Sunday, May 2, 2010

Macgyver Parenting Part II

Continuing from the previous post, I did take that shower and, as I did, I was grinning ear to ear. Rarely have I ever had a moment of ingenuity akin to that which I had just experienced with the clog in the sink. Though I am fortunate to be skilled or to have intelligence in a number of areas and mediums, I have always felt that I have lacked in all things mechanical. I have never been a tinkerer and seem to have a mental block towards fixing things, whether they are automobile-oriented, plumbing-related, or electrical/mechanical in nature.

I attribute this either to the rigidity in my sort of thinking (I can follow directions for building things without a problem but when there is too much freedom, it is almost like my brain cannot process the myriad possibilities sitting before me) or to my lack of experience in working with such things. Growing up, either my Mom and Dad took care of everything around the house or, if it was something that was too complicated, our landlord would send someone to mend whatever was broken; rare was it that my services were called upon to assist in the repairing of things. Don't get me wrong, both my parents would use opportunities to instill in me small nuggets of knowledge regarding how to fix things, but more often than not, being a kid, I would wind up getting in the way of process of fixing things.

As such, when I moved into the apartment with Heather, I felt both immense pressure and excited expectation. As the proverbial man of the house, it fell on me to handle the husbandly duties that were unwritten but every bit a part of our exchanged vows. Every light bulb would be mine to change, every gigantic bug would be mine to kill (I leave the smaller spiders to Heather--I feel guilty wiping them out since they eat other bugs), and every thing that needed some fixin' would be mine to fix. Now obviously, to some degree, this is a gross exaggeration of the situation. Heather is MORE than capable of handling any one of the aforementioned situations (except perhaps the light bulb changing...I frown upon her stacking multiple chairs to reach high spots. She's 5'2". She tells people she's 5'3". I tell her in front of people that she's actually 4'14". She is not amused.)

Still, for as progressive as Heather and I both are, we were raised in "traditional" households and thus maintain arguably antiquated mindsets. Though here are certain duties that Heather performs because she feels they are wifely and, conversely, things that I do because they are husbandly, deep down, we both do what we do simply because they suit our tastes and talents more so than other tasks.

With that said, I felt quite inadequate the first few times things went wrong in the house. Though I was glad to have called upon our landlord to assist us in those moments, a small part of me rued the fact that I was unable to fix the issue myself. Then I had a breakthrough. I don't even remember what it was but I remember breaking out my toolkit and fixing it on my own. Then it happened again. And again. Suddenly, I was fixing things in the car, dealing with plumbing issues in the tub, and, as outlined before, going David Copperfield on a sink full of fat.

I suppose what I am ultimately getting at is a sort of cathartic self-vindication exemplified by that last anecdote. I am not one who is good at thinking outside of the box and I usually have difficulty with using creative methods to solving problems. Again, give me Google or the books on solving common home problems that my Dad gave me, and I can follow those directions like nobody's business. Give me a problem without an obvious solution, and more often than not, I'm at a loss. At least until the last year or so.

The point is that, as a father, I feel that there is a certain amount of knowledge of common, stereotypically male territories (plumbing, electrical work, automotive things--basically anything that requires the use of tools and a substantial amount of elbow grease or mental dexterity) inherent in that role, much like there is a certain amount of inventiveness that comes with good parenting overall. This is the ultimate point of my post: the Macgyver Parenting.

My Mom perfected it. She is one of the most resourceful women (and people in general, for that matter) that I have ever known, especially so when it comes to parenting. My Mom found more creative solutions to more childhood crises than I can even hope to remember; she found a way to transform seemingly ordinary objects into fantastic tools and trinkets, infusing them with theretofore unseen magic. She has turned coffee can lids into frisbees, socks into the apparatus of an entertaining game (and indeed, the one that I remember playing frequently as a small boy), and old bits of clothes into capes for action figures. She has fashioned weapons for G.I. Joes from junk, transformed the living room on a long, boring summer's day into a fort filled with unending entertainment and imagination, and a million household items into suits of armor and weapons worthy of a Knight of Avalon (or ninja, Viking, dinosaur hunter, astronaut, or any other of the myriad fantasy identities adopted by little boys).

The memory that stands out the most in my mind though is of the first teddy bear surgery I had ever witnessed. My beloved Shoprite Bear given to me by my brother when I was a baby was quite literally falling apart. I slept with him every night and, from years of daily attention and activity, he was beginning to show wear. I think his stuffing was even falling out. It was bad news. My Mom knew that getting rid of the bear (putting him down, if you will) was out of the question. Fortunately, she was not the surreptitious type to have something "accidentally" happen to him that would allow her to throw him away. Instead, she set about mending him during a very intense operation, one that I was not allowed to see because she knew that it would be both graphic and traumatic for my young eyes to witness.

I paced back and forth outside of the closed bedroom door, much like an adult in a hospital waiting room, anxiously awaiting an update from the surgeon. When my Mom emerged, she had Shoprite Bear in tow--he was as good as new. He wound up lasting through my remaining teddy bear years and is now in a large bag with my other stuffed animals from my childhood. I credit this fact entirely to my Mom's caring and ingenuity. I think she wound up re-stuffing him with the innards of an old pillow and sewed him back up but I am not entirely sure.

A few months ago my sister told me of a similar adventure that she experienced with my nephew Jake. He too had an injured, beloved stuffed friend that needed tending to. My sister performed a magical surgery that returned Jake's stuffed animal to good health. What is ironic though is that my sister is technically my half-sister (we share the same Dad but have different mothers) and thus was not raised by my Mom. Even still, she managed to perform the same creative, caring procedure for my nephew that my Mom did for me.

There have been many such similarities between things that Jennifer has done for Jake and what my Mom did for me, which leads me to conclude that they are simply traits of excellent mothers. No matter what childhood crisis they are faced with, they manage to find an ingenious solution with seemingly little mental effort. I see this trait in Heather and know that she, too, will be able to provide Timmy and perhaps our other children with such memories and experiences. I can only hope that I too will be successful in these endeavors but, at the very least, I know that if I cannot find a way to solve the quandry, I have three wonderful and resourceful women that have years of Mom experience (Heather included--she's put up with me for almost a decade--that's enough to tire out any mother's patience) that I can rely upon.