Family Man: A Space Odyssey

The convenience of finding my socks next to the fine china and forgetting that the window to the neighborhood is open while slipping on underwear are not my idea of homey comfort.

Of my many nerdy qualities, one is a penchant for referencing science fiction movies.

I don't go to conventions or attempt Vulcan nerve pinches (OK, I tried it once at a harrowing kid party and I swear it sort of worked), but I cannot resist comparing my current living situation to the Star Wars scene in which our heroes encounter a deadly starship trash compactor.

Highlight the part where an alien water creature almost asphyxiates Luke and you might imagine my life in the throes of a home remodel.

When we began construction four months ago, we thought we could mentally prepare for the temporarily reduced living environment and count ourselves lucky that we mustered the resources to take on the project. However, the moment a plywood board separated the back of the house from the front, we knew we had underestimated the effect of squeezing our family of two adults, three sons, a dog, two cats, and 20 moving boxes into an area that would stifle submarine sailors.

At the beginning, Ari (age 3) moved into the bedroom with Jacob (6) and Benjamin (9). The Brady Bunch boys shared a room, but I don't remember them stockpiling dirty laundry and toys as if preparing for the apocalypse or beating the heck out of each other like ancient Spartans and Greeks. That space is now so dangerous that even our love-starved dog refuses to enter.

In our living room, where once we watched TV and enjoyed relaxed dinners at the big wood table, we now have a king-size mattress and dressers in place of the couch. Our kids think the configuration is a blast, as they jump on the bed, leaving coarse dirt for us to snuggle with at night. But the convenience of finding my socks next to the fine china and forgetting that the window to the neighborhood is open while slipping on underwear are not my idea of homey comfort.

The kitchen is not bad, except for the fact that we transferred most of the food to the garage so the pantry could be rotated to make space for the room behind it. There's also the plaster dust that coats our breakfast cereal and snack pretzels. Extra fiber!

In the bathroom, which includes the only shower-bath we have had in the house up until now, I have no problem with the lack of privacy. My wife does not agree. She has to schedule her baths when the kids are asleep and endures inquiries about feminine products that are normally hidden in our bathroom. Liquid lipstick makes a great art tool for the walls and hair bands serve as excellent slingshots.

Added to this are the contractor's interruptions when he walks in, while we brush our teeth, to ask about recessed lights. The kids melt down more because of the lack of household consistency, especially when breakfast is never in the same place and homework papers get lost in the piles. Seriously, we could make a pot roast in our pressure cooker of a house.

Yet, the tight quarters offer certain blessings. Without doors to hide behind, we talk more, wrestle more and cuddle more. Our older sons bond better, having to share a table to do their math assignments. And Wendy and I are taken back to a simpler time when we had our cozy first apartment.

The situation allows such moments as the night we ignored the disorder to watch Raiders of the Lost Ark while sitting on our mattress. Ari put his arms around Jacob and Benjamin and said in his little voice, "I love my brothers."

With the extra roominess we have long wished for arriving soon, we hold on to the benefits of our proximity to one another. We also discuss with our boys about our good fortune to have shelter and explain that so many people struggle mightily for it. This is why, in the gift-giving season, our sons want us to donate specifically to housing-related nonprofits.

My holiday wish for everyone is that we should enjoy our domestic spaces, even when they are crowded and chaotic, because our children truly make our houses homes and our hearths roar with life.