Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Killer Spaghetti

Who's that broad-shouldered, shirtless young man standing at my front door?

Why, that would be my very own J-son!  Dang, he's growing up to be a darned good-looking man.  All that healthy eating and exercise is doing well by him, don't you think?

But that's not why I took this picture.  I took this picture because the door latch on the front screen door broke (the hardware cracked).  I biked to the hardware store, bought a new latch assembly, and handed the package to my older son.

"Since you can put together legos and bionicles, you can put together a new door latch.  Just call me if you need help."

J-son needed no further encouragement.  He determinedly waived aside all offers of assistance and set to work, concentrating hard.  Bionicles are indeed an appropriate practice problem for this kind of repair . . .
. . . but that's not why I took these pictures either.   I really took these pictures because I wanted to say something about killer spaghetti.

Let me back up a bit.  I grew up in a house with two parents who were experimental physicists, and both my mom and my dad encouraged us to learn to take care of ourselves in a bunch of different ways, crossing traditional gender lines so often I occasionally didn't know what the official roles were supposed to be. For example, when I was in Girl Scouts, my parents designed a "Plumbing Badge" (which doesn't exist except as a make-your-own at the Girl Scouts of America), and my mom and dad led a gaggle of 5th grade girls through the intricacies of shut-off valves, toilet flappers and float balls, washers, and sink traps.  Good stuff.  When we built an addition on the house, my teenage sisters and I got to help drive the rented backhoe to dig the footers.  We strung wiring in the empty, framed-out walls and installed electrical outlets and (single pole, double throw) switches.  We put up drywall and agonized over plaster patches. We also cooked, cleaned, and learned to use the sewing machine.  

I've come to realize that there's something even more counter-cultural about the way my sisters and I were raised.   It's not just what we did (construction, sewing, plumbing, cooking) that was unusual:  it was also what we didn't do.  What we didn't do was tell scary stories about how dangerous any of these activities might be.  The not-telling-stories-about-danger part matters a lot, especially when you want to empower people who might not otherwise have easy access to power.  It's standard fare to respond the way N&M recently did to my post on installing new light fixture -- that is, to respond with stories of danger ("one of his undergrad professors once said that the number one cause of death among electrical engineers is home wiring, but I'm not sure if that's true or not.")  

Is it true you can hurt yourself with home wiring?  Sure, I suppose so.  Could you burn down your home?  Yes, but it's not likely: the most likely thing that will go wrong is that you blow the circuit and the power goes out.  Annoying, but not life threatening.  

But compare that (scary, male-dominated) home wiring scenario to the (familiar, female-dominated) task of cooking dinner.  Here's N-son making spaghetti all by himself.  He's standing next to open flame.  He's boiling water.  He could burn himself; he could burn the house down.  When he grates the cheese, he could cut himself badly.  It's killer spaghetti.
Cooking is dangerous, too.  In fact, all the hospital trips and fire engine excitement that we ever had while I was growing up were the result of various forms of boiling water:  my sister went to the hospital with 3rd degree burns from a making-coffee accident, and we had to call the fire department because of a stove fire once when the water boiled away and the pan caught on fire.  But when a friend tells us she made spaghetti, my sisters and I don't jump in with stories about potential accidents and destruction.  

The stories we tell our kids shape who they want to be.  I'm thinking about that a lot right now as K-daughter tries to figure out how to finish out her education.  This last year was hard on her, academically and otherwise.  She tells me "I'm sick of being broke."  She's so good with her hands that I keep encouraging her to consider learning welding, where she could make big bucks.  But the other day, she came home and said, "I'm thinking I'd like to learn to be a hair dresser."    Uuggghhh.

I don't want welding, or fixing a latch, or cooking dinner, or replacing a simple gosh-darned ceiling lamp to be something that scares my kids so much that they avoid having a life that is financially-and-otherwise fulfilling.  

After all, doing a hard job -- and doing it well -- is a really good feeling.  It's the best way I can think of to open doors.
Latch replaced and working great.
No help at all from his mom.  Go,  J-son, go!


  1. To be fair, the home-wiring thing is because electrical engineers A. don't take standard precautions because they're over-confident (they think they know this stuff but they really don't) and B. the wire colors are different from what they're used to, so they don't pay attention. Neither of these are problems that a true novice will have unless they're risk-seeking.

    We are super-cautious around the kitchen too. The stove is dangerous. The oven is dangerous. Not washing your hands is dangerous. So we teach DC1 to take precautions. He washes his hands first and frequently. He pays attention when he's around the stove. He makes sure the burners are off and doesn't touch them even when they are off (because electric burners can still be hot). He has burned himself, and we've used what he did as a precautionary lesson about how to be more careful in the future (just because a pan is out of the oven doesn't mean it's cool).

    Heck, soldering irons are dangerous. That's why we have child-sized gloves and eye-protection.

    It doesn't mean our children don't get to do things or that we don't do things, but that we are cautious to take every precaution. We don't have to hide danger to teach our kids to overcome danger.

    1. Amen to all that. (My dad loved telling stories about electrical engineers; my sisters joked, "it takes two 'e's to spell 'geek'.)

      In fact, we loved telling what we thought of as funny stories about *past* misfortunes -- about the time my dad had sawed off the very tip of his finger (after a bit of scabbing, the skin grew back fine) or the time my sister told a friend who cut herself, "Cover that up! Do NOT bleed on the wood!"

  2. Good job, J-son! I remember my worst injuries ever were around cooking/eating: 1) the time at Agape meal at church when I pierced my finger good with a butter knife, trying to cut an apple; 2) the time during the summer when I sliced my finger open working open a can of tuna fish. My dad taught us before kindergarten how to use handsaws and other tools properly, and our Saturday mornings involved absorbing information equally from cooking shows and home-construction shows on PBS. The only reason I *can't* do some home repair things nowadays is because I *don't want to* bother learning something. Time versus money, and a SO who is a passionate construction/technician guy - who also explains all of the things to me in detail because he is so passionate about it.

  3. I struggled with this as a parent and really admire the implementation of practical parenting. While I completely embrace the theory and believe a bit of benign neglect is good for children, it has been a struggle to, well, allow them to struggle. There's some inherent protectiveness (over-protectiveness) that coms with being a parent (well, for many of us) that often should be overridden.