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Kristin Armstrong Column for Fall 2020: A Toast to Not Knowing

A bottle of champagne and dancing fend off uncertainty

When I sat down to write for last year’s architecture issue, I was happily immersed in building a new house. I loved watching it evolve from foundation to framing, roof, drywall, windows and doors. I loved watching the interiors become light and livable, making selections that felt like ours: paint, tile, lighting, landscaping, floors, new furniture on order. We were supposed to close the week before spring break and move in the following week.

Suddenly, the world inverted, clutching and sickening like a roller coaster loop. I recall feeling foolishly on the fence about whether we should go on Isabelle’s senior trip to the Bahamas—that was my biggest concern at the time. In a matter of days, the entire trip was canceled; just a few days later, so was everything else. Grocery store aisles were eerily empty, school was online. I wore a mask and gloves and wiped everything down with a coating of fear and antibacterial spray. People were dying. My beloved parents are in their 70s. I was beside myself.

Our current house had not yet sold, which was already stressful before the pandemic, but quickly became a gut-gnawing, bone-deep awareness. I can’t do this.

I didn’t want potential buyer-strangers coming into our home. I didn’t want movers. I didn’t want to own two houses in uncertain financial times. I didn’t want to do anything but hunker down with my kids in our home. After many white-knuckle calls to my bank, real estate agent and the builder who had become my friend, I reneged at the eleventh hour, losing my earnest money and my shit. I went to talk to my son, Luke, my personal Yoda, who reminded me that everything is always unfolding. Leaving him to his Xbox, I sat on our steps and bawled.

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I was discovered by my twin daughters, buckling under the weight of disappointment, and what ensued was a conversation and an evening I will never forget. They were disappointed, but not—as I had feared—with me. We talked about all the things we were surrendering. Our new house, their senior year, the ability to hug Nani and Papa, time with friends, grad parties, graduation, Luke’s sophomore college year and God only knew what else.

My daughter Grace, aptly named, had a suggestion: “Wanna open some Champagne?”

There are a few shining moments in motherhood when you know you have raised your children wisely and well. This was one of mine.

What followed is now officially part of Armstrong Family Lore, forever known as the Brokenhearted Disco.”

We went to the back screened porch, opened a bottle of Champagne, raised a toast to Not Knowing and turned up the music. What followed is now officially part of Armstrong Family Lore, forever known as the Brokenhearted Disco. We drank, cried, laughed, pushed furniture aside and danced, sang, filmed TikToks and celebrated. Strange to celebrate at a moment of desolation, yet it wasn’t. It was a wake, a vigil for our 2020 dreams; we were honoring them and letting go. Grace knew this was what we needed, as Grace always knows.

I woke up early and foggy-headed and realized anew how much I love my kids, how much I love who we are separately and together, and who we are becoming. Badasses, all of us.

And I realized how much I love my porch. I walked out to the front yard, braless in my fuzzy slippers, oversize T-shirt and robe. Uprooting the ForSale sign, I let it topple over on the grass, walking back inside to make coffee and begin again.

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As Luke promised, everything unfolded. Spring break turned into summer, turned into fall. Luke returned to football, and my baby girls are off to college. Instead of a new house, we made our beloved home new.I made a list of everything I loved about the dream deferred, and one by one, I made them real. A fresh white coat of paint everywhere, new counters, new lighting, pale wood floors, new furniture, a new fence and new landscaping. Whatever I thought I needed for my never-empty nest, my seasonal shift, my life stage sorbet, was effortlessly manifested. Instead of new, what evolved was fresh. The familiar nest—well-constructed, memory-laden and tradition-rich with time, safety, privacy, family, friendship, faith and fun—has a new outlook. Letting go of the past while holding onto our foundation: good bones and a comfortable, easy spirit. Light and open and ready for our own unfolding.

Just like us.

Just like me.