One week after Everest was born, the shower on the second floor of my condo began leaking into the garage underneath. The landlady arranged for a few different companies to come by and assess the damage, and she hired the one that gave her the lowest estimate.

The weeks that followed were filled with construction, starting as early as 6 a.m. and finishing well after dark. They used sledgehammers to destroy the existing tile, and the concrete underneath was smashed away with a slow, continuous bang! – bang! – bang! They thunked and clattered and carried sacks of tile shards down the stairs. They piped a putrid, tar-like substance into the gaping sore that used to be a shower, then laid sheets of concrete.

It was not an ideal situation for anyone, let alone a newborn. My bedroom, which is connected to the bathroom, was unusable, every surface covered in a thick layer of fine powder. My asthma flared, and I wheezed while I rocked my baby. My husband went to work, and I stayed at home to oversee the construction.

Outside, it was hot. This was summer in the desert, when the days ranged from 105 to 115 degrees. Inside was nearly as hot as outside, the aging air conditioner too distressed to keep up with hellfire. Even with fans going, my home never felt cool. Everest and I set up camp in the living room. I swaddled and shushed him, I sang and rocked, but he howled anyway. I was unraveling too — exhausted and sore, hormones pinging, the wound from an unplanned cesarean section still open and raw. As a means of escape, I turned on old episodes of “Project Runway” and jacked up the volume to drown out the relentless crying and hammering.

I binged on show after show, all while feeding, diapering and trying to soothe my cranky child. Meanwhile, well-intentioned friends sent me e-mails filled with advice for a first-time mom. They told me how to feed the baby, how to carry the baby, whether we should circumcise. But mostly they told me this: “Sleep when the baby sleeps!”

Sleep? There was no way. Sleep was so far from my life, I could only vaguely remember it. I’d say sleep was like a dream, but I didn’t have dreams anymore.
Plus, this baby didn’t sleep. Not really. Not with the banging that shook the walls of our home. Not with the men stomping in and out of the house, up and down the stairs. Not with the whoosh of hot air that tunneled through the hallway every time a worker opened the front door.

On the TV screen, Tim Gunn advised a designer to listen to his gut, even though his gut was telling him to make the model look like a troubled clown.

This. This was what I needed. I needed my own personal Tim Gunn, a steady and commanding presence who would inspire me to power through this mess and craft a gown out of coffee filters.

My Tim Gunn would peer over his wire-rimmed glasses at the crew in my bathroom. “Gather round, shower designers,” he’d say. “Frankly, I’m concerned about your lackluster approach to this project.” He would be diplomatic but resolute and tell them they have just 20 minutes remaining. With Gunn’s guidance, those guys would realize their tiling potential, whip the shower into shape and finally leave. Then Tim would look at my radish-red, screaming baby, press his perfectly manicured fingers together, and say, “Have you ever considered using a softer muslin for that swaddle?” And he would be right.

Finally, Tim Gunn would make me pizza, one of the fancy kinds with sunchokes and figs, and he wouldn’t even get a speck of flour on his pinstriped suit. That’s how I imagined it anyway. But there was no Tim Gunn at my house. There was only me. This was my “make it work” moment.

“Make it work,” of course, is Tim Gunn’s signature catchphrase. As I watched Tim Gunn encourage harried designers with those three little words, I realized his advice was far more helpful than anything else I’d been told. Parenting, after all, is kind of like the ultimate reality show. It’s about assessing your challenges and transforming them into something manageable. I didn’t need to make things perfect; I just needed to make it work. That meant closing the door on a silt-covered bedroom and making the nursery floor my temporary bed, eating on paper plates so my husband and I wouldn’t create any dirty dishes, giving up the guilt that came with ordering takeout.

This wasn’t how I envisioned early motherhood, but it was the unsightly brocade fabric I had to work with.

The construction crew finished within a day or two of my “Project Runway” revelation. A different crew came to install glass shower doors.
Everest was sleeping in my arms when the glass man gave me the bad news. The new shower floor had been built at the wrong angle, tilting the water away from the drain instead of toward it. The floor also wasn’t straight, so there was a spot where water leaked under the new door and spilled into the bathroom.
“You might wanna rip out this shower and put in a new one,” the guy said.

“Just put some extra caulk down here,” I said, pointing to the small gap between the shower and the shower door. “Let’s make it work.”

Maggie Downs is a freelance writer and former reporter. She recently received her MFA in non-fiction, and is making it work in Palm Springs, Calif. You can follow her on Twitter @downsanddirty.

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