What if there is no right answer? Does that translate to mean there is no wrong answer?


Acts of Love

In an act of love, I ironed a shirt for my son. I despise ironing. When purchasing clothing, the item must pass two tests: Can it forego ironing and can it go into the washing machine? Hand wash? I don’t think so. Dry cleaning? Paying for the item over and over every time you wear it? No, thanks.

My son is old enough to learn to iron his own clothes, but we don’t own an ironing board. Initiating him into this undesirable practice while requiring him to navigate our awkwardly shaped and unwelcoming flat surfaces is cruel, kind of like forcing him to learn to drive on a stick shift, which by the way is only about a year away. Good luck, dear son. Just pretend you walked into a time machine and you have no choice, which of course you don’t since I’m not heading off to buy an automatic.

On the other hand, putting my son behind the wheel of a five speed with the worst blind spots of any car I’ve ever driven is foolish. A friend recently told me that the period of driving under a learner’s permit is mostly to get the parents used to the idea of the child driving. He said his son is already quite skilled behind the wheel, but he and his wife need the time to digest their son’s progression to adulthood. I don’t doubt it. When I look at my son and imagine his navigating a large moving vehicle through our traffic-crazed city I pretend it will never happen.

To fend off the inevitable, I come up with a set of preliminary tasks.

“You must first learn to iron. If you can’t drive an iron, you can’t drive a car.” Or cooking. “If you can’t find your way around a stationary stove, I’m certainly not setting you loose on the open highway.” Laundry will follow close behind, or maybe take the lead since it is the safest and easiest of the three.

Ironing, cooking, laundry. Maybe this has nothing to do with priming my son to drive. Maybe I just want to lighten the load around the house.

My ex-husband was raised in a foreign rural village where his sisters taught him self-reliance. When we moved in together, he knew his way around the kitchen better than I did. Not only could he mend clothes but he could also create them from scratch. Mother of necessity, they say.

For the few years that my son saw his parents living together, he didn’t witness stereotypical gender roles. There wasn’t a go-to parent for certain tasks. House duties were spread around. But there is something in me that has ratcheted up the nurturing since the end of the marriage. I feel my son has taken on added responsibility in his role of ‘man of the house’, and I want him to still have a childhood, to feel cared for and not be rushed into adulthood. I don’t want him to feel that he never had a chance to just play and be. But I also don’t want him to sit back and wait to be catered to.

Sometimes after spending times at friends’ houses, he returns home and when I ask him to vacuum his room he replies, “Kids aren’t supposed to do that.” And I challenge him on the notion, ask him if he really believes that the mountain of cleaning duties should all fall to me. Faced with the accusation and shame I throw at him, he reaches for the vacuum or the scrub brush and gets to work on his room and bathroom. Part of me is really proud and part of me dreads his inner thoughts of how his friends have it easier, how he might shift to a moment of, “If only.”

I know that when he heads out on his own, he’ll inwardly thank me for his knowing his way around home maintenance, that he won’t feel robbed of a childhood but that he’ll feel a bit grateful that his apartment won’t make the first girl he brings home grimace. And I imagine that girl thinking that my son is something special beyond all the obvious traits and assets he puts forth, that she’s finally met a guy who can keep his own place clean.

And then I wake from my delicious fantasy and iron my son’s next shirt and try to figure out in which car he’ll learn to drive. Luckily I have a year to solve that problem.



It's Who You Know

I’m supposed to not worry that my son’s new school may not be teaching him anything. “Connections,” my friend says. “He’s making connections.” I’ve neglected to tell my son that middle school is about networking, that the power play of private school is setting up your future via who you know. Funny, I’d had other thoughts about middle school, but I’m na├»ve in that way. My friend makes her comment with humor, trying to ease my concern that I must solve this problem.

My son left a rigorous, academic middle school program to join a private school in September that equally favors the arts with the academics. At least that was the pitch. At least that’s what we hoped. As a dedicated artist, he was feeling underserved at the public school, hemmed in creatively. Each day felt repetitive and lacking in imagination. He grumbled constantly.

At his new school, his arts are thriving. But when your teen repeatedly comes home from eighth grade asking for his academics to be more challenging, you pay attention. After all, this is the phase where he’s supposed to be all about play and distraction.

