Like so many schemes formulated in the fog of parenting young kids, it seemed like a good idea. It was something we needed to do. It would improve our quality of life by orders of magnitude. It would increase the value of our 1923 Wash Park West bungalow. And it would make us happy—when it was done.

Yes, we would renovate our kitchen, and because our contractor had room in his schedule, we would do it right in the middle of the school year, just before the holidays. Two working parents, five- and seven-year-old boys, and a cranky geriatric cat, all under the same roof.

Any reno is disruptive, but one could reasonably argue that kitchen remodels are the worst—especially with young boys, whose capacities for noise-making and mischief know few bounds. After that first day, our small kitchen had been gutted—which meant the typical chaos of our home suddenly felt quaint in light of this new breed of mayhem. Even with a general contractor who was, quite simply, amazing—timely and communicative, with subs who were similarly conscientious—our life felt like a train wreck. For almost eight weeks, my wife graciously prepped dinners in our unfinished basement laundry area; she became something of a wizard with the toaster oven and our old countertop microwave. (We also became Chipotle regulars.) Even with a sizable washbasin in the basement, we temporarily let go of any dearly held environmental considerations and became accustomed to eating off of paper plates with plastic utensils. Then, the coup de grâce: The boys ripped down the carefully hung plastic sheets around the kitchen that were designed to keep debris out of the rest of the house, which resulted in a thin coating of dust covering just about everything on our main floor. One evening after the boys were in bed, my wife and I commiserated: If we had to eat another toasted cheese sandwich on a flimsy paper plate at our dust-covered table, we just might lose it.

As the holidays approached in late December—we were hosting my family, of course—our fridge was on back order, but just about everything else was done, finally. The whole thing had taken just less than two months. Our house, which used to be broken up into so many separate rooms, was newly bright and open. Pendant lights hung over a new peninsula, which our boys promptly dubbed the Belly Bar. (Bellybar, I learned after Googling, is a brand of prenatal vitamins, and I’m still not sure where that sobriquet came from.) No matter. We did a massive dust job and prepped our shiny new kitchen—sans fridge—for my family’s arrival. Maybe the whole thing wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

Survivor Stories
Did you live through a home renovation? Do you have your own wisdom to share? Send your best advice and hilarious (or harrowing) stories to—or leave them in the comments below—and we’ll pick our favorites to feature in a story later this spring.