It was a dream come true and we had to pinch ourselves to believe it would soon be ours. It was twice the size of our previous home with an amazing garden. But it also stank of cat’s pee from the resident stray, the walls and ceilings were either covered with retro floral wallpaper or mould from where the roof leaked, and there was a rat’s carcass underneath the bath
People said we were crazy. At times I thought we were crazy… Oh and did I mention we had a 2 year old and I was 7 months pregnant?
It was December. I was huge. Our previous house had sold and we had been living as nomads for 3 months with friends and in a caravan. We had been dreaming of renovating a French house covered in ivy ever since my husband sent me a postcard 9 years earlier when he worked here during the summer. In our fantasies the children would run naked around the garden, we would have delicious picnics of cheese and baguette on gingham rugs, and then fall into bed exhausted after a day of painting and plastering. We had been searching for our dream property for over a year, in one of the most expensive real estate markets. We should have been on cloud nine as moving day got closer and closer… However the reality was cold……..and smelly. It was mouldy, damp, overgrown, and dark. We had no water, electricity or even a kitchen and I badly needed one. My pregnancy cravings could not be satisfied with a “picnic on a rug”- I needed hot food and lots of it.
I couldn’t help drawing parallels between my two pregnancies and feeling miserable…
At 7 months pregnant with my daughter I was washing pure white babygrows and hanging them to dry in neat rows, lounging on the sofa with my feet up and daydreaming of the precious bundle which would soon be wearing the tiny hats and booties we had been gifted. The baby books talked about nesting and I was like a mummy bird preparing for her baby chick as for the first time in my life I learnt to knit soft blankets. Preparing for our daughters arrival was the most important thing in our lives, and our family clucked around us in anticipation as the due date crept closer.
At 7 months pregnant with my son I was up a ladder stripping off nicotine stained 80s wallpaper, and bleaching every surface- freezing cold, and exhausted. My husband struggled to install the 500 euro second hand kitchen which was all we could afford after crippling notaires fees, and I frantically called every builder in the area to try and get someone to renovate our bathroom and QUICKLY. I was begging my baby to stay put as long as possible as I couldn’t bring a new born home from hospital to bathe in the same room as a dead rat…
The tears finally came the day after we had signed the papers. I armed myself with a portable light, and a wallpaper stripper and after tucking my daughter up at night I headed over to the house to start work. The house was freezing after been uninhabited for 10 months. The shadows cast by the overgrown garden were eerie and the stray cat kept appearing spookily at the windows. I managed about a metre of wall before collapsing in a heap of tears and wishing I could drown my sorrows in a bottle of wine.
And this is where I learnt my first lesson in renovating houses with young children in a foreign country- far away from family. Friends. A few messages the following morning, and my daughter was at a play date, close friends were in rubber gloves, hanging off ladders with us and the mood was much more jovial. If there’s one thing that you need when you’re far away from home and family, it’s good friends who will get dirty, make you smile and bring you chocolate when they know you can’t drink wine. And that is how despite all the obstacles, and all the heartache, we hosted a 2nd birthday party for my daughter and about 40 friends less than a week after getting the keys to our dream house of horrors. We may live far from real family but as an expat your friends become your second family and that is what living abroad is all about!