I've got the power

Here’s a story:

For the past five-plus years, I have used just one of the three electrical outlets at my kitchen counter.

[Where are you going? Come back! I'm talking outlets! It gets better!]

The space was renovated in 2010, a miraculous transformation that was worth every penny and all amounts of upheaval. But somewhere along the line, sometime after the backsplash was finally installed and the job was complete (and now I’m thinking of the line in the enh movie version of Eat, Pray Love where Elizabeth Gilbert’s friend talks about the evolution of adulthood and the stage where “you get your granite countertops”), two of the outlets stopped working. Maybe they never worked. In any case, I think I called in an electrician at one point and he couldn’t figure out the problem. My dad, who has a degree in electrical engineering, bought some fancy gadget to test the currents, and tested them, but to no avail.

And so we put childproof covers on the two nonfunctional outlets and used the remaining functional one for everything else, unplugging the kettle to plug in the toaster, unplugging the toaster to run the blender, unplugging the blender to grind some coffee, and so forth. That particular corner of the kitchen became prime real estate. And I sucked it up, getting used to the limitations of the otherwise wonderful space, living with them until they became normal.

But. If you’ve been reading the (admittedly irregular) posts here of late, you’ll know that I am trying to deal with these kinds of things, to figure out what’s wrong and then fix it or get it fixed (or at least budget to get it fixed at a different time). I’m trying not to live with the status quo when the status quo blatantly isn’t working. That’s true in all areas of my life, but of course home is one of the most tactile and immediate examples — metaphorical, too, this getting-my-house-in-order thing.

I procrastinated on the outlets because there didn’t seem to be a solution to the problem, because I worried that a solution might involve having to tear out the backsplash and I just couldn’t stomach that thought, because I was getting by well enough just with the one set of plugs. But it’s January, and I’m still just high enough from getting the chimney flashing fixed to muster up the gumption to deal with this particular (yes, First World) headache.

And so, a few nights ago, I took a baby step toward the solution: I took the cover off one of the non-working outlets and plugged in my phone charger. Just in case. Just to see. Just to be able to describe the problem to the next electrician.

Reader, it lit up.

And guess what? Guess! The other outlet? The one that I haven’t used in five years? It works too. Just now, I drank a cup of tea made with water boiled in a kettle plugged into that outlet. Earlier today, I ate some toast made in a toaster plugged into that outlet.

For five years, I have literally not used an energy source that — for all I know — was always available to me. And that’s not even a metaphor. Except that it so totally is.

And maybe there’s some loose wire somewhere that will kick out once again, flicker and die and need resuscitation in the form of an electrician rather than magic. And if and when that happens, I will make the call.

But for now, I am reveling in my tea and my toast, and in the message from the universe that I have, that I may always have had,  more power, more energy, at my disposal than I realized. I just needed to plug into it.

Light it up, baby. LIGHT IT UP.

The roof over my head

The living room ceiling has leaked since I moved — we moved — into this house. The first winter I was here, barely holding it together and nursing a newborn on the couch, I watched with horror as the brown spot that had been growing steadily bigger on the ceiling finally opened like some portal from hell and released a flow of dirty, icy water onto the floor.

At the time, it was both a reality — something was broken — and also a metaphor: the carefully constructed walls around my life were breaking down, letting in the demons. Or, at very least, the elements. Greg, our (angelic) next-door neighbour, ran out of his house when he saw me attempting to scale a ladder up the side of mine in December. He and my other angelic neighbour from across the street ended up on the roof, hacking away with axes to break up the ice dam that had melted into the chimney flashing. The next summer, we got new shingles, and assumed that the problem was fixed.

It was. That is, until it wasn’t. A couple of years went by, and then the roof leaked again: same spot, same seam in the plaster. Guys came over and re-tarred the flashing. Things stayed dry for months. We had the ceiling repaired and replastered. It leaked again. More tar. And on and on it went, months going by with nothing happening and then some freak windstorm or snowfall and I’d wonder what that dripping sound was. And then it would stop raining and I’d go back to denial. I mean, if the roofing guys couldn’t figure it out, how was I supposed to know? How were we?

That, of course, was a metaphor, too: the way things slide into disrepair, and the ways you fix them, and they hold for a while, until they don't any more. 

