The Washington Post

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


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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