illustration by Katherine Streeter

A New Home Can Drive a Man Nuts

Our first home didn’t need any major repairs or renovations. But add a parental visit and a new job, and things got hairy.

One recent morning, I awoke to find that I had transformed into a squirrel. I rushed to the mirror. There I saw for the first time my new large, vacant eyes, a nose that twitches uncontrollably, hair covering my cheeks, those little ears, and, rising up behind, a great bushy tail that stood as high as a garden shrub and was taking up much of the tiny bathroom off the guest room in my in-laws’ house.

I didn’t panic. In fact, I barely had time to notice my new appearance. I made quick, deliberate decisions: no shower (too hard to dry), no dressing (in what? what’s the point now?), get in car (easier to manage than you would think), and get to the new house.

Yes, the house. The new house. The 90-year-old new house that 24 hours earlier had been a nameless place on the side of an Oak Cliff street, but now, after a flurry of paper signing, was my great responsibility. It needed to be painted, yard cleaned, furniture moved, light fixtures changed, fridge bought, washer/dryer connected. It was our first home, and luckily it didn’t need major repairs or renovations. But there was still much to do. As it turned out, my new sciuridic state proved useful. Over the next few months I chirped along cheerfully: paint, go to work, run website, paint, sleep, play with kids, eat dinner, stick head under house, buy lawn mower, paint, build shelves, go to work, write article, mow lawn, lunch with new boss, catch bus, make sonogram appointment, review movie, quit old job. I scrambled and darted with subhuman precision, nibbling and hoarding, climbing and leaping from thing to thing.

There was a goal to all this task-accomplishing: a performance. After my trifecta of move-in, new car purchase, and a career switch, my New Yorker parents were coming to observe my life in Dallas for the first time since my eldest child was an infant.

The parents helped us buy the house. But before that we sparred, argued, grudged, gripped, and spent many years generally not knowing what to do with each other. That’s all behind us, owing in no small part to the fact that I have grown up. Now I own a home, the most normal, responsible thing a young American can do. I have a regular job. I eat dinner at the dining room table. I have given up spontaneous moves to foreign countries. I take the kids to the park. I even watch late-night TV.

Still, you can imagine my anxiety driving up to the curb at the airport.

All was well for a few days. Then both kids got sick with ear infections. The tankless water heater broke. Then the dishwasher decided to stop draining. And the launch date for a new website I was supposed to run was quickly approaching. The parents and children played, and I slipped back into the hypnotic drone of tasking: digging away at my computer (edit, write, post, opinion, photo), chirping into a cell phone at the water heater manufacturer, disappearing to the bus stop (ride the bus, post to the blog, edit the piece, lunch with the guy, meeting, drinks, edit, write, fix, call, pay). I could feel it. The squirrel-like traits were returning.

On the last day of my parents’ visit, I was on the floor, my hand stuck in the back of the dishwasher, splashing through the murky water past floating leaves of old lettuce, when my mother walked in the kitchen.

“Peter, are you okay?” she asked.

I pulled my body out of the dishwasher and raised up on my hind legs. My mother stood in the doorway staring silently. I was self-conscious about my little arms hanging in front of my hairy body, as well as my large banana-shaped feet. But then I noticed Mom’s eyes—just as glassy and unthinking as my own. As she turned away and began nervously foraging for nuts in the pantry, I noticed her tail for the first time. That’s when I realized that adulthood makes us all a little squirrelly.


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