Juan and I have been sprucing up our place. After five years it was time to make some updates around the house! After some negotiation we decided to get our apartment painted (see our blog post “How Painting My Apartment Improved My Marriage”). The second project I decided to tackle was re-grouting and caulking the bathroom shower. Rather than hire somebody I decided this would be a do-it-yourselfer. I am no handyman by any stretch of the imagination, but I thought, “I got this”. My plan was to watch some YouTube videos and to consult with the local hardware store clerk. No big deal right?
When Stephanie told me she wanted to re-grout and caulk the bathroom shower herself I was a little worried. She announced she would complete the job while I was away for the weekend at a meditation retreat. We live in a brownstone apartment in Brooklyn, NY. While these brownstones are beautiful and charming, they are also quite old. The one we live in was built in 1899. Stephanie and I often joke that we are going to put a sign above the toilet for visitors, “I look nice, but I am old and tired and ready to give up. Treat me gently.” So it seems with everything in our apartment. I imagined part of the wall caving in as Stephanie was re-grouting. I decided that my concern may be a bit extreme and kept it to myself. Instead I asked, “I thought you were going to do this with your dad?”
Originally the plan was to wait for the weekend my father was going to be visiting. However, once I want something I want it immediately! Plus, I felt bad consuming a whole weekend with my father (who we only see a few times a year) doing heavy labor. Juan, was going to be away for the weekend for one of his meditation retreats (see “Meditation, Flooding, and Marriage”), so I thought it would be a great time to tear some stuff up! I bought all of the material I would need, and I timed everything so I would be finished by Sunday afternoon. “I can do this, and it will be fun”, I thought to myself.
After a brief conversation with Stephanie, it seemed she was set on doing the project solo and for the weekend I was going to be away. It is not like I would be much help anyway. I have no illusion about my handiness for these sorts of projects. In fact, I thought it is for the best that I was going to be away. Probably less stressful for both of us. I also did not want to express my concerns about walls caving in. Sometimes it is best to let these things play themselves out. A part of me was also intrigued to see how it would all turn out.
I began my project on Friday evening right after work, so as not to waste any time. I needed to ensure it was done in time for work on Monday. I put on some Beyoncé, put on my work jeans and one of Juan’s old t-shirt, and got to work. I sang along to the “Run the World (Girls)” and thought – “this is going to be fun.”
[Several hours later.] The process of removing grout is painfully slow. I used a utility knife and an oscillating tool. I had to scrape out the grout around each tile in the bathroom shower. I did not get as far as I hoped. “Oh well” I thought, “I will get an early start start tomorrow.” I went to bed dirty with sore arms, but still optimistic.
I woke up at the crack of dawn the following day, had some coffee, and got to straight to work. As the time passed myarms became increasingly tired. Once it was time to add the new grout, that is when the troubles began. Everything was taking longer than I thought, I could barely left my arms, and the bathroom looked terrible. Awful in fact. I had a meltdown.I was sitting in the tub, completely covered in dust, and I started to cry. It looked so easy in the videos! What was I doing wrong? Would I ever finish in time? Would we ever be able to shower again (yeah, I was going there)? In the middle of my sobbing “Everybody Hurts” by REM came on the radio. It brought me back to my awkward teen years when I was frequently bullied and treated like an outsider. I thought to myself, “I survived the hell that was high school, of course I can do this!”
I changed the radio station, splashed some cold water on my face and did something out of
character, I called someone for help. Well, actually, I called Radames, an older Puerto Rican man who does a lot of maintenance work for the wealthy brownstone owners on our block. We befriended him when we were looking for somebody to paint our apartment although he was too expensive. I asked him if he was available. He said he was not because of the holiday (it was Easter- I had no idea). However, he gave me some helpful tips and encouragement over the phone. I hung up and said to myself, “I have to do this damn it”! The whole time the prospect of not being able to take a nice shower before work on Monday morning was unsettling, but most of all the worry that I would let my husband down. He trusted me enough to take on this challenge. I was determined. I said screw the YouTube videos, I am going to do things my way. I found a good technique and rhythm. I sang along to Salt N Pepa’s “Push It”. I was finished with the grout by that evening. I was even filthier than the night before, but dropped into bed exhausted and content. By the time Juan got home on Sunday, the shower was dry and ready to be used.
I arrived home from my meditation retreat. I was glad to be back and to see Stephanie. She looked clean and fresh. As usual, my first stop was the bathroom. As I walked in I had to do a double take. I was not sure what to expect when I got back. I guess I was expecting things to look only slightly different and also hoping no walls caved in. However, the work Stephanie did blew me away. She hit a home run and I admired her for it and I told her so. It was a completely different bathroom. It reminded me of those “Scrubbing Bubbles” commercials from the 70s where by the end the bathroom is twinkling clean. I told her forget Happy Couples Academy, she should go into business fixing bathrooms.
Juan was impressed by my work and kept saying how proud he was of me. That was the best part! I was proud of myself too.
Overall, it took more time, more effort, and more money than I anticipated, but I appreciate the results so much more because I did it. Ironically, it was fun too. I would totally do it again!
Some things I learned from my experience:
- Be humble: I was confident I could knock this project out in a few hours. Well, it took about 20. My ego took a bit of bruising, but I was truly humbled by the whole experience.
- You can fix your mistakes: In the midst of my meltdown, I thought I had made our shower FUBAR and there was no other solution than to hire professional help. Once I got myself together mentally and emotionally, I just re-did some of the areas I thought looked bad, and they came out much better. Even something like grout that dries into a solid is not permanent. I could fix my mistakes and keep the project moving. No biggie.
- Do not be too proud to ask for help: I was out of my league and I was desperate. Again, I was humbled in picking up the phone and calling for help, but I got some really helpful tips! Honestly, I should have called for help sooner.
- Believe in yourself: After I shed a few tears and indulged in some self-loathing, I snapped myself out of it. I knew a poor attitude was not going to get me anywhere. I have overcome much worse things in my life. I could do this! Even if the results were not perfect, I could do it!
Now, you may be reading this thinking, “what on earth does it have to do with marriage”? All of the lessons I learned that weekend, can be applied to a relationship. Be humble, you can fix your mistakes, do not be too proud to ask for help, and believe in yourself. I also feel grateful for Juan’s supportive attitude for when I want to take these projects on.
I would add to Stephanie’s words of wisdom to take time to appreciate the wonderful things about each other. Fondness is something to be actively cultivated and expressed in relationships (see blog "Loss of Fondness and Admiration: Is it an Inevitable Part of Relationships?"). We dedicate an entire module to this in our relationship workshop. Do not take your partner for granted and let them know the reasons you admire them. I admire Stephanie because she is willing to push herself and try new things. I also admire what a competent job she often does even when trying something new.
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