Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

December 10, 2001

Don’t It Yourself

When I bought my first house, I was 25 years old. I made less than $23,000 a year, which meant the house I could afford had only half a kitchen. Fortunately, it was the bottom half. This was much more useful than the top half, because that’s where my oven and fridge sat. And since I’m short, I didn’t mind that the ceiling came in at about five and a half feet.

It was then that I developed my chops as a do-it-yourselfer. I ripped out the cat-pee-stained carpets with my bare hands. And, using my magical persuasive powers, I convinced everyone I knew that painting the outside of this house would be a great way to spend the summer. Later, when we were first married, Adam and I took on quite a few projects in our condo: a garbage disposal, dishwasher, bathroom floor and washer and dryer.

This is in contrast to the way my family was when I was growing up. We were “don’t-it-yourselfers.” We didn’t hire anyone to fix things. We just left them broken. When the bathroom shower handle broke, for example, we turned it on with a pair of curiously complicated pliers, until about five years later, when Mom and Dad remodeled the bathroom and replaced the old tub with a new shower. It was no big deal having a broken tub. (And neither is the leak in the new shower. They just put towels down on the floor.)

So, when the shower handle broke at Adam’s and my house a few weeks ago, it felt perfectly natural to get out the pliers and call it fixed. A few times, I came out of the shower smelling more meaty than clean, but this is only because I had cooked my back. Getting the temperature right was a bit of a challenge.

Still, I could have lived this way for years, if it hadn’t been for Lucy. Even though she has a bath pig, a rubber duck, a cloth duck, a foam frog, a blue squeaker dog and a fishing net with three willing victims, she fell in love with the pliers. They became her favorite tub toy, perhaps because they were the only ones that left neat rust circles behind.

Pliers, unfortunately, are not a good toy for a child who is learning how to throw. This meant Adam and I were going to have to fix the shower.

Now that I am working from home, though, we think twice before we call in someone to fix a problem. After running my own business, I understand why plumbers and other repairmen charge more to fix a toilet than the toilet cost in the first place. But that doesn’t make hiring them affordable.

Adam decided to tackle this project himself. After much tinkering with all the valves in our old and funky basement, he finally found the one that shut off our water. And then he replaced the handle, as if he'd been doing such things his whole life.

Everything about it was just great until I went downstairs to do some laundry. It was then that I discovered our house had become waterfront property, but not in a good way.

One of the mystery valves that Adam had fiddled with had wept large tears all over the floor. So, instead of the writing work I had planned to do, I spent the morning squatting on the drier and wrapped plumbing tape around the various thready parts of the valve, while Adam held a bucket underneath it. Every so often, we changed jobs so that we could both enjoy the sensation of freezing water squirting up our sleeves.

After two trips to the hardware store, a roll of plumbing tape, and two cases of this gray, ropy stuff we did our best to use, Adam and I had almost fixed the problem. But with plumbing, as with horseshoes and with heart surgery, there is no almost.

And so we have to call a plumber anyway. Not to fix the shower, but to fix the problem we caused by repairing the shower on our own.

Somehow, we found a way to make this cost as much as is humanly possible. In addition to the plumbing fees and the cost of the new handle, we also bought various do-it-yourselfer supplies. I didn’t get any work done, and therefore did not earn any money. And we paid our babysitter to watch Lucy while we failed to stop the leak.

As with so many other things, I’m starting to see the wisdom of my parents’ approach to broken stuff around the house. Don’t-It-Yourself. It will be my new strategy. Unless, of course, Lucy learns how to use pliers while she plays with them.

If she learns how to be a plumber, this parenthood thing might turn out to be profitable.


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