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image from here

Parenting is one of those things that almost everybody over a certain age has some experience with. If they haven’t been parents themselves, they’ve at least observed enough to form a few opinions. And boy, do they make their opinions known. When Jack was younger, people would say things like, “Oh, look at the cute baby! Where’s his hat?” Or they would ask whether he was sleeping through the night and tell me what I needed to do to make him. Or ask conspiratorially if I was one of those moms who breastfeeds in public. One lady even told me I was holding him wrong! As he gets older, the comments have changed. Now it’s all about how I respond when he acts out and whether I’m keeping a close enough eye on him. People act like he has no sense of self-preservation and I should be on constant suicide watch.

No matter how active Nick is in parenting our child, others will always view me as the primary caretaker and address their comments as such. I’ve struggled with accepting criticism for as long as I can remember. I developed a much tougher skin after my first few years as a social worker but parenting brings it to a whole new level. Add to that the fact that I bristle at unsolicited advice or being told what to do unless it comes from someone who’s paying me and you have a recipe for frustration. I can seethe for days over one comment.

In my line of work I have seen some people really do their kids a disservice. You’d think that this experience would be reassuring, but really it just makes it easy to see all the ways that I’m falling short. It’s like a friend of mine who’s a social worker on a neuro unit and thinks every headache is a stroke. I know too much.

But at the same time, I know that there are only a few ways to really mess up your kids and a million ways to do a perfectly fine job. I feel like my mantra these days is, “he’s fine.” And you know what? He IS fine! Just because somebody says something doesn’t make it true, and even if their way of parenting is actually right that doesn’t mean that my way isn’t also right. But more importantly, I need to stop taking these comments so personally. What kind of example am I setting for Jack to get so worked up about what other people think?

Parenting is a lot like living in a fish bowl. Everything you do is under scrutiny by the general public. I can’t do anything to change that, but I think I can work on letting those comments roll off my back. Any tips?

So I posted yesterday about how I’d sort of impulsively torn down the railing on our deck.

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I’d been thinking of replacing the railing for a while, but the plan was to replace it with a new railing or something similar. I even got a quote from a handyman to tear it down and construct something like this in its place:

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This Old House

The bench surround is definitely too complex for Nick and I to take on ourselves, but having it professionally done is out of the budget. We still may get a handyman to help us with leveling the deck if necessary but I’d like to try tackling it ourselves first. Besides, once I actually tore the railing down I loved the open look and decided that a bench surround would be too much. So then I started thinking of doing terraced steps around the two edges, like this:

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The idea of terraced steps stayed on my mind for most of last week, but the more I thought about it I knew that it would be a big project for Nick and me to take on ourselves. So now what I’m thinking is to add a second set of steps on the other side of the deck to provide easier access to the herb garden (something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time), and plant monkey grass around the rest of the perimeter to help define the edge and hide the support posts. Like so:

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Cottage and Vine

The easiest and least expensive option seems like the way to go, right? I have some really lush monkey grass (also called liriope) growing in my front yard and I’ve read that it divides and transplants easily. It’ll be easier if I trim it down first and the best time to do that is fall, so I’ll have to be patient I suppose. In the meantime, I can focus on getting the deck and house cleaned up a little, leveling those uneven boards, and maybe even sanding away the reddish-brown stain.

When we bought our house it had this small wooden deck and a weird concrete walkway in the backyard. This photo is from the listing and the tropical plants pictured were gone by the time we toured the house.

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Because we bought our house in 2010 we got a nice tax credit for being first-time homebuyers. We used a chunk of that money to hire a handyman to expand the small deck almost immediately after we moved in.

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It was an awesome decision–the larger deck is much more functional and inviting–but there are some things I would do differently if I could go back.

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Most significantly, the railings. Not only do they close the deck off from the rest of the yard, they’re falling apart after only a few years (maybe because I painted the pressure-treated wood not knowing that it needed to dry out first?).

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Last weekend when we were sitting in the backyard I noticed for the billionth time how annoying it is that I can’t keep a close eye on Jack playing in the yard while sitting comfortably on the deck because the railings block the view. I mean, the railings aren’t even helpful anyway. The deck is less than two feet off the ground and as previously stated they’re not exactly sturdy. So, I figured, why not knock them down? I started with this small piece by the house and it went down with shocking ease.

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Although Nick had initially been opposed to my plan he jumped in pretty quickly once he saw that I was getting to destroy stuff. It was around this time that we realized we should probably come back to finish the project after Jack was in bed for the night instead of continuing as he played nearby.

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After maybe half an hour of total work we had all of the railing removed. We’re still working on getting it all out of the yard, but we’ve knocked down any exposed nails in the meantime. PS we really need to clean the exterior of the house. Add that to the to-do list.

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We’ve got some more work to do before this little makeover is complete. For example, this one post is a smidge higher than all the rest and the deck has always bowed up in this spot. I’d like to fix it. We’re also going to do something different with the transition from deck to yard, though exactly what that will be isn’t yet clear. I get my best ideas when I take my time so I’m not rushing into anything.

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This is one of those projects that I couldn’t believe we didn’t do sooner. The yard feels SO much bigger! I love that I have a clear view of the whole yard from the deck. It feels much more open and being able to supervise Jack while seated at the table is a big plus.

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I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little overwhelmed with all the work there is to do back here, but just like the kitchen makeover that started with impulsively prying off some tiles one Sunday afternoon, I know that I can take it one step at a time. Also, does this indicate a pattern of impulsively demolishing pieces of my house on Sundays? Even the porch door demo happened on a Sunday and with no premeditation.

I knew that having drink dispensers that closed for travel would be the easiest way to transport beverages to Jack’s splashpad birthday party, but dang those things are expensive! I searched high and low, unwilling to pay upwards of $20 each for something I might use once a year, and was thrilled when I finally found these for only $10 each at Target. I could have used them on their own just fine, but they would have had to sit at the edge of the table so that folks could fill their cups and that just felt awkward to me.

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I wanted to find a way to raise them up a few inches if possible. I couldn’t find any drinks stands that had the look I wanted and were worth the money so I started looking for everyday objects that might be repurposed. I really only needed something about 3″ high to accommodate the small cups we were using but whatever it was had to be pretty sturdy. Enter this wood box from the craft store! I think it was about $11 with a coupon. I totally laughed when I saw the text on it, though. I feel like Pinterest has taken our collective penchant for decor that states the obvious a little too far.

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To cover up the text, I painted the center slat kelly green. I was originally planning to stain the rest of it but that one colorful slat looked a little off so I painted the others navy and white. These are the same colors used in Jack’s room and in varying degrees throughout our home so I knew I could repurpose it to store toys or books after the party without having to repaint. I stained the remaining sides and bottom. I was going to stain the inside as well, but after some green paint dripped I painted it green. The green interior is my only regret.

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For the party, we just flipped it over to use as a platform! It was a little breezy that day so we tucked the napkins between the slats to help them stay put. I was a little worried about how the thin wood would hold up to all that weight and moisture from condensation but it did fine.

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The box is currently corralling cleaning rags in my laundry room, but the colors are so great that I think I will eventually just add some felt pads to the bottom and put it in Jack’s room. I might get another one just like it to paint yellow for the laundry room, though!