Tuesday, July 31, 2018

There's A Monster In My Basement

The first time my basement flooded, I was living in Wellesley, Massachusetts, in a tiny rental house. My husband had just started a new job outside of Boston, and we had a new baby, adopted from the Philippines. 

I was feeling overwhelmed and clueless. My son was one-year-old when we brought him home. What did I know about babies? Nothing!

Case-in-point: At the local supermarket, I went up to a stranger with kids and asked, "WHAT DO YOU FEED THEM?"

She looked at me, and then my son, smiled, and dragged us around the grocery store pointing out blueberries and Cheerios and string cheese. (File this under: THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS and MY SON LOVES BLUEBERRIES).

Around that time, the bottom of our hot water heater disintegrated and flooded our entire basement. I stood on the rickety basement stairs and surveyed the carnage with tears in my eyes. 

My voice cracked as I said to my husband, "What are we going to do?"

With not an ounce of sentimentality, he said, "EVERYTHING MUST GO."

I stammered, "But...but..."

Husband said, "It's just STUFF." 


Boxes from college...GONE.

Love notes from college...GONE.

Old books, pictures, everything that was soaking wet was gone.

Because I was so overwhelmed with being a new mom, I just blinked and moved on. I didn't have time to despair over lost things.

Jump ahead twenty years...We are now living in another house.

Summer vacation. I had PLANS. Big plans. I was going to finish AN ENTIRE BOOK. I had visions of me in front of the computer with a cup of coffee and notes about wildlife in Maine and a daily word count that would make your head spin.

And then...

It started to rain from the ceiling. 

First, it rained from the living room ceiling.

Then, it rained from the basement ceiling.

And then, just when I thought typhoon season had ended inside my house, the washing machine malfunctioned and it flooded my basement.

But that wasn't the worst of it.

The worst of it was THE MOLD.

At first I didn't realize there was MOLD. And then I noticed a smell.

A musty, bad smell.

Upon closer inspection, I found colonies of microorganisms happily living in my basement.

I should now take a brief moment to say that although I have no fear of spiders or snakes, I have a thing about...microbes. An irrational fear of stuff I can't see. It makes me feel helpless and afraid and...itchy.


I felt like there was a monster in my basement, growing, laughing, inviting his friends over for coffee.

And my family was living over the monster.

How was I supposed to take care of my family when there was a monster in the basement?

If you're wondering how I was handling this, I have one sentence for you...

I cried making eggs.


The yolk broke.

And I broke.

My son (who is now twenty-years-old) said, "Mom, are you okay?"

My 15-year-old daughter said, "Are you okay?"

My husband said, "You're not okay."

Every night I had stress dreams about my miniature dachshund Lucy.

She was in trouble. She was drowning. She lost all her fur and looked like a strange weasel.

I called the garbage removal service guy, but he didn't call back.

I called again.


My husband said, "He's probably on vacation. He'll be back soon."


Finally, he called back. My last message had sounded rather desperate. He was apologetic and promised to come first thing in the morning.

Have I told you that garbage removal guy is my FAVORITE GUY IN THE WORLD? 

In the meantime, my kids and I donned rubber gloves and attempted to organize the monster in the basement.

We started to go through "the boxes."

My son said, "Is this a box of my homework from first grade?"

I nodded.

He grabbed the box and chucked it onto the garbage heap.

Clearly, he was lacking sentimentality just like his father!

"Mom, never save homework."


Finally, we sort of gave up. It was obvious the mold had spread over almost everything, and so everything had to go.

As I sifted through the boxes, it was like going back in a time machine of my life. Things from high school, college, grad school (the kids laughed at my old computer), married life, when the kids were babies, and on and on.

And it all went onto the garbage pile.

I was numb. How could I throw away my life?

When I made this pathetic observation to my neighbor, she said, "This is a good thing. Your life is your family, and you take care of them every day. You don't need the stuff in the basement. You get to throw away all the junk and start fresh. This is a cleansing."

I thought about what she said.

A cleansing.

Sort of the ultimate decluttering project.

Did I really need my son's kindergarten drawing?

My wedding dress from 1990?

Antiques I bought in grad school?

I thought about our dinner the night before, which involved a hodge-podge of mismatched food items and plenty of jokes. How nice it was.

Just hanging out with my family and living in that moment.

And it had nothing to do with my puffy wedding dress from 1990.

