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Around the Bend: Spoiling a teen with the basics

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Posted on July 26, 2012 |
By Jessie Raymond



Our daughter is away this week, so we’re redoing her room as a late 13th birthday present. It’s no secret that we spoil her rotten, and this is just one more way to pamper her. When she gets home, her room will have two new luxuries: multiple electrical outlets  — grounded, no less — and heat.

She’s a princess, all right.

In case you are unfamiliar with old houses, let me explain. In a startling lack of foresight, homebuilders in 1860 made no allowances for the future need for electrical outlets, apparently assuming that video games, once invented, would be powered by candlelight.

Later, in the early 20th century, electricians seemed to think a single two-prong outlet in each room would suffice. Our daughter assures us, frequently and in agonizing tones, that this is not the case.

We just couldn’t stand her living this way any longer — meaning mostly that we were sick of hearing her gripe. Oh, and there was that fire hazard thing, too.

As for the heat, the room has none, not even one of those floor registers that allow children to drop pennies on the heads of people sitting in the room below. In the winter, the only warmth her room gets is from her vigorously rubbing her hands together before zipping herself into a sleeping bag rated for minus 20 F.

But all that’s about to change. Soon she’ll be living in the 21st century, able to safely plug in a light, an iPod charger and a fan all at the same time. And this winter, with the new hot-water baseboard heat, she’ll sleep comfortably and won’t be waking us up all time with her whining (“Mom, my chilblains are hurting again!”).

Renovating a room in an old house is tricky, though. How extensive does the work have to be? Do we keep the old plaster and lath, or tear it down and put up new sheetrock? Through careful diplomatic effort, I’ve managed to convince my husband that we should keep the plaster. I like to rush things and I’m notoriously frugal, so I’ve had to promote my secret agenda (to save time and money) by using phrases like “retain the house’s original flavor” and “preserve the past.” He’s buying it.

Not only will we be bringing the room up to modern-day living standards, but we’ll also be repainting. In a moment of weakness years ago, I allowed the then-7-year-old to choose her own wall color. As children will do, she changed her mind before the last brush stroke had dried. I remember banging my head slowly against one of the Barney purple walls as she said, “Um, actually, I wanted yellow.”

This time I’m putting my foot down. She has requested three walls in hot pink and one in black-and-white zebra stripes.

She’s getting four walls in off-white.

Hey, we’re already indulging her demands for heat and electricity; she can have full creative control when her tastes change less often than the seasons or when she starts paying for the paint, whichever comes first.

So far we’ve had only one setback: Last night Mark carefully removed the old baseboards to allow us to run new wiring without removing the plaster walls, and hidden behind those baseboards was — nothing. I can’t get over it.

I watch “Antiques Roadshow.” I read “Country Living.” People are forever pulling down old walls and coming across items like Abraham Lincoln’s shopping list (“Pick up a score of eggs,” etc.). To watch some of those auction shows, you’d think the most common form of insulation in the olden days was a signed original of the Declaration of Independence.

I really felt cheated. I even had my “Antiques Roadshow” reaction all prepared: “Lincoln’s shopping list? Worth $70,000? Wow. But we could never sell something so special.” Ha.

We may not have found any treasures, but I keep telling myself we’re getting something more valuable. This winter, our daughter will be able to stomp upstairs, slam the door and sulk indefinitely in her room without us worrying about her dying of exposure or an electrical fire.

We’ll still have a moody teenager, but at least she’ll be a safe moody teenager.

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