At the start of 4th of July weekend—just 23 days left before our move-in date—Casa Vitone was still an unholy mess. The living room was hardly livable. The kitchen was a catastrophe. And after my seven-week heat-gun marathon with the second-floor trim was finally over, yards upon yards of rough, stubbly remnants stuck around and refused to sand themselves off.

I was fixin’ to lose it.

And then on Friday afternoon, our first wave of reinforcements arrived from out of town—S, Dylan’s mother; and G, our 16-year-old nephew. All we had to do was feed them, and they worked like maniacs for three straight days. I love this family.

S is a workhorse to be reckoned with, a sanding machine. That woodwork didn’t know what HIT it. We girltalked for hours, and she completely renewed my morale after all those weeks alone in heat-gun hell—all this, AND she promised umpteen more gifts befitting her DIY diva-ness. “Next year we’ll make you a stained-glass window for the stairs,” she said. “Two years from now we’ll do your garden.”

And then there was G. He’s living through one of the toughest seasons in a teenager’s existence—you know the one, where you’re not QUITE driving yet (fie on those expensive car-insurance premiums!). I remember moping around the house, almost wishing school would start already so I could see my friends again…. Almost.

But G is no moper. This weekend he hung drywall, sanded joint compound, and scraped wallpaper goo from the ceiling for hours without a complaint. He and Dylan made the best of the situation, clowned through the paint job, laughed at their matching Pepé Le Pew hair.

My older brother and his wife are expecting their first born in a couple of months. Lately I hang on every crumb of news about that little three-pounder, and I think about G, and what he’s taught me about family.

Last fall, we went camping at an all-terrain-vehicle park with the big, extended, in-law clan (that’s a WHOLE ‘nother blog entry). G was amazing—always the first to come push you out when your tires got stuck in the mud, the first to start the fire for you when the sun set and the cold rolled in.

In short, G acted more like an uncle than a nephew.

Until now, I guess I never really thought about what an aunt/uncle is. In a sense, it’s the best parts of a parent and a cousin all rolled together—the median between someone who loves you enough to do absolutely anything for you; and someone whose sole agenda is to make you smile by any means necessary.

When our reinforcements left on Sunday we felt weepy, but not just because they’d given us a snowball’s chance of carving out a habitable home in time for our move. I guess what we were feeling was the fact of all that distance—hundreds upon hundreds of miles between our families and us—and then, we felt it shrink.

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