I have to admit, when the garbage guys were all done, and my basement was EMPTY, I felt...calm.

The fear and stress were gone. Maybe that whole thing about emotional well-being and decluttering is real! 

Cleaning the basement was a symbolic cleansing, as well as a literal cleansing of my mold-infested basement.

And...interesting that it was the basement. The foundation of my home. And my life?

Am I starting over?

I am currently in the process of shedding my Penny Watson persona and writing as Nina Roth Borromeo. And switching from romance to something totally new and different.

So, yeah. Sort of starting with a fresh foundation.


Another thing I learned this summer...I'm usually the go-to person in my family when problems crop up.

I'm the rock. The calm one. The rational one.

So when I started crying about broken yolks, I wasn't sure what was going to happen.

Guess what happened? Everyone else in the family stepped up. My kids slapped on rubber gloves and cleaned the moldy boxes. They calmed me down. They made me laugh.

My husband told me a story about living through a typhoon in Guam, when their house flooded with water up to their waist, and they lost electricity for MONTHS, and needed food/supplies brought in.

And he said to me, "Guess how much mold we had then?"

Horrified, I nodded and thought to myself, "This isn't so bad."

My husband calmed ME down and made me believe everything would be okay.

Which it was.

And my daughter made the observation, "It's like mom and dad just switched places," and that was true.

It made me feel safe and good, knowing that when I needed it, my family had my back.


And so, here we are. With an empty basement, and a chance for a fresh start. 

And hopefully no more stress dreams about Lucy.

And a very grateful mom, who knows she has two fantastic kids, and a grateful wife who appreciates her husband of almost-30-years.

I don't recommend starting a mold colony in your basement, but I do highly recommend a life-cleansing if you need it.


Happy Summer Days,



Shannon O'Shea Schmieg said...

This is a profound piece. Thank you for sharing this story! I can relate in so many ways. I'm going through my own cleansing. Not from flooding/mold, however. Döstädning translates to death cleaning. After losing both my mother in law and mother last year, my husband and I cleared out two households . . . and acquired a significant amount of their belongings. Plus we decided (somewhat unexpectedly) to move from our home of 17 years to a total fixer upper. HELP ME NOW! What was I thinking? We were busting at the seams here, and a thorough purging has started the simplification process. But I come from a long line of "collectors" (hoarders sounds so harsh, lol), so it's hard to part with "things" for me. But the literal weight of ALL OF IT is overwhelming, and the fact that it has to be MOVED has quickly changed my thinking. I've really let go of a lot so far. It's just stuff. I will keep that which brings me joy and/or has the most intrinsic value. <3

Penny Watson said...

Hi Shannon! Thank you for this comment! Honestly, in some ways the mold problem made my decision easier. I didn't have to decide, "Is this important? Do I want to keep it?" I had no choice. It was covered with mold, and it had to go. But what it did make me realize is that this stuff was sitting in the basement for 20 years, so I didn't need it. Good luck to you with all the stuff, and making the right decision for you, and finding your joy! YOU GOT THIS!

extraordinary ordinary whimsy said...

Hey you!!! *hugs*

I'm a natural purger. But even I find it hard to part with some of the things the kids make. It's tough.

I'm sorry you had to go through that and glad that everyone stepped up for you.

So tell me about this shedding of Penny? What kind of new writing are you working on.

Penny Watson said...

Hi Whimsy! I will be writing an update soon. I'm writing a new book that is not romance. I would probably call it "whimsical fiction"...how about that? With 12-year-old characters, and a bit of a paranormal twist, and a new type of format. I'm very excited! Will post more about this soon. Miss you! xoxoxo Hope your family is doing well.

extraordinary ordinary whimsy said...

Ooooo I can't wait to read it. That is exciting!

I'm hoping to be around a bit more now. My girls are 3 and 6 now. I've missed you too! *hugs*

Melissas Eclectic Bookshelf said...

Such great lessons...and all so true. I know that when I push myself to get rid of things and de-clutter I feel so much better...it's like it calms my mind. I'm sorry that it had t happen in this manner and that you had less control over what to keep than would be ideal, but I'm glad that you found the upside.

Penny Watson said...

Whimsy...your girls are growing up!

Penny Watson said...

Hi Melissa! I wasn't planning on such a fast, drastic decluttering, but now that it's done, I feel better.