Contemplations in the season of Advent

I have no thesis or overarching idea. Here are the thought-drabs.

1) Adam starts a new job tomorrow
He’s heading to work at a company that’s LITERALLY across the street from his old company. We’ve performed a massive defrag on our gaming group. There used to be six of us in four careers working at six companies. There are now six of us in two careers working at three companies. We converted two of our non-coders to coders, then aggregated all the dudes into one company. That company now has tremendous coding expertise, as well as some battle-hardened dice-wielders if there’s ever an emergency need for a FATE game.

2) We had the first snowfall of the year
It was tremendously scenic, and perfectly timed. It snowed all day Saturday, just enough to have fun playing in and to be gone by the end of the week.

3) We’re getting ready for the attic project
I spent that entire day Saturday reducing our number of bookcases by 1.5 by committing ruthless triage on our book collection. Now is an excellent time to visit the Book Oasis if you’re interested in: religion, Medieval Sociology, fantasy novels from the ’90s that didn’t stand the test of time (looking at you Stephen R. Lawhead), the collected “Wheel of Time” (I am NEVER rereading that) or a large collection of young adult novels in Spanish. Adam worked on clearing out the attic all week between jobs. There’s still a ton of stuff up there to be dealt with. Theoretically work begins in mid January. We can’t get too destructive until after the Christmas holidays, since we have guests over that period.

4) I may never finish writing my Christmas cards.

5) My laundry is folded all wrong
But it was washed and folded by my eldest son, and not based on any dire threats or massive punishments. Because he discovered doing laundry is the only way in this household to get a “watch crappy tv without guilt” card. And now he’s doing laundry. My youngest son does dishes. I’m enjoying the brief moment of smug feeling.

6) We took the kids to a party where they didn’t know anyone
And they made friends and talked for three hours with some other kids in the corner, looking very intense. Holy hand grenades! They’ve reached the talking phase of friend development!

7) In cleaning the attic, I found an unaccounted for Puppy.
I thought I had them all tracked. The only missing one went missing in a hotel room in Canada. Where the heck does this Puppy come from? I’m contemplating confessing to Thane about the true nature of Puppies – namely that he’s on Puppy #5. (I thought it was #4, but there are two in a drawer (with various not-so-attached body parts) and #3 is missing in Canada. So there must be an extra one in there somewhere.) Thane has started waxing rhapsodic on the nature of Puppies and Puppyworld, a utopian place. I hope he never outgrows his Puppies (who are actually bunny rabbits, FYI).

8) There are currently a LOOOOOOOT of cookies in this house.
Om nom nom.

9) It turns out Christmas is two weeks away
#panic

10) I got an award at work last week, for the Diversity & Inclusion and community building work I do
They don’t tell you who nominated you, so it feels a little like having a secret admirer. You find yourself looking at people and wondering who turned you in, and how you can thank them. Warm fuzzy feelings there!

11) We had all new toilets installed
The one downstairs, that I was talked into by a plumber in a moment of duress, prevented the door from opening and had a mysterious duel-flush mechanism that guests could rarely work out without consternation. This is no good in a powder room. The one upstairs, despite having its inner workings gutted by both my husband and I approximately one bajillion times, had a tendency to run. I had phantom toilet-running episodes, where I’d wake up in the middle of the night and have to check. I still find it hard to develop opinions regarding toilets, but doors not opening and running are definitely on my naughty list.

12) For those not following along on Facebook, I finally had to refuel my car
It was almost a full three months, and about 1500 miles. The gas light hadn’t come on, but a snow storm was coming. I added an additive to prevent the gas from freezing, since it might be spring by the time I have to refill it again. It turns out the gas tank is pressurized (probably to prevent water from coming in) and I had to Google how to open the gas tank on a car I’ve owned since it was hot out. With the real charging station, the electric costs have also come way down, to about $20 a month.

What’s going on with you?

Thank you, Mr. Jones

Our toilet started running. At 11:15 pm on a day that started at 6:15 am (with another 6:15 morning looming), this is the last thing I wanted to notice. I brushed my teeth eeeeexxxtra slowly, hoping I was hallucinating. Finally I gave in to the cascade sounds and watched the water in the tank run and run. Hmmmm. A quick tap on the float and it raised itself back up, stopping the waterfall. “Maybe,” I thought, “Maybe this is a one time thing?!”

