Growing up, my father rated plumbing jobs by how many swear words and trips to the hardware store he thought it would take. Two of each was average. The first swear word was because it was plumbing. The second was for when he realized he needed to go back to the hardware store. Any fewer meant it was an easy job. Any more meant it was a bear. His rating system was sort of a running joke, but it let us know what the day entailed and kept a sense of humor about the whole affair.
Even when swearing was involved.
This knowledge faded into the background where most childhood memories rest. Like so much parental wisdom, it was almost forgotten until I needed it most.
Water was leaking from the bathtub down into my son’s room. We couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. I shone my little flashlight into the darkness of my son’s ceiling. I felt up the exposed pipes. I went upstairs and followed the pipes through the access panel as far as I could reach. Nothing.
I had a sudden impulse to call my husband. But this was a few weeks after he had left us. So I asked myself what I really hoped to gain from that phone call. For him to rescue me? To swoop in and make it all better? To be someone he never really had been to me?
Then I collapsed on the bathroom floor, abandoned, forsaken and crying out for all the things I never knew. And as my despair threatened to completely overtake me, I heard my father’s voice.
“The average plumbing job needs two swear words and two trips to the hardware store.”
I laughed between the sobs. Then I sobbed between the laughter. Then I dried my tears and stared into the bathtub.
That was my first swear word.
I hadn’t actually sworn, but I figured it counted the same.
I bet it’s the drain.
And I watched a YouTube video. And I took notes. And I took my notes, the entire drain assembly and the YouTube video with me to the hardware store. And Steffen and I fixed the drain.
With one swear word and one trip to the hardware store. It was an easy plumbing job. Steffen even told me he thought he might like to be a plumber.
In that moment, my dad’s running joke became a metaphor for life. We all face problems. Some are little. Some are big. The average take two outbursts and two second chances. Life can be frustrating. We will face challenges which bring our insecurities and hidden wounds bubbling to the surface. We will fall apart and we will pick ourselves back up. Then we will do it again.
That’s an average problem. Anything less than that is easy. Anything more than that is a bear. But the falling apart and picking yourself back up? That is perseverance. That is strength. That is character.
It is a lesson I want to teach my children as they deal with their own frustrations. So when the bathtub needed re-caulked, I brought Micah and Asa in to sit on the edge of the bathtub with me. I handed them each a butter knife and began,
“The average plumbing job takes two swear words and two trips to the hardware store.”
They giggled. I showed them what we were trying to do, but it quickly became obvious that butter knives were not made for caulk removal.
“First trip to the hardware store, I guess.”
We found the proper tool and went back to it. We made some progress, but it still seemed too difficult. So I set the boys on the couch and we watched a YouTube video together.
“We should have done this the first time. When you don’t know how to do something, you should always start with the directions. Look — he has the same tool we just bought. Ooh. And that spray! That’s what we are missing.”
They both started bouncing on the couch like this was some great adventure.
“Mommy! That’s our second trip to the hardware store!”
Yes, it is. And if we get through it without any tears or shouting, it will count as an easy job.