The Joy of Destruction

Words by Sloane Citron

Photos by Scott R. Kline

When my children were young—Josh, our oldest was ten, the girls Arielle and Talia were eight and five, and our baby, Coby, was three—we moved into the brand-new Menlo Park home that we had conceived and built. We meticulously planned the home and watching it slowly come alive was great fun.

When the house was finally complete, it was an exciting endeavor to move in. The kids went from being crammed into two small rooms to having some space of their own. When we were working on the plans, the boys wanted to stay together so they got a large room and their own bathroom. The girls each wanted their own room, so that’s what we did, along with a girls’ bathroom.

The great thing about a new home is that you’re the first owner. You receive a pristine environment without someone else’s issues, damages and mistakes.

I was proud of that new, freshly finished home and yet moving into it with our four young children presented conflict for me. I’m compulsively neat, a horrible trait that I can’t shake. I make my family—and sometimes myself—crazy at times. When something is lost, I’m inevitably blamed since I have a tendency to throw things away when they seem inconsequential.

And so I was constantly worrying about potential damage—small and large—to our new home and yard. This need for perfection is like an itch that can’t be fully scratched. I don’t think I’m diagnosable—though my family might disagree—I just think I like things organized and neat. What’s wrong with that?

A year or so after we had moved in and had recently finished putting in a brick patio, the boys and I were in the backyard swinging golf clubs and chipping balls. While I was showing one of them how to chip—and I truly can’t remember which one was doing what—the other went to the one stair leading down to our grass yard and took aim at it. A small chunk of the brick came flying off and almost hit us. Several years later, a similar incident happened, and so there were two chip marks that annoyed me every time I looked down at them.   

As the boys got older, I had the keen idea of getting a BB gun for them. I know what you are thinking, and you’re right. I told them they could only use it when I was around and then only at carefully placed targets. Despite this instruction, I was cleaning the back windows one day, and there it was: a neat, round hole—unmistakably from a BB—in the corner of one of our French pane windows. Apparently, something ricocheted off a plastic water bottle. Every time I was in our family room, my eyes would automatically be drawn to that small hole in the glass and it would bother the heck out of me.

Our stairs and many of our floors are wood. They were perfect when we moved in, but I’d watch in horror as one child after another would drop something sharp or heavy on them or drag something to or from their rooms and create scuffs and dents and long, deep grooves in the wood. It pained me each time I saw a new bit of destruction.

Over the years, with growing despair, I would find newly damaged parts to our home: gouges in the paint, broken knobs, holes in the walls, missing pool tiles, stuck doors and much more. I did my best to fix and patch things in an attempt to keep things in their original condition.

But I finally came to the realization that I’d lost control. Four kids, a few dogs, just about every other pet you can imagine, and an endless stream of friends made that impossible. The virgin state of our new home slowly morphed into a rather used home. Like a rich patina on a once bright brass cup, time and use gave our home a more weathered identity.

My kids are grown and now have their own homes to worry about. But their marks on our home are still with us. And now I feel differently about all that destruction. The broken bricks, the damaged stairs and that perfect little hole in the glass have become old friends to me, reminders of the joyous times when I had a rambunctious group of children enjoying the home that we built for them. I look at those marks and happily recall those children, wistfully wishing that the time had not gone so quickly, sorry that I can’t crawl some of it back.

We’re talking about renovating the home now. As much as I would enjoy the beauty and newness of a redo, I secretly hope we can keep the BB hole and the chips in the bricks. That would be just fine with me.