If the Lights Are All Down

At first I thought it was like living in a hotel, except that we were the hospitality staff waiting for a guest. Now I’d say it’s more like living in a museum where we have to make it constantly look like Friday, June 22nd at 2 pm, the time that our home officially started offering showings to potential buyers.

“Don’t eat that fruit–it’s for display only.”

“Please swipe your bum print off the couch. It needs to look like no one lives here.”

“You guys are all using the same plate and cup so I can hide them in the microwave between meals. We eat and sleep here, but we don’t actually live here.”

This was supposed to last for maybe one weekend.

But alas, we debuted our home in a lull, a nearly inscrutible dip in this seller’s market we took heart from when, in May of this year, houses were going like new iPhones to those Apple users I still don’t understand. In the grand scheme of things, the dip probably looks like this graph of a healthy man’s sex drive, but let me tell you what it feels like.

By Friday evening (a long six hours into this tedium), I had decided I would get my own helium balloons and a sign just to get someone to come and see the miracle we had pulled off. Over the course of two weeks and with the help of my brother-in-law and my brother getting the house ready with us, and with the help of my parents and several friends and neighbors watching our kids, we had taken five years of wall mayhem and yard blindness and restored our home nearly to the state in which we’d found it. Primer, patch repair, paint, mulch, flowers, sifting landscaped material like we were sorting through shredded documents and coffee grounds at the precipice of a political scandal, we recaptured this home like it was still 2013 and four kids had never set foot in this suburban palace.

Bless my agent’s heart, he reminded me after 24 hours of no one calling that “it only takes one.” And I countered, “Yes, that’s what Little Women said about finding your mate, but when you’ve waited until you’re 16 to date and everyone makes it sound like you’re going to have suitors lined up at your door for a mile, it’s pretty hard on the self-esteem to hear not even a single knock.” Fortunately, I was laughing by then about my plan to put on my own open house. I now understand better why my mom once told a nice young man to ask me out (I wasn’t so impressed at the time, but at least now I can identify with the desire to make something good happen come hell or high water).

But untouched though she was, no one even looked at our beautiful home. All the development of her best features, the construction on her inviting smile, the tireless sculpting of her character, and everyone had tuned out of home-buying mode for vacationing and looking after their own home and yard projects. All dressed up, all stressed out, and no place to go.

A friend of mine has been in need of work. So I offered a list of things I could pay him to do as we neared the deadline for our home’s debut. It didn’t work out for him to come help with the final push, so he asked yesterday if our home still needed any “surgery.” I had to laugh and admit that she’d had some work done, a tummy tuck (carpet stretching) as a final touch, and now all we were doing was keeping up her appearance.

Today, seven days into this insanity, I finished tidying up our museum while the kids waited in the car to head to an orthodontic appointment.

This “tidying up” is the model home version of brushing your hair, powdering your nose, reapplying lipstick, putting on a spritz of body spray, and blow-drying your armpits real quick.

The kids sleep in the basement in sleeping bags with barf bowls and a towel spread next to them just to keep the tummy demons away. Those I gather and neatly stack in the storage room. We have exactly seven toys in the home to serve as proof that children can happily live in this house. Totes of Lego are conveniently hidden in the closet with the sump pump. Books on shelves are all non-partisan. Religious symbols are only vaguely Christian. The red, white, and blue office leaves room for discussion as to what patriotism and progressivism have in common (waiting on a link from radio show Colorado Matters got it!). Plants both artificial and real accent our living spaces. Pillows hide stains on furniture that we’re taking with us anyway. Stains on the carpet are there for every critical eye to see.

I know the story behind these stains, but I can hear her thoughts, “I can’t help that genetics gave me these features that make me stand out for the wrong reasons. And you’ve made me so pretty, but I’m smiling because I’m shy, not because I’m happy. It’s confusing to get so much attention suddenly. I can see every flaw as I gaze in the mirror and wonder if someone as beautiful as me will get me. And then when they get past the glossed-over exterior, will they still want me?”

“Don’t worry,” I tell her. “Last week they could have shown up at your worst, and they didn’t. Remember when my husband got home after our preschooler puked all over him in the theater? If Murphy’s law were in effect, we would have had a dozen calls while he was cleaning that up. Or this morning even. Remember how I was carefully showering like I wasn’t supposed to be in there at all, and no one called while I was cleaning up the announcement that a little one had just pooped their pants? So don’t fret. Fate is not interested in showing off your weak points. Just be yourself.”

