Over the past month, since moving into my townhouse, there have been many new household things to deal with. Actually, since going through my divorce, there have been many things to deal with. In our marriage, like most partnerships where you manage a household, we had a division of labor that was firmly established after forty years together. It worked in the busy days of establishing our careers, creating our family, and then raising our sons to adulthood. Who did what was not so much about male-female stereotypical roles as it was who was available and who had that skill. When I was married, I never bothered to put an ink cartridge in my printer or clear a paper jam; I simply waited until my husband could do it because he already had those skills. I was the one that managed our sons’ ongoing doctors’ and dentists’ appointments and planned the meals for the week. We kept those patterns for years.
But like most couples, when you’re no longer a couple, whether through divorce or death, everything changes; suddenly everything is on your shoulders and you are solely responsible for figuring things out. It’s not that I didn’t take responsibility before– but I had another person to consult with before we decided what needed to be done. Many times I was the one that did the follow through– like call a plumber or talk with our bank etc, but it was from a place of us “putting out heads together.” My hours were more flexible with my work than my husband’s so it made sense for me to take care of things.
What’s different now is my head is the only one that needs to figure things out. Yes, I consult with people if I run into an issue, but ultimately, it’s up to me to correct the problem.
Recently, I said something to my older son, Brooks, about how I’d learned how to do something and it was a surprise to me. It was one of the things his father had done for years.
“You’re smarter than you think, Mom,” he responded.
I took that as part-compliment, part-challenge that I hadn’t seen myself accurately over the years.
Most of the areas where I haven’t seen myself as smart enough were in areas of mechanical reasoning. When I was young, I wasn’t interested in how things worked; I was interested in how people worked. That’s where my love of people and their stories developed. It drove my interest in becoming a nurse–and in my specialty area of psychiatry/mental health. Later, that was expressed in writing. I didn’t choose an area where mechanical knowledge was necessary– like working with machines and monitors in a technical, ICU-type setting. Over time, I gave into the idea that I didn’t have the ability to learn how those machines worked.
Now, since moving into my townhouse and purchasing things that have to be assembled, I’ve realized that part of my problem was I didn’t slow down enough to understand how things work. I can’t be calling on my sons, or anyone else, every time I need help; I have to look more inside of me to be my own resource.
The most immediate example from this weekend is a kitchen DIY project. While I can’t say I’ve enjoyed the pragmatic improvements to my house, I do love to decorate. Colors, textures, light, design– all of these things appeal to me in making this space my own. My kitchen chairs were covered about ten years ago in a red cloth that went with the interior of our house. My husband and I made a pattern, cut out pieces from the red cloth, and stapled that fabric over the tan chair pad. I pulled the cloth tight while he stapled –probably because I thought my hands weren’t strong enough to use a staple gun. Since that time, I’ve only used a staple gun once, and again, someone was helping me.
But now, I wanted to change the color to a blue-gray to pick up the colors of water in my Jordan Lake canvas print that hangs over the table. I have lunch guests coming next week so this project needs to be completed for us to sit at the table. I enjoyed picking out the fabric at Hobby Lobby–where they had the wide upholstery bolts. Every time I go to a fabric store I’m reminded of Mama and all the times we went to the Jonesboro fabric store to pick out a Simplicity pattern and cloth for a new dress. Even cutting the cloth, the snip-snip-snip of the scissors reminds me of coming home from school, Mama bent over the folding table in our den where she’d be working on the outfit. She wouldn’t have approved of the price of the fabric I chose; she would have gone for something more frugal, more pragmatic. But then Mama always said I picked out the hardest patterns and complained that the jersey fabric for one of those outfits was slippery underneath the presser foot of her Singer sewing machine.
I thought my DIY project would be simple; I’d purchased the fabric and had a staple gun and staples. But soon I found the staples I had didn’t fit the gun and I made a dash to the hardware store. The right size staples wouldn’t fit in the gun–even when Brooks tried loading it. He brought his larger staple gun and finally I got it to work. When it ran out of staples, I tried to reload them and something was blocking the staples. I consulted a Youtube video for the company and followed it for reloading the gun. Frustrated, I had to take a break. After showing it to Brooks, he demonstrated how to reload the gun and lock it in place.– which was a lot easier to see and understand than the Youtube video.
Later, Brooks used his drill and enlarged the screw holes then showed me how to put those screws in the bottom of the chair once the fabric was attached. He loaned me his screwdriver.
“This one will be easier, Mom, because it has gears.”
He handed me the Kobalt screw driver and showed me the forward and reverse.
“I didn’t know screw drivers could have gears,” I confessed, and thought of my bike with gears which I never used–mostly keeping it at the same setting; guess I thought it was enough to know there’s a flat head and Phillip’s head screwdriver.
Later in the day when I had time to work on my project, I discovered I was short of fabric. Had I not laid the pattern out in the right directions to get four pieces out of the cloth? Mama wouldn’t have made that mistake. I’d bought the fabric on sale and now the sale was over; sometimes you lose money when you make a mistake. I’ve seen before that underneath my fear of making mistakes is the fear of losing money. You just have to let this go, I told myself, and plunked down the money at the checkout. You liked that cloth and you’re not doing this again— any time soon!
Back at home, I finally got to work on my project. After stapling the fabric into place, I put the chair bottom on the kitchen counter and pushed down the chair on top. I took the Kobalt screw driver and tried to remember the angle and technique Brooks had taught me. The first couple of times, the screw went in sideways. Frustrated, I put the tool down, walked out of the room and took a break. I thought of my friend and former co-worker, Irene and how she’d taken on huge landscaping projects as a single home owner. I pictured Irene with a jackhammer (though maybe that wasn’t what she used!) going fearlessly at her task with results that were impressive. If she can use those big tools, I can use this geared screwdriver and put this chair back together, I thought.
I went back to my task with total focus, pushing down hard to connect the chair pad and frame while using the geared tool. Finally, the x of the screw was as far as it could go and was in straight. I used the same focused process with the remaining three screws, then picked up the chair and turned it right-side-up.
“It worked!” I said out loud. “It didn’t fall apart when I turned it over.”
I sat in the chair and felt amazed that I’d done that. It may seem small to some people, but to me it was a big accomplishment.
I realized that with this project, and with lots of other things that required following instructions, observing how something is put together, how it works— my impatience, my lack of focus has often kept me from being successful. There’s also been an underlying fear of failure that has come out as a fear of breaking things, of messing up. While I was married, I could avoid facing some of those things because I could ask my husband to take care of it; now, I can’t avoid these things and the good thing is–I’m learning that I can do things.
Maybe I’m learning that I’m “smarter than I think” like Brooks told me.
With just a little more effort, two more chairs to cover and one memory foam cushion to locate, my new look for my dining area will be complete. It will be a new chapter for leisurely meals at this time in my life–letting go of the red-covered chairs from my past.
Once again, I come to the end of this post and think that I never want these accounts to be just about my life; I want there to be something of value for you, my reader. I’ve talked to other women, and men, who have found themselves suddenly alone and trying to do things for the first time–that before had been their partner’s domain. Those new tasks have often been overwhelming–sometimes, intimidating at first. But then, in time, with awkward practice, tearful failures, anger at the reminder that their partner will not be doing that for them again– they trudge forward and adapt to their new normal. It can be a painstaking process, but many come to see their own strength, their own intelligence, their latent ability, when all is said and done.
May it be so for all of us who are trying to figure things out.
Blessings on you in the week ahead,