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Self-Growth and the Home Depot

Let me start by saying… I had a brutal therapy session this morning. No, not with a client. With me. My therapy with my therapist. Yes, I go to therapy. I go when I need to. I go to stay current and honest. I go to hold myself accountable for saying and facing hard things with another human being. I go because I trust the mirror that is my therapist - he’s non-judging, wise, compassionate, and sometimes he lovingly makes me laugh at myself. So let’s just state that at the outset, and I’ll come back to it.

I don’t know about you all, but Spring always makes me want to clean things up and make them better. Prettier. More efficient. Springtime is when my house takes small and giant leaps forward. So far this spring, I’ve weeded, edged the beds, pruned the shrubs, mulched (120 bags!), planted new flowers, reorganized a closet, and sprayed about 1,000,000 cicadas off of my plants, deck, house, and even my clothes. I’ve deep cleaned the screened-in porch, washed and laundered all of the drapery and upholstery. I broke out the long nozzle and vacuumed/deep cleaned under the bed and hard to reach places. I ordered gravel for under the deck. I found six spectacular clematis plants, called on my trusty landscaper to get them in the ground correctly, bought trellises which had to be custom fitted with a hand saw, done by yours truly, and secured the trellises to the columns of the deck with garden twine so that they’ll wind their way up and over the pergola. We’ll have shade! (in three years…) New gutters have been ordered and will be installed next week. The pest control company came out and sprayed for carpenter bees. Still left to do: power wash the front porch, finish edging and mulching a couple of beds in front, replant some cone flowers, plant more caladium (one can never have enough), fertilize the roses, fertilize the flowers and other plants, spot treat the grass, kill more weeds, organize more closets, and clean out the garage.

And did I mention we got a new puppy? Our “old” puppy (11 months) now seems like an old dog next to the 10 week old explosion of energy and curiosity we just brought home. Our beloved Jasper got his very own dog, Harper. Here she is:

So many trips to the Home Depot! We need more mulch. We need fertilizer. We need brick cleaner. This “thing” is the wrong size, gotta go back for a different “thing.” This fix didn’t fix it. Gotta try a new idea. We don’t have nails that are long enough. This is the wrong type of soil, the wrong mulch color. The gate needs a new handle. And on and on…

I’ve obviously been and am quite busy! And tired. But mostly happy. Plants and animals delight and heal me in ways nothing else can, so I believe it’s fair to say I need them as much as they need my care and attention. And a home project is a satisfying endeavor. I learn to work with new tools, develop new skills, stretch my capacities, and have the experience of starting something and finishing it. It’s a rarity in my line of work to say the word, “Done!” So I relish it when I can.

But the near constant activity these past few weeks hasn’t numbed me or distracted me from what’s been going on inside. Indeed, the care of plants and animals is a moment-by-moment reminder of how things grow, what conditions must be in place, and patience. It takes patience to wait for roses to come in. It will take years of patience for our clematis to provide shade from the summer sun. It takes patience to train Harper. (She doesn’t have Jasper’s focus. She’s far more playful and mischievous than he was at her age.) As I work in the yard, in the house, with the dogs, I ponder. I process.

So when I sat down in therapy this morning, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to talk about but I was aware of a feeling: sadness. With two skilled therapists in the room, we knew that the feeling was the place to start. It wasn’t long before I was weeping.

“I hate Mother’s Day! I have no mother and no children! Just miscarriage after miscarriage! Mother’s Day is a yearly reminder that I’m a failure!”


“Why has my life played out like this? Why did I marry so late?! It’s too late!”

(More sobs)

“Other people’s lives look so clean. So well-planned, like they were following a script, but mine looks like…like…”

“Like what, Vanessa?” he asked gently.

“Like a fixer-upper! Other people’s lives are new builds. Clean. Built right. Yeah, there are problems here and there, but the foundation is sound. But with me, I had to gut the whole damn thing!”

We went back and forth in this metaphor, laughing together as much as I cried. I face planted into my palms in a pile of self-pity and choked out in disgust, “Ugh! I sound like an Enneagram 4!” (Which I am.) He patiently validated my pain without agreeing with my thinking. In fact he challenged it: “Whose life doesn’t need repair, Vanessa?” he countered. “You know this isn’t true.”

“Yes, I know it. But as much repair as me?” Again, he showed compassion without agreeing with my insistent self-loathing.

When time was winding down, as I usually do, I asked him what he was hearing, what I might think about upon leaving. His words came quickly.

“Okay, so your life has needed a lot of repair. You’ve had to tear things down and rebuild them right, but you know what that has given you? Self-knowledge. Think of the knowledge you gain when you have to fix something yourself, Vanessa.”

And suddenly, the tears stopped.


He was right. I thought about all of my home projects. The hits and misses. The things you learn from doing it wrong. The trips to the store, forgetting a measurement, having to go home again and measure the same things twice. Learning to take notes. Learning to write things down. Learning the good short cuts that save time but are just as durable. Learning and unlearning and relearning because you have to do it with your own hands. The strength I’ve built. The callouses I’ve stopped caring about. Learning patience for the process. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right, and doing it right takes time.

The knowledge. And the confidence that comes from it.

He told me what my heart needed to hear - that my life is exactly what it’s supposed to be. (I don’t always believe that.) That every bruise, cut, and scar has given me something sacred: self-knowledge. (I do believe that.) And to be honest, completely honest, I’d trade a new build - shiny and pristine - for self-knowledge every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

So… Mother’s Day was hard this year. I sent a few texts to those whose mothering has healed me. I received a few texts from mothers who know the pain of my heart, selflessly thinking of me on their special day. I made brunch for my best friend’s birthday, elegant and delicious just like my own mother would have done, and broke down into tears after we ate. I played with the puppies. I tinkered with the plants. I curled up on the sofa with Jared and the pups after the day was done, grateful to have the one who walked with me through those dark days by my side.

And I didn’t realize on Sunday what I can see today, thanks to one hard but helpful therapy session: I know why I love old houses. They have stories written in their walls. The hallways are worn from worried pacing, walking crying babies, running to greet friends and family, and lives lived going forward, moving to the next thing. A house is home base. It’s the walls that shield you, the roof that covers you, the doors that open to beauty and close to danger. It’s the kitchen, never clean enough because the stove never stops because there are always people coming and going and a meal is always available. The sofa must have been clean one day, but memories were made eating and drinking on holidays and birthdays and no-special-reason weeknights, and the stains each have a story. The dogs need a place to curl up and sleep anyway.

Maybe I’m just an old house. A place you come to feel safe, be yourself, relax, collapse, eat something, and be nurtured. Yes, there is always something to fix, but it doesn’t matter. The weak and broken places won’t change how much I love you.

Heck, maybe I am a mother.


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