So this past week I’ve felt anger boiling in me that I face this school dilemma again. I long for the era of no choice, when you shoved your kid in the neighborhood public school and met up with him again at graduation pleased he’d done enough to get into a good college. At least that’s how my parents did it. I don’t think they knew what I was up to for an entire decade.

Recently I heard a lecture on Ted.com by psychologist Barry Schwartz about the fact that we strive for choice because we think it improves happiness but in fact the opposite is true. Too much choice creates dissatisfaction. And as I heard the words, I felt my head nodding. There is comfort in making the best of what you have over analyzing if you should go for another option all together.

But I can’t unring the bell of school choice at this point. I know it’s out there. My son knows it’s out there. I can tell him to make the best of where he is, to point out that opportunity exists if you seek it. And trust me, we’ve had this conversation in exhaustive detail, but choice denied does not erase its existence. The question of whether he is in the right place will whine in the back of our minds.

I think back to my practical friend, the one who recommends the art of teenage networking. Maybe she’s right. Maybe I have to look at this humorously. Maybe my academic artist son will do just fine in the long run of life if he cozies up to future art buyers and the well-connected. After all, it certainly can’t hurt.


Public Service Announcement

Did you know that when your dishwasher is on, it is not full of water, that it is not exactly a washing machine for your dishes? I mean, it washes them, but it’s not an enormous tank of water filled from bottom to top.

You may have known this. You may not have overlooked the dishwasher’s design of a pull-down front door that certainly would have been a precarious way to hold water.

And if you knew this and your dishwasher started making a loud and suspicious sound upon hitting ‘start’ only to later leak water from the lower right corner, you may have done something different from thinking, “Ugh, the leak has returned,” and then call the dishwasher repair company that replaced a hose four months earlier.

No, you might have hit ‘cancel’ and opened the door to see if just maybe you hadn’t closed it sufficiently the first time around, because, you see, your dishwasher is not like your front-loading washing machine, the one that won’t even indicate power if the door is not fully closed. Had you known that only about an inch or two of water sits in the bottom of the dishwasher, you wouldn’t have envisioned a flood pouring across your kitchen floor and eventually seeping into your downstairs neighbor’s home.

My repairman, who arrived only to discover that my dishwasher was working perfectly, taught me all this. He told me that it’s safe to open your dishwasher during any phase of the cycle because the machine shuts off and drains within two minutes, and even if it isn’t drained, the water is so low that it can’t leave the dishwasher. We discussed barbeque forks that may just interfere with the dishwasher achieving a tight seal as they press their length against the door. I appreciated his desire to offer up this visual as an illustration to his lesson.

And unlike me, writing a $60 dollar check to the repairman who has just said, “Sorry, I have to charge you,” you wouldn’t be tempted to say, “Really? You do? That full amount?” given he was in your home for a maximum of ten minutes and the last time he’d come out you paid him $187 to pull out the machine and replace a drainage hose. You wouldn’t have thought any of that because you wouldn’t have called him in the first place.

Of course his time is worth something. And what it’s worth, I realize, goes beyond his fixing skills. I didn’t pay him to repair my dishwasher, but I did just pay him $60 to educate me about my dishwasher and to rewire the inner workings of my imagination, the same imagination that previously created images of dishes taking a soaking bath within my dishwasher rather than sitting and enjoying a spraying shower.

“Now I know,” I say to the repairman as he hands me my receipt. “Now I know.”


The Tree

She places the tree outside to experience weather, but the tree has never experienced weather so it does know how to process the move. Instead of seeing an opportunity, the tree feels cast outside in punishment, cold and scared, and slips into reliving its behavior to try to understand how by sitting in a window sill, quietly without bothering anyone, only asking for water on the occasional day and then only doing so by appearing parched and dry, did it deserve a trip to the porch, a third story balcony for precision, where the view is beautiful but the temperature cold.

The tree doesn’t know that its guardian thought it would enjoy the natural fall of rain that brings with it whatever nature intends. Well, that plus city pollutants riding along as stowaways.

The guardian, awaiting the promised rain, glimpses over her shoulder to spy on the potted tree and feels a small pang, knows what it’s like to be jolted into a new environment without warning, without explanation, without the proper tools for survival. But then the guardian remembers. Tools rise up from within, make the possessor stronger and better prepared for the unexpected future.

She glances to the tree again, and thinks, “I know it’s a bit cold, but when the rain comes, you will enjoy it.” At least she hopes so.