Sunday, December 21, 2008

Independence Day

I always thought the reasons I enjoy communal living so much were due to the more positive aspects of my character: namely, my flexibility, calmness and generosity.

Now, having spent last week with Keri, Matty and crew in Ireland and Andy in New York City (where he now lives during the week), I'm beginning to suspect my affinity for our living arrangement has much more to do with what I've recently accepted as a staggering degree of helplessness.

Case in point: the heat stopped working. I thought the heat was only working poorly, which isn't that uncommon with a furnace that for all I know may be as old as our house, which was built in 1924. But when Andy came home from NYC on Thursday night, he confirmed that, although the pilot light was on, the water was at room temperature.


Me (huddled in front of the fireplace, from which I had refused to move all day): Should I call Oliver [our heating/cooling company] to come out for an emergency call?

Andy: Nah, I'll figure it out.

It took Andy two expeditions to the basement to discover that a circuit had blown, and with one flick of the finger we were back in business.

It never would have occurred to me to check the circuits. If, say, the Apocalypse had come before Andy came home and suddenly there was no Andy and no Oliver and it was up to me to fix the heating - well, all of us would have spent the winter huddled in front of the fireplace. Which - given the incredibly minor degree of difficulty involved in this particular repair - is pretty depressing.

Second case in point: our neighbor left us a voice mail a couple of days ago, informing us that he and his family were heading out of town for the holidays, but he had connected the snowplow attachment to his pickup truck and left the keys inside, since snow was in the forecast (we live at the top of a big hill, with a quarter-mile driveway that actually belongs to the neighbors, and they typically maintain it). I believe Andy and Matty both know how to work the snowplow, but I've only driven our little tractor snowplow, and feel supremely anxious at the prospect that our ability to leave our house next week might depend on my ability to figure it out on my own.

Our friend Polk said, "There's probably just a lever to move it up and down. You can do it."

Which I've come to understand is a very male attitude. My thoughts were, "What if I damage it? What if I scrape up the driveway? What if I wait until there's too much snow and crash the truck? And so on and so forth.

I've always considered myself an independent person. I've lived alone, and I enjoyed living alone, but that was when I was in graduate school and only had to maintain a little one-bedroom apartment. Now, I look around my house - at the wireless network, the entertainment system, the heating system, the hot water heater, the plumbing, all of it - and all I think is, I couldn't fix that.

Which brings me back to why I like living communally - chances are, the more people around, the more likely it is that one of them will know how to fix whatever happens to break.

But, since it's unlikely the kids will set up such enormous households for themselves when they get older, I feel I should be more proactive - especially with the girls. Whenever Andy or Matty sets to tinker with some failing system, I should just follow them. Maybe then all the females in our household might end up more like my friend Lauren, who knows how to fix lots of things, especially technological things. And I know it will be more of an effort for me to learn, because I have no natural interest in technology, whereas she always has, but I suspect it will be worth it in the end. Because I can't stand the image of myself as Scarlett O'Hara, fluttering my hands and waiting for some man to save me.

1 comment:

Lauren said...

Yes, yes. Just follow whomever is fixing something. My dad did that and somehow I absorbed by osmosis how to: change brake pads, check circuit breakers, replace car fuses, install telephone wire, and any numerous other sundry items that somehow need doing. I don't know why my dad ended up treating me as if I were a son, but in the end it certainly benefited me. Serendipity, for sure, and not through any special inborn talent of my own, but there's no reason similar gender-neutral serendipity couldn't befall Erika/Hilary/Gretchen.