor had been built at the wrong an­gle, tilt­ing the wa­ter away from the drain in­stead of to­ward it. The floor also wasn’t straight, so there was a spot where wa­ter leaked un­der the new door and spilled into the bath­room.

“You might wanna rip out this shower and put in a new one,” the guy said.

“Just put some ex­tra caulk down here,” I said, point­ing to the small gap be­tween the shower and the shower door. “Let’s make it work.”

I turned on old episodes of “Project Run­way” and jacked up the vol­ume to drown out the cry­ing and ham­mer­ing.

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