Concrete Values

We’re building a house. It’s all very exciting. Since my husband has the visualization skills of a mole – and even less interest – I get to handle the fun stuff like choosing taps and tiles and putting plug-points in the right places, but he’s on site, as it were, when it comes to the real structures of the thing.

The plans, with all their little squiggly lines which I have to translate for him into walls and windows, downlights and ducts, read like a map of our future. There are the kids’ rooms (for when the boys grow up and no longer want to bunk in together, and the baby is finally out of our bed…). There’s the kitchen with the open-plan counter where we will prepare many happy family dinners. There’s the garden where the kids will play hide and seek (and probably cricket and soccer and all those boy-ish things I’ll no doubt have to learn to love…). There’s the porch where we’ll spend sunsets sipping beers (juice for the kids) and discussing how our days have gone.

When the builders were about to “throw the slab” (I’m learning all sorts of new jargon these days), the bundle of mush that is my dear father-in-law came up with the idea to write down our family values and bury them in the foundation, so that our home will literally be built on those values. Twee alarm! I loved it immediately.

So I sat down to write out a list of our values. And I came to the astonishing and somewhat frightening realisation that I didn’t actually know what they were!

The family conference I called backfired spectacularly. The one-year-old can’t talk yet, the three-year-old was more interested in his trains, and the five-year-old couldn’t quite grasp the abstract concept of values (he thought I was going to bury all our family valuables under the house – ‘but Mommy, what if we need them??’).

So Veggietot Dad and I stayed up many nights after we’d put the kids to bed, asking difficult questions. What do we believe? What are our values? How do we define them and how are we going to teach them to our children?

Then last week, armed with our rolled-up list of values printed on pretty paper and tied with ribbon, we traipsed down to the building site. What fun, I thought as the boys pulled on their gumboots and Bob the Builder dress-up gear, complete with plastic hard hats, tool belts and tools.

What have I done, I thought as we stepped onto the site. Note to the timid: do not take small children to a building site. There are lots of dirty, sharp, deep and/or heavy things that are not supposed to be played with.

Once we’d gathered the children away from the large machines with the spades and blades, we found a nice spot towards the back of the site and held a little ceremony where I read out the values while Warren listened dutifully and the kids played in the dirt, and then we laid down the list in the foundation trench just under what will become the porch, and retreated to a safe distance to watch the real action.

The five of us watched, enthralled, as the massive concrete mixer churned to life. We observed the machine feeding the wet cement into a huge flexible tube controlled by hydraulics and a remote control (my five-year-old had to explain this to me), and saw the muck gush into the trenches.

In no more than 20 seconds, our little list of values was covered in concrete, never to be seen again. It struck me as a bit of a metaphor, actually. Too often our values get so obscured by the rush of every day life that it’s hard to see them, and even harder to find them. Sometimes we need to sit and chip away at life’s concrete to get to them. Unless they are stored safely in our souls.

This whole exercise has taught me so much. I learnt that that thingamajig attached to the concrete mixer is called an aggregate hopper (this also from the five-year-old). I learnt that cement doesn’t come out of a dry-clean-only blazer. And I learnt that if you really want something to be meaningful, you have to put in the meaning.

Our values are what give life meaning. We don’t all get to design our dream house, but we all have the chance to design our dream life. I feel so blessed to have had both of these opportunities in one month.

Sure, building a house is a lot of work, but you get out what you put in. Ding-ding-ding! Life metaphor alert! Each small improvement to the plan, each carefully repositioned brick represents the things we do to improve our lives, like tweaking the master plan of our goals and dreams, rearranging the bricks of our actions – the bricks and mortar of our daily lives, if you will.

There are times to build, and then there are times to sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labour. As we sit on our porch in our new home, it will be comforting to know not only that our values are there, but what they are.