And then, I designated this past November as maintenance month. While everybody else was writing novels and blogging daily, I was getting the car tuned up and mending the holes in seams. In November, I changed the filters on the fetish vacuum. I hacked away at the summer garden and put it to bed for fall, raked all the leaves. I filled in forms and sent them off. I went through kids’ clothes, my e-mail inbox, the basement. I made chicken stock. I hung photos. I put up the net over the ping-pong table, made all the phone calls, got the winter tires put on. I went to the chiropractor. In essence, I tried to think of every niggling thing I could think of, every open loop, every loose end, and I tried to deal with it, close it, tie it up.

I called the chimney guys. And I called them repeatedly, because you know how they get busy and don’t come the first couple of times, or on the date they say they're going to, but I was on a mission. Because this house, which has been subtly and not so subtly transformed over the last year as I have gone from “we” to “I,” needs to be safe. It needs to function without threat of the elements coming through, without me wondering what kind of black mould has been festering in the attic, right over my head.

The chimney guys came this past weekend. They erected scaffolding, ripped out the old flashing, took up the shingles to check for rot: none. (None!) They laid down waterproof membranes and new shingles, installed actual new flashing, sealed it tight. They sent me pictures from up above as they went along. In the spring, once the snow melts, they will come back and replace the missing bricks in the chimney. The job went so well, my chimney guy told me, that he would knock a bit off the original quote. And it’s guaranteed: if it leaks, they’ll come back and figure it out.

This may or may not be the end of the story. But it’s a new chapter, and I’ll take it.


I like to call this "sticking it to the other soccer moms"

I like to call this "sticking it to the other soccer moms"

Rowan and I are making a cake. An “Easy Devil’s Food” cake, with a three-ingredient frosting (I told him to Google “easy frosting”). We will dye said frosting blue and red with the food colouring I ran to the store to get just now. And then we will spread the frosting on the cake (once it’s cool; I’ve been around the block too many times to consider putting frosting on even a slightly warm cake because that way lies tears) in the form of the flag of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Obviously. Because my ten-year-old son came home from soccer camp today and said, “Will you do me a favour?”

I was smart enough to say, “Depends on what it is,” but a cake? Today, at least, I can swing a cake. We had all evening, and even most of the ingredients, and perhaps his team will win “Most Delicious Flag” or somesuch tomorrow.

This past week has been full of moments like this: on Tuesday, we held a feline funeral, where all four of us — two boys, and their two mothers — came together in my/our/our formerly collective back garden to bury the grey cat, with tears and best wishes and a Plaster of Paris headstone. I spend the early mornings cycling with one kid to one summer camp and then cycling home and driving the early carpool with the other kid to the other summer camp; I make lunches and snacks and arrange arrange carpools and play dates and squeeze in work and writing in between. I overhear other mothers say things to their children like, “Are you wearing underwear?” and I know it’s not just my house. There are bike rides to the park after dinner, frisbee in the backyard, eight-year-olds riding their bikes in the neighbourhood and stopping in for glasses of water and carrots. On Wednesday, I jumped off the five-metre platform at the pool because if Isaac can do it, then how scary (OMG so scary) can it be?

I watch it all. I mean, I’m doing it all, but I’m still watching it even as I revel in it, wondering if other parents wonder at the strangeness of all the things we do, the ways we make memories, the activities our children just assume are natural, given. I came home from the drop-offs yesterday morning and tried to explain it to Rob, this feeling of being at once removed and apart, not quite fully immersed in parenting because I’m too busy thinking, I am digging a grave for a cat or I am hiding clues for a treasure hunt around the neighbourhood. I had to stop thinking at all in order to jump from that five-metre platform (it’s so much higher from the top of the platform than when you look up at from the water; it really is). In those few seconds — in the rush of gravity and the force of impact, my hair elastic blown away, water up my nose, the momentary disorientation of being underwater — I was literally and metaphorically fully immersed. More often, I am treading water in this pool of parenting, mostly in but partly out, watching it all, wondering if this is as natural as it will ever feel and hoping that that’s okay.

And then I watch Rowan peek over and over again at the cake in the cooler on the way to soccer, see Isaac leap again and again into the deep, take comic books out of the hands of a sleeping boy and turn out his light,  say a few words in honour of a departed cat, and I think, Yeah, it probably is.