Advice / Families

The Price of Generosity

I got home yesterday and spent a good fifteen minutes in my bathroom. I was marveling at the brand new mirror that had just been installed, courtesy of Christmas and my generous in-laws. Counter to ceiling mirrors offset the beautiful new light we had installed a few months ago, and the full package makes that poop-room seem bright, light, and much bigger than before. But the glamour of the brand new mirror also highlighted some of the flaws: dribbled ceiling paint co-mingling with the gray wall paint, a scuffed cabinet that begs to be refinished in some way, and the shower handle that’s hanging by two screws. One minor change has propelled us forward, and yet has also highlighted the imperfections all around.


It’s my day off, and I had to drop my son off for babysitting, so that I could attend a volunteer meeting for a conference I’ve been asked to present at in a few months. I got there early, and said, “the mirror looks SO good! I can’t believe we thought the old medicine cabinet should have gone back on the wall. This makes the room look so much bigger and brighter, thank you so much!” After pleasantries, my mother-in-law said, “yeah, it makes your bathroom look so good, but it really shows how scuffed up that cabinet is.” Ouch, but true. And then she proceeded to say:

I stayed the whole time, and I started thinking that your kitchen cabinets should be next. We might have to do that. But if I were designing it, I would knock out that wall between your living room and kitchen, and put in a half wall with a bar and barstools. I think it would look really good and the cabinets could stay white. Though, then maybe you shouldn’t put money into this house and you should just buy something that’s already move-in ready.

I’m paraphrasing and probably mis-remembering some things.  I’m clouded by emotion, I’m sure. But this isn’t the first time she’s offered decorating advice and then gone so far to say that we should move to a better/nicer/bigger/cleaner/more-kept-up house.


I gotta be honest, but it makes me not want to accept Christmas gifts in the form of home renovations. I don’t want my house to feel like a Christmas gift. I don’t want to feel like charity, or that I can’t make my own house the way I want, or that it’s not good enough as it is, with all it’s 1948 quirks. And I hate feeling like all the work we’ve done to make this place our home, where we brought our son into the world when he was 3 days old, is somehow not good enough. I know that’s my own triggery shit, but it’s what goes through my mind in times of conflict.


When we were looking at houses, we put in an offer on this glamorous two bedroom hipster house in the area. It had unfinished hardwood floors that the carpenter said should be treated with linseed oil to keep their unfinished glory. Instead of an upstairs bedroom it was an open loft concept, and there was no yard planted, but we fell in love with it and put in an offer, despite knowing that after 1.5 years we wouldn’t be able to pay the mortgage on our own and would need help. Maybe there’s a God afterall, because we didn’t get that house. And after holding our breath for two weeks to finally learn that we had been outbid by a ton, we let out the sigh of relief. We let ourselves admit…that house really wasn’t us.

To live there we would have had to remain childfree, gotten a cat instead of our hellion dog, taken up ultimate frisbee and maybe lost 50lbs. I might have needed a boob job and a cappuccino machine. We would have had to buy all new furniture, for risk of ending up that fat girl squeezed into the 2-sizes-too-small cocktail dress. Let’s not pretend to be someone we’re not.


Because in moments of intense internal conflict, where my whole way of being in the world, is being challenged, I shut down. After pushing back on her suggestion that we ‘just move,’ (something we can’t afford NOR do we want to), I left for my meeting and furiously texted with my husband to calm down. I think my house is a home AND a reflection of my personality. It’s comfortable, solidly built, lacking many adornments, but practical. It’s unfinished but makes no apologies and is fiercely proud about the most treasured areas, while simply accepting the flaws. Maybe because it’s my first house, but I feel like this house IS us. We’re a couple with good jobs but not a ton of savings, who value experiences over stuff, and embraces the flaws while not diminishing the positives. To feel judged or shamed or pressured to make changes seems hypocritical, and I told my husband as much, since when I first met him their living room had been occupied by the rattiest old couch known to man. Seriously, a drunken fraternity wouldn’t have accepted it as a gift, with its rips and stuffing spilling out of every cushion.


I don’t want a big house with large windows and granite counter tops just like I don’t want to be 120lbs. I like my lived in comfortable house that has history and room for memories. I am not completely opposed to someday moving, but wherever we choose to go it will have to feel authentically us. I’m not a “meticulous housekeeper,” like she compared me to my friend down the road, and I honestly don’t have any desire to be one. Maybe it’s hard for my mother-in-law to believe, but I also don’t want to spend my life dieting, either. I really like who I am and where I live, and while I can totally get on board with the suggestion for kitchen cupboard upgrades, it’s not a deal breaker, nor do I want or expect her to buy them for me for  Christmas. I feel like the values instilled in me as a child, of being a good steward of what I have, has resulted in me treasuring and working to keep what I have in good shape without simply trading it in for the newest husband/car/house in order to keep up with the proverbial Joneses. My body is functional. My house is functional. My life is full of memories, and that’s what I will carry to my grave.


So now here’s the dilemma. The generosity. I know that they are giving these gifts sincerely because they know they’re things we want or have shown interest in. They bought us our deep freezer one year, our amazing king size bed another, promised molding for the hallways/doors another, and now, the bathroom mirror. It’s all lovely and amazing and has made our house just that much more wonderful. But at what point do we feel like the generosity is encroaching on our way of living, making us feel less like adults and more like dolls in a perpetually renovated dollhouse?


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