You Win This Round, Babushka: Get Your Life Back By Painting Over Wallpaper

Scott and I have a running joke about someone we once knew (probably not you) who frequently displayed symptoms of Martyr Mother Disorder.*  When MMD flares up, the patient is compelled to let you know s/he sacrifices everything for his/her child.  In advanced cases of MMD, the patient declares all the things that s/he could have achieved if s/he wasn’t busy sacrificing everything for said child/ren: Graduate degrees, book deals, gold medals, Nobel Prizes, trips to Mars, the Papacy.**

Scott and I dramatically act out the symptoms of MMD every time we are forced to complete some undignified parental task, such as wiping a poopy bottom, removing parasites, or leaving a really fun party at 8:00 p.m., right when things get interesting.


Try it with me: Deep sigh, eyes closed, forearm swept across forehead, “I sacrifice SO MUCH for my children.”

The truth is: Of course having kids is hard, dummy. But it’s also great in ways you never expected. And as the old lady who always appears behind me in the grocery checkout line just as one of my kids cracks an egg onto the conveyor belt says, “Someday, you’re going to miss all of this, dear. They grow up so fast.”

Now, back to the story of how much I …[SIGH]… sacrifice for my children.

Last weekend, the kids stayed over with their Auntie and Uncle in the suburbs. And Scott and I spent 90% of our precious kid-free weekend…. Painting their bedrooms.  During our weekend journey, we strengthened our marriage by learning some important lessons about 1) teamwork, and 2) the importance of taking shortcuts.

Max is our Nu-Teen©, a marketing term I made up to describe a kid who’s on the lower end of the teen years. Nu-Teens are great, because they are old enough to babysit and take the bus everywhere, but still too young to commit felonies. A Nu-Teen’s favorite expression is, “I don’t care,” an attitude that has served Max well as his bedroom has been falling apart for the last six months.

Long-time Projectophile readers remember that when we bought the Babushka house in November, we discovered a leak behind the sloped ceiling in Max’s room, which should have been obvious due to the Georgia O’Keeffe-like slit in the wallpaper:


Not suspicious at all.

While waiting to replace the roof, we thought it would be fun to pull down what turned out to be load-bearing wallpaper. Ooops:
IMG_5485 After a few nights of Max waking up with plaster bits in his hair, we got clever and stapled white thrift store bedsheets to the walls and ceiling to create a billowy, tentlike Nu-Teen hideaway:
The nomadic look gradually lost its charm, as those restless bits of plaster would slip down beneath the sheets. So, like the Martyrs we are, Scott and I postponed our dreams once again to make Max’s bedroom fit for human habitation. Big Sigh.

Scott says I should spend more blog time telling my readers how to do totally practical (boring) things like mix and apply joint compound, repair plaster and hang drywall. But come on, that’s what YouTube and Time-Life® Books are for.

Besides, some tasks are just too painful to recall.  First, we had to pull a few big patches of rotting plaster of its lath, and then screw drywall right onto the lathe. It’s as difficult and messy as you might imagine – we were all picking plaster-dust boogers for days:

20150703_104226We had to mix and apply about seven layers of joint compound to smooth out the spaces between the old ceiling and drywall patches. Once we were sufficiently exhausted and high on ethylene-vinyl acetate polymer, we decided to leave all the brittle patches of old wallpaper that had fused to the plaster, smooth them over with more joint compound, coat it all with primer, and retire to a nice ice cream dinner.

Earlier that week, I had presented Max with about a dozen (pre-screened) paint swatches to choose from. Displaying a undiscovered gift for interior design, he immediately handed back the perfect shade of greyish blue.

Unlike SOME lesser home-improvement blogs, I don’t clean up or style rooms for the “after” pictures. I value authenticity and honesty. Which can sometimes be confused for laziness:

The two younger children (6 and 4), are collectively referred to as “the Babies” because for most purposes – eating, sleeping, playing – they are essentially the same person.  This is their shared bedroom when we bought the house. Wallpaper covered the walls and ceiling. Dingy, yellowed, but otherwise intact:

IMG_5212Originally, we planned to complete the same excruciating process we had done in every other room:  pull down wallpaper, scrape and scrub walls, patch plaster, prime and paint (also known as PSSPPP — which is another acrotomotopeia for the satisfying sound of wallpaper peeling off in one yank).