I fluff pillows, wipe away smudges, remove garbage, rotate plants, unlock forbidden places, hide all things personal and valuable, try to erase traffic marks since I have no time to vacuum. In a “Pongo, you old rascal!” moment, I wonder where my snow brush for the car is. I want to erase our footprints on the stairs. I do all this because I get one hour’s notice before a showing, and I will be gone for more than an hour. This beauty must be ready to shine when her moment arrives. (Don’t die laughing, but this is exactly how my husband looked last Sunday morning before church. I can’t tell you how deliciously funny it was to watch him playing my role for once.)

Laundry going, dishwasher running. I’ll just leave the blinds and curtains all closed and let her eyes wearily rest while the make-up and hair designer finishes the ordeal of making her look perfect. Richly striped shower curtain in laundry area drawn over the living creatures left behind out of pure necessity. Gerbil-sitting when everyone has a pet dog, cat, or child is like asking me to guard your bowl of rapidly melting ice cream. Off sugar or not, I cannot ignore the plight of ice cream softening to the perfect consistency. Gerbils and melting ice cream are best left with their owners.

I plop into the driver’s seat, applaud the children’s patience, thank the Lord that it is only 9 am and no one will die of heat stroke from waiting in the car 10 minutes in the shade since we are slated to hit 100F today, and I glance at my phone.

We have a request to show our home! It’s only an agent preview, but someone is coming to see my darling! Be still my beating heart (maybe not still, just calm). As we leave the neighborhood, I leave a message with our agent asking if he can come do the lights, A/C, and blinds since I will be gone just prior to this scheduled preview.

Andy. Andy the realtor. Andy who plucked a dead prairie dog out of the vacant next-door house’s window well so it wouldn’t start to stink. Andy who does everything and so he could be called “And-He the Realtor” because you just want to keep saying, “And he did this and he did that and he…” I await my agent’s heroic words of action, but no response. I try again, and it turns out he is en route to the hospital to follow up on his son’s surgery from last week. Fair enough.

But his wife, not a realtor but definitely real in every way that matters, comes to the rescue. She would vacuum but she has a conference call, so she turns up our A/C, flips on all the lights, and opens all the blinds. She even throws some items I left on the washer into the dryer for me. Never mind that it’s my mail, my day bag, and the kids’ Lego booklets. It is now out of view!

My daughter finishes her appointment, and now we have time to go to the smoothie place we’ve skipped the last couple times because they take so long. Time is what we do have now. One child pouring through Harry Potter #5, one child pouring his piña colada onto the table to observe its qualities, one child doing exactly what I asked her to do, and one child bouncing along the furniture to the beat of the music while eating the crackers I set there like a bird crumb trail. I am loving this home-selling life. Finally doing something we’ve wanted to do for a long time.

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Twenty minutes. And now the preview should be rolling along nicely. Are they getting to know her the way I know her? Is she letting her best qualities show? I hope the lights are all on.

We head for the park. Approximately 14 ounces of each child’s 16 oz. smoothie has been handed to me to finish. That’s cool. I’m not eating sugar. This is all fruit. And it’s melting. Melting fruit.

Stop at Dwayne Webster Memorial Park. Darling children everywhere in patriotic headwear. I notice that the playground is appropriately red, white, and blue. I’m loving the public radio piece on patriotism and progressivism having plenty of common ground. Life just feels right. Or left. All of it is good.

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And then a text message. An offer? Is this the one? Someone knows their client so well that just a simple preview and they’re falling all over themselves to ask for her hand in mortgage?

No. “Showing request canceled.”

Canceled? What do you mean, “Canceled?!” Does that mean that 20 minutes in they realized it wasn’t going to happen, so they dropped her off early? Does it mean they brought her home because she just wasn’t having a good time? Or they just needed the time apart to begin planning for their life together? What does canceled mean?!!

“Well, kids, we can go home now.”

“Really?!” my ever optimistic almost-four-year-old asks. “Is someone buying our house?”

“Um, yes. Just not today.”

I heard this Blondie song as we drove home, and at least the first minute or so just fit so well. We need our house to meet its new owner one day, but preferably by next week since we are moving the week after that, come hell or high water.

2 thoughts on “If the Lights Are All Down

  1. We went through the same thing when we sold our little house in Colton. It was 1100 square feet and we had 5 children at the time. It’s tough to hide that fact in the house and tough to keep them entertained away from the house. Fortunately my mother lived only about 4 miles away so we could take them there and let them destroy her house while people looked at ours!

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    • I can’t imagine less space with more kids! We have this giant TV Merrill bought just before we decided to move. There may have been a recent uptick in screen time at this house :-/

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