By Tilly Dillehay
There’s a fine line, I’ve recently found, between a hormonally-driven crying spell and what my parents called a plain old bad attitude.
A bad attitude is not as difficult to diagnose as one might think. Even children can do it.
“Do you have a bad attitude?” my parents would ask. “If you do, it needs to be fixed.” And if I did, in fact, have a bad attitude, there was never a real question in my mind about it. “Do I?” I never had to ask. A bad attitude is like a toothache—easy to diagnose, painful to address.
Exact methods for fixing a bad attitude vary, and I won’t go into that sort of thing here (but I will just say that a good spanking seems to have dropped off the list of options in Parenting Magazine, and I call that unfortunate).
Recently I saw a small kid yell at his mother and then stalk down the outside steps at our apartment building, carrying his blankie with him. I was passing by the bottom of the staircase, and he stared defiantly at me. Without thinking, I asked him the appropriate question.
“Do you have a bad attitude?” I said, gravely.
“Yes,” he said after a moment’s thought.
“You should get that fixed,” I said. Then I smiled at him and carried my groceries inside.
Yessiree. Anybody can tell a bad attitude when they see one. Despite this, bad attitudes can strike when you least expect them. And I am by no means immune. I had a painful reminder of that this week:
See, this week my husband and I got into our new house.
We entered the back door armed with paint brushes and Pet Odor-X, ready to put our stamp on the place (and remove the stamp left there by a previous owner’s enterprising dog). The idea was to move in on Saturday, so we had just a couple of days to clean and paint specific rooms before they were full of furniture. We figured that other projects (of which there are many) could wait for the early months of actually living here.
I love a good remodel. My childhood is full of happy remodeling memories, because my parents tended to buy another project home about every 2-3 years. This yielded lots of fun experience for us kiddos—scraping popcorn texture off of dated ceilings, painting dark wood paneling (for a whole new look!), and living out of our living room for two weeks while the kitchen counters and appliances got redone.
I love befores and afters as much as the next girl, and have always enjoyed the hands-on, cheap fixes I remember from childhood. There are oodles of easy cosmetic improvements to be made on almost any home built before the year 2000. Painting, especially. Painting is part of the fun when you get a new space of your own.
But as I stood in the kitchen last week and examined our dark, tiny rooms (it’s a starter house all right) and contemplated the back-breaking work, the decision making, the late evenings, the packing and unpacking, the dirty carpets and strange closets to be investigated… I suddenly found myself bursting into tears. I cried for several minutes. Don’t ask me how long, exactly. Maybe two minutes. Maybe ten.
Then I settled into a sustained whine. I mumbled to myself as I opened drawers and cabinets. I pouted to myself about other opportunities lost, about other houses owned by other people, houses that didn’t smell and had reasonably sized dining rooms. Suddenly I wasn’t even sure if befores and afters are all that great.
Just then, a friend stopped by to see our new purchase. Chipper and enthusiastic, she got the tour, chiming in with observations and exclamations.
“Oh, how fun!” she concluded when we got to the last room. “A home of your own! And a project! We can pick your paint colors now!” And I thought: Maybe this isn’t so bad after all.
My upbeat friend had set me to rights. What’s more, she had a little extra time the next day, and actually came to help me paint the first and second room. (This is what true friendship looks like.)
That night, we put in the first coat of primer, on one of the darkest rooms (more of that wood paneling!). The next day, I picked the first paint color. The room was done by nightfall. It was lovely. It was suddenly transformed. Bright! Airy! Crisp! The perfect place for all seven of our bookshelves! (Justin has a book problem)
My enthusiasm is baaack.
I can’t wait to rip the carpet up in the second bedroom and get to that original wood floor! Can’t wait to sand and paint the trim in every single room, to steam off that hideous wallpaper border, to paint the kitchen cabinets! Maybe I’ll even get ambitious and try this DIY concrete countertop thing I saw on Pinterest!
It wasn’t until the next day that I diagnosed this very obvious episode of a Bad Attitude. Granted, I’m pregnant. I’m in a weakened and vulnerable state.
But does that really explain it away? If my childhood training serves me well, there’s one thing I know: a bad attitude is a bad attitude. And what do you do with a bad attitude?
You fix it.