Man of the House

I love Jay. He’s a handy guy to have around. Given the right tools and the time, he can fix or build just about anything. When we finished the upstairs of the one and only house we ever owned, he did most of the work. He finished the drywall, installed the bathroom fixtures, and even put in a beautiful flight of red oak stairs. I’m convinced that the finished upstairs is what sold that house for us.

Jay is also quite the auto mechanic. Until just recently and unless it was something really big, he always performed our vehicle maintenance. He changed the oil, the belts, the fluids, rotated the tires – you get the picture. Just last weekend, Jay replaced the carburetor in his 1964 Chevy pick up. It’s a beauty – a candy apple red step-side with a wood paneled bed. I love driving that truck and watching mouths drop open as we roll by.

Jay chose a Holly to replace the old Edelbrock carburetor. The Edelbrock caused Big Red, as we affectionately call the truck, to stall and rattle, and you just can’t have that in such a handsome vehicle. The day the Holly arrived was like Christmas. As soon as the package landed on the porch, Jay was out the door, scooping it up. He carried it with great care to the dining room table and slit the tape with his pocket knife. He lifted out the packing paper, and there, gleaming, lay the Holly double-pumper, the stuff of every gear head’s dreams.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” Jay asked, as he gently lifted the carburetor from the box and held it to the light. “Uh, yeah…it’s…great,” I said. He looked at me with annoyance for my lack of enthusiasm, put the steel vehicular heart back in the box with all the care a surgeon who’s just harvested an organ places it in the cooler for transport. He gingerly set the  box on the floor and announced that he’d be busy Saturday making the transplant.

On Friday about lunchtime, I arrived home to see Jay’s truck parked in front of the house. His office is only about ten minutes away, so he usually comes home for lunch. As I entered the front door and walked through the foyer, I looked to the right into the dining room, expecting to see Jay at the head of the table, feasting on last night’s leftovers and reading the news. What I saw instead made me gasp! There was Jay with the carburetor’s box open and pushed to the side on the dining room table. The Holly lay before him on his placemat where his lunch should have been as he squinted down at it in concentration, attaching the fuel line.

“What do you think you’re doing?” I demanded.

Jay looked up and distractedly answered, “Oh, hi, baby. I’m putting together Big Red’s new heart.”

“On the dining room table?!” I asked, shocked. Now, I feel I should point out that this is no ordinary dining room table. It’s a handcrafted Amish oak table that seats 10! It’s virtually irreplaceable. The faint smell of gas fumes flared my nostrils.

“I smell gas,” I said.

“Well, yeah, they test ’em before they ship ’em,” Jay answered, still looking at the carburetor, brow furrowed. I just stood there, waiting. He finally looked up.

“What?” He looked confused. I just stared at him. “What?! The table?” I nodded slowly, eyebrows raised, a look that said, “Yeah, dummy, the table!”

“It’s fine. I put a placemat down,” Jay said, sounding as if that settled the matter as he turned his attention back to the job at hand.  My shoulders slumped. Shaking my head, and acknowledging defeat, I went to the kitchen and made some lunch. I tried to sit in my usual spot to Jay’s right, but the smell of gasoline drove me to the other end of the table, where I sullenly ate and watched Jay work.

Afterwards, I took a picture of Jay at the table with the carburetor and posted it on Facebook. We got quite a few “likes” and “laughs,” especially since I’d posted a picture back at Christmas of Jay sharpening his chainsaw blade while the saw sat on the coffee table in the living room. His excuse that time was that it was cold out, and there was a good movie on. He’d put a towel down on the table under the chainsaw so it wouldn’t get scratched. I wasn’t sure if he meant the table or the saw.


Do Not Enter

I considered myself well prepared for motherhood, or as prepared as possible anyway. I took classes, read books, and got good prenatal care. I listened to the sage advice and wisdom of those who’d gone before me. I understood that my life and purpose would be irrevocably changed. I knew that the center of my universe had shifted from myself and my husband to those tiny humans, and that our needs and desires must naturally be pushed aside to ensure their well-being.

I embraced motherhood wholeheartedly and welcomed the change. I was even happy to give up my dignity, privacy and ownership of my body to nourish my children through pregnancy and that first critical year, but I apparently labored under a misapprehension.  I assumed that once my children could eat from the table and achieved a certain level of self-sufficiency, that I could, once again, expect a reasonable amount of privacy, that I would be allowed to bathe, dress, and use the facilities without company or interruption – for the most part.

Apparently, I was sadly mistaken because my children have an uncanny ability to intuitively detect the exact moment that my decency is in any way compromised and choose that moment to knock on the door and, quite often, enter before asked. I can predict with unfailing accuracy that if either of my children are in the vicinity, within five seconds of the removal of my clothes, one of them will demand my immediate audience.

Case in point, a few weeks ago we threw a barbecue for some friends passing through town. The day was warm; and I dressed accordingly, but with nightfall, we were still sitting out on the patio. I got chilly. My children were playing in the yard next door with their friends, and I excused myself from the group of adults to go inside and change into jeans and a light sweater. I had no sooner shucked off my dress than my youngest child knocked on the bedroom door! “Mommy,” she said, starting to open the door. I hustled over and pushed the door closed. “What is it?” I asked, impatiently. Undaunted, she replied, “Can I have more food?” Are you kidding me!?

The food was outside. Her father was also outside, and never mind the fact that we had never denied our children food, except maybe sweets. What bizarre, unseen force had compelled my child to leave her friends in the yard next door, walk through our yard, across the patio past four adults, through the backdoor, down the hall, up the stairs, and down another hall to seek me out at that precise moment?

“Are you bleeding?” I asked. “Uh, no,” she answered, confused. “Is your sister bleeding? Did she fall down and knock herself out?” Again the answer was, “no.” “So, you came up here just to ask me for food?” “Yes?” Her answer came out like a question. “Grace, go ask your father!”

What is it that makes my children seek me out the moment I choose to do anything which requires undressing? Because it’s not just Grace who does this, our 12-year-old, Breanna, does it, too! Just a few days ago, Breanna had three friends spend the night. The next morning, I left them in the kitchen getting their breakfast and went upstairs to the furthest bathroom I could use away from them. I had just disrobed when someone knocked on the door. Thoroughly exasperated, I snapped, “What is it?” Breanna answered and said, “Mommy, can I have the last brownie?” What?!?!

Now, this child should know that unless it is Armageddon and the end of the world as we know it, she’s not getting a brownie or any other kind of sweet for breakfast – not even a donut! She further knows that if my bedroom or bathroom door is closed, she better be hurt or the house on fire before she knocks on it. I made that clear after the barbecue incident. Maybe she thought the rules were different because her friends were here, and it was almost her birthday. I don’t know what went through the child’s head, but my answer was, “No! And if you knock on that door again, you won’t get another brownie as long you live!” Puberty must be eating holes in her brain because she actually said, “But, mom!” Suffice it to say, I ate the last brownie.