We moved in to our new home just over two years ago, on a warm, early summer morning. We loved the simple layout, the accessible neighborhood, and the office with an east-facing window where I welcome the sun each morning at my desk. Or, I should say the sun welcomes me; it was certainly here first. We moved in and immediately enjoyed the newness of the place: the paint was all fresh, the baseboards were still clean, the sinks unused and the brand new, soft carpet would enjoy 48 full hours before it was christened with its first stain but still, they were 48 great hours. And much like the carpets, our crew of five broke in the rest of our new home quickly. Crayons marked the walls and furniture, little ones got sick in bathrooms, and potty training took its toll on a home the way potty training does.
About six months in to our new home, we woke up on a bitterly cold winter night to a painfully hot bedroom. My husband threw off the bed covers and sat up with middle of the night confusion asking, “Why am I sweating? What’s going on? Babe, it’s so hot in here!”
“Did someone mess with the thermostat?” I asked, knowing that there are only two people in the house who could reach the thermostat and they are the same two responsible for paying for each degree they turn it up in the winter, so the answer was likely no. Alex got out of bed and checked it.
“Katie, it is 90 degrees up here. What in the world?” He immediately turned it back down to an acceptable 68 degrees, but the furnace ignored our commands and the actual temperature of the house wouldn’t budge. Neither of us could go back to sleep in the sauna our furnace had created. We checked on the kids, all three of them still sleeping soundly but with sweaty faces and wet hair stuck to their foreheads. We didn’t know what to do other than crack open the windows to the single digit temperatures outside and hope that would quickly combat the heat inside.
The next morning, we called the emergency HVAC technician, who worked in a steamy attic for a few hours trying to address the problem. He moved a few things around, I think, and came back downstairs and said “hopefully that helps.”
Whatever he did made the heat a bit more acceptable, but we still found ourselves with a cold weather problem: turn the heat off and the kids freeze. Turn the heat on and all of mama’s makeup melts. Our furnace refused to find a happy medium. We soldiered on that winter with a few more visits from the technicians when the problem got really bad, but mostly made it with some open windows and setting adjustments. The problem alleviated in the spring and went away entirely in the summer. But winter always returns and with it, our furnace seems to respond with maniacal resistance, pushing so much heat through the home we cannot stop it.
Finally, we got a second opinion. It took us a year too long, but we did. It wasn’t good news, and I will sum it up with this: “You have the wrong furnace for this house, ma’am.”
“The wrong furnace?” I asked. Which, in hindsight, is a very silly question because the statement could not be more clear.
“Yes. It is way too big for this size of house. And the duct work is all wrong, so air is circulating in the same spot and the furnace is overheating and …” on and on he went with technical language that I started to lose right about the time he said ‘wrong furnace.’
“Ok.” I looked back at him. “What are our options for fixing it? Our power bill in the winter is out of control.”
“Well, you need a new one.”
“A new furnace?” I asked with wide eyes. “This house is two years old,” I reminded him.
“Sorry ma’am. You got a lemon of a furnace and a lemon of an installation job. I’m guessing your warranty was up after a year, but I wouldn’t have that company reinstall it anyway.”
“How much does a new furnace cost?”
And because the astute technician saw my stress level rising quickly, he almost whispered the answer. “The one you need is about $6,500.”
“Six thousand and five hundred dollars?! This house is two years old!” I said again.
“I, um, I’m sorry.”
With my mouth still agape thinking about the amount of money I knew we did not have, I failed to notice my five-year-old daughter, who had been listening to our conversation from the couch. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her disappear up the stairs.
“Well, we can’t do anything today,” I responded, trying to be calm, but quite obviously on the verge of tears. “I need to talk to my husband. That is many months’ worth of extra shifts.” And then, in the middle of the awkward silence that hung between me and the stranger delivering expensive news, a little blonde haired girl reemerged at my feet.
“Here you go, mommy.” She handed me her gold, sparkly wallet, heavy with nickels and dimes earned with chores or found under the couch. I took the wallet in my hand and smiled down at my little girl.
“Harper, are you giving me your money?” She nodded with a smile in response.
Just that morning I had broken up a fight between two siblings who both wanted to push the button on the garage door opener, scolding them for not treating one another kindly and arguing over something so silly. Many times in the days before we had conversations about gratitude and why are we whining so much when mom says screen time is over? I cannot number the amount of times I had felt like I am failing to impart sensible, moral conviction onto my children, because I always seem to be having the same conversation with them about kindness and repentance and what it means to reconcile with one another, and how to live open-handedly and recognize our blessings, and it does not feel like it is sticking when you have to tell them again a few hours later.
But then there was a gold, sparkly wallet. “Let’s count how much is in there, mommy. It’s a lot. I think it will be enough for the man to take.” She looked at me then over at the technician, and the sincerity of her generosity was so obvious I wanted to freeze that moment forever.
The work of motherhood is long and slow. It’s not bright and flashy, and even if we put a filter on a hundred happy moments and share them with the world, we all know that real motherhood won’t get us immediate results or a quick shot of affirmation from those around us. It rarely is quick to offer us the fruit of our labor—and that’s ultimately a good thing; we would just get prideful if it did. But in moments like that, when my daughter selflessly offered every penny she had to her stressed out mother, I am reminded to trust that long, slow work; to know that all those conversations, all those lessons, all of those moments and mantras about kindness and repentance, they are taking root, and they are growing—in my children, and in me, too.
Words and photo by Katie Blackburn.