My ears were extra-vigilant for bathroom noises. They are anyway… with a 21 month old and a 4.5 year old, you stay vigilant for sounds that indicate someone is drinking out of the toilet, or taking a bath. And sure enough, that dreaded hiss of water! Truly, this was a problem that must be solved.

I’ve entered this unpleasant stage of life. Let’s call it the “Harry Truman” stage. When I was a girl, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. As a teen, I might have told my parents. Probably not. As a young adult, I would’ve called my landlord and it would’ve been his problem. But now, squarely into my fourth decade, the problem was mine. All mine. Note that I’m not the final stop of the Responsibility Train for just toilets. No. My purview includes dietary choices, project dates, playground time, what we can and cannot afford, appropriate number of treats per day (and whether Flav-r-pops count as a whole treat), business rules for new applications, and how stained is too stained for a shirt to continue in a wardrobe. In so many areas, there is no one for me to escalate problems to.

Thus, the toilet.

Back when other people had all the responsibilities, in Junior High, I decided that shop sounded waaaaay more interesting than Home Economics. I’m old enough, I suppose, to have had gender-segregated classes. The plan was that the girls got a year and a half of Home Ec and one semester of shop, and the boys had a year and a half of shop and one semester of home ec. I got through my first, divided year, and emerged convinced that if I never saw another apron pattern in my life, it was too soon for me. So I ended up the only girl in a class of 26 guys and a poor, harried Mr. Jones.

In that year I made a bowl on a lathe. I turned metal. We rebuilt lawnmower engines. We wired and drywalled a fake wall with real electricity. We plumbed, carefully fitting together the tubes with all the various goos. I used the jigsaw, the planer, the lathe, the scroll saw. I used wrenches and hammers and WD-40. I also learned that just because I had no clue how to do something, it didn’t mean I couldn’t learn. The most arcane of masculine skills were not out of my reach; I simply had to find a book and/or a mentor and roll up my skirt.

This came back to me as I gazed into the swirling waters of the toilet. OK, so I didn’t know how to fix this. I knew how to begin. I pulled out the books on home repair (toilet technology in the US hasn’t changed that much in the last 50 years, and our toilet is probably that old). I observed and tinkered to figure out where the problem was. (The floaty thingy wouldn’t float.) I learned the correct name for it, and proceeded to giggle uncontrollably. (It’s a ballcock. I couldn’t wait to go to Lowe’s and tell them that my ballcock wouldn’t rise. Sadly, they proceeded to help me right away.) I bought the spare parts I needed. I turned off the water. I drained the tank. I spent about 2 hours trying to get frozen, rusted bolts to give, until they finally admitted that I was more stubborn than they. I installed the new fitting. And it worked perfectly. I looked down at my hands – black grease embedded stubbornly under my fingernails. It looked better than the finest manicure, to me.

This is a small thing in the realm of home maintenance. Just saying that I can figure out how to fix my toilet, that’s minor. But one of the lessons I think I internalized in that shop course, as I learned about masculine and feminine fittings, was that I could learn about things about which I was completely ignorant. I learned that just because I knew squat about what I was doing right now, that didn’t mean that I had no chance of doing it. I just needed to start at the beginning and follow it through. That lesson, there, is extremely relevant to my Life As a Grownup. Don’t know how to run a meeting? Start at the beginning. What does a meeting look like? Don’t know how to program in Java? Start at the beginning. Find a site or a book with a good overview. Don’t know how to pick a life insurance policy? Start at the beginning. What are the options?

To me, that is the height of what education really is. It’s not about dates or facts or information, although that background is important. It is about the tools to break down problems in areas where you are ignorant, and the confidence to believe that you can learn about things you don’t know. Perhaps other people learn these same lessons doing algebraic equations, or parsing the meaning out of “A Tale of Two Cities”. For me, it came at the business end of a wrench, unveiling the cam shaft of a geriatric lawnmower.

Where did you learn this lesson? Have you?