And then a friend of mine*** casually suggested that since the walls and paper were in relatively good shape, we could simply paint OVER the wallpaper.

I nearly FAINTED at the idea of finishing The Babies’ room rehab in a matter of hours, not weeks. It was the same feeling I had 8 years ago, when I realized that Scott and I could just get married at City Hall instead of hosting the fairy-tale wedding that I never dreamed of.****

Before The Babies left for the weekend, I rhetorically inquired, “So, if we ever decided to paint your room, what color would you want?” Pink!, one shouted. Green! the other declared. Seconds later, they had changed their minds to Red and Purple. And then Blue and Orange. And then finally: One wall “Christmas,” one wall “Halloween,” One wall “Easter” and the other wall a detailed portrait of our family. Also, everything should be in polka dots.

“So, green and pink then?”

On the first morning the kids were gone, Scott and I slept til 9 a.m., ate cookies for breakfast, and then rolled a coat of primer over the wallpaper. Now you can really see just how dingy these walls were:
IMG_6219To add to the sacrifice, we had to apply TWO coats of primer since the Babushka had a thing for “basket-weave” textured wallpaper. Here it is under the microscope:

IMG_6221After a coffee milkshake for lunch, we ran to the local paint store to pick out colors. Inspired by Max, my paint color savant, I grabbed the first green-and-pink paint combo I saw on display:

IMG_6253Please note that this paint isn’t for just anyone. Precious Babies ONLY!
precious baby certifiedWe didn’t have enough time before The Babies got home on Sunday to finish painting. However, I did make sure to write a special message for their return:

IMG_6229Since Scott hates to paint, he was in charge of dinner and bedtime, while I finished up the painting that night. The next morning was the big reveal:

IMG_6241IMG_6252IMG_6237To My Precious Babies: I hope you remember this 20 years from now, when you inevitably blame all your shortcomings on me.
*  To be fair, we’ve known just as many Dads with this Disorder – if not more –  but I’m going for the easy alliteration points here.
** I don’t want to exclude people without children. You should blame all your current shortcomings on your parents, or ex-spouse, if you have one. In a pinch, blame the government (local, state or federal).
*** Actually, this “friend” was Russell the carpenter, who was here on unrelated skylight business. I don’t usually pay people to hang out with me, but when I do, they give great advice.
**** And that I could buy my wedding dress for $23 at Dress Barn. However, I was disappointed to discover that the dresses were not modeled by pigs or displayed on steaming bales of hay as the store name would suggest.


7 thoughts on “You Win This Round, Babushka: Get Your Life Back By Painting Over Wallpaper

  1. I have made almost a career of painting over wallpaper in my serial renovate/sell for profit house buying life, but I was defeated by one house in particular, and was forced to BUY a wallpaper steamer. That place had *fourteen* (yes, I counted) different kinds of vinyl embossed shiny garish wallpapers which couldn’t be painted over. Until, eventually, it didn’t. I made a collage of torn bits of every kind, and whenever anyone would say “what great clean open spaces you have here!” I would lead them gently to the framed collage and say “I do now….”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! I really love the way Max’s Nu-Teen room turned out. I’m tempted to move in there myself, except that the room is so long and skinny, we can’t fit more than a twin bed in there. For some reason, he also has the biggest closet.


      • As a former old-house dweller, I’ve concluded that architects back in the day simply smashed random rooms together and said “Eh. That’ll do” regardless of whether it made sense. (It would be interesting to find information on the logic behind old house layouts vs. new ones, though… hmmm.)


    • Yes, it’s so liberating to find out you can just paint over it all. I guess deep down I always knew we could do it, but I had been holding on to this idea that since this is our “forever” house we should never take shortcuts. But then I thought, if this is our “forever” house, then we can deal with all this crap in five years! Because we have FOREVER.


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