Out of the nest

Out of the nestI’m not very nostalgic.  Purging old stuff from my basement and garage is usually only difficult because of the work involved, not because of the sentimental value of the treasures buried in dust and cobwebs.

I don’t attach much emotion to things – which is good from a hording standpoint, but probably not when it comes to kids artwork.  I remember getting caught by one of my kids once when I threw out one of their masterpieces from Kindergarten.  They were mortified that I didn’t want to treasure every object they came in contact with.  I’m just not wired that way.

The same ideology applied to how I raised my kids – there was never a time that I sat up late at night, rocking one my precious, fevered little darlings back to sleep where I thought ‘I wish this feeling would never end’.  In fact, I couldn’t wait to see what great adventures were laid before us – what these smelly little diaper destroyers would eventually become.

I also wished I remembered what a full nights sleep felt like.

When we brought our first-born home from the hospital, I remember sitting in the living room after the whole birth ordeal, wondering ‘what do we do with him now?’.  For me, it was far more exciting to see what would happen next, than clinging to things past.

I guess I just associate more with the here and now, than the days gone by.  I’m pretty sure all the Facebook psychologists will have a field day with these thoughts.

I don’t want to suggest that I’m not the proudest Dad in the world at how they’ve turned out.  I am!  Heck, based on how I saw my parenting skills, I’m actually surprised that they beat the odds!  I guess my wife was the tipping point factor for them.

We’ve been dealing with our Son’s transition to adulthood for the past couple of years as he’s been living in another city while going to University. This fall, our daughter will be doing the same.

Our ground school lessons are over – now it’s time for the kids to fly.  Amazing, exciting times.

We’ve been frantically completing all her applications, payments, etc., with a mix of frustration and excitement for the past few months.  These are incredible times for her and for us.  It’s also been hectic enough that we haven’t (okay, I haven’t) really stopped to think about what this means.

Yesterday though, it hit me.

We were at the store, getting some kitchen supplies for her new home on campus.  As we filled the cart with dishes and tea towels, the sudden weight of what was coming hit me like a school bus.  Our baby will be leaving home.

It actually surprised me, feeling like I did.  Maybe it shouldn’t have, but there I was, staring down at this pile of independence; cutlery, dishes, a can opener.  I think it was the stupid can opener that got me.  That’s the clear sign that she’s leaving.  You can mentally quantify the other stuff, but a kitchen gadget like a can opener means they’ll be doing things on their own from now on.

Again, I’m not nostalgic, so I’m trying to think of all the upsides of not having a kid in the house.

No more checking in to see that she’s up in the morning, or cleaning up the kitchen after you’re pretty damn sure you cleaned it up before you went to bed last night.  No more of your stuff being moved from where you left it.

No more lights left on all night, or having to close the bedroom door because the ‘night owls’ don’t sleep like normal people do, and they wake you up with their stomping around all night.

We’ll be able to eat dinner where we want, when we want, and what we want.  We won’t have to think about anyone else (except the dog, of course).  GROCERY BILLS CUT IN HALF!

So, why am I so stuck on that stupid can opener?  Have I suddenly tapped the nostalgic emotion, hidden away all these years? Will I suddenly find myself digging through old pictures and trophies, recalling how I felt at the time, creating a shrine of what my kids used to be?

That can opener, I think, is a metaphor for where we are with our kids.  They will use the tools we’ve given them to leave the ‘can’ and set out to start their own lives.  It’s out of our hands now.  They’re turning the crank, not us.

Like I was almost 2 decades ago, anticipating what will come next, I’ll be cheering on my kids and underestimating just how awesome they’ll turn out, but those 2 decades left a legacy.  You can’t ignore how profoundly your life changed because of them.  For the better.

Maybe I am getting a bit nostalgic.  Maybe I’ll spend a little time looking through old pictures, remembering how I felt at the time.  Maybe that’s what I’ve learned from my kids.  That time we spent together, figuring out life as we went along, was the stuff of life.  Those crafts from Kindergarten weren’t just construction paper and glue – they were the milestones that I kept looking for – those ‘next great things’ that I couldn’t wait to see.

Sure, having the house to ourselves will be great in many ways, but I figure it’ll be about a week before we wish they were back home again.  Maybe the can opener won’t work, and we’ll have to swoop in and save her from her independence.

As much as I might wish that, I sure hope it doesn’t happen.  Leaving the nest is just another step for kids.  A painful, thrilling, sad, exhilaratingly huge step.

And I couldn’t be more proud.

Unfinished Business

There are a lot of self-described home handymen out there.  I like to think that I’m one of them.  I love watching those home repair shows, especially the ones where the frustrated wife calls in the expert guy to ambush the unsuspecting, well-meaning husband about his incomplete or completely wrong home renovation.  The poor guy usually looks completely emasculated.

There should to be an aptitude test that everyone should take before they’re let loose in the home improvement stores.  Can you tell the difference between a hack saw and miter saw?  What does a router do? What shape is a Phillips head screw driver?  That kind of thing.  Maybe they’d get a tool belt or a certificate if they passed.

I was lucky enough as a kid to have access to a really cool workshop in our home, so I got a good start on understanding what tools did…and didn’t do.  I once tried to use a rasp as a hammer.  Bad ending for the rasp.  When I became a home owner, through necessity, I learned the hard way what jobs I could reasonably tackle and what jobs I should call in the experts for.

I do have one big growth opportunity, though – finishing a job.  I know there are a lot of women out there who pull their hair out over all the half complete projects their husbands have started around the house.  Guilty as charged.

I suppose that this has been a character flaw for most men through the

ages.  What was the logic behind the famous George Washington Unfinished Portrait?  Did old George get up to go to the washroom and never come back?  Did the artist run out of paint?  Maybe he said ‘lets pick this up again tomorrow’, then George had to run off to battle or something.

In the house I have now, I took on finishing the basement, which took several years to complete.  It wasn’t due to a lack of desire, but a lack of time and money.  We went into the project expecting it to take a while, but because it was the basement, it didn’t interrupt normal living.

We had our share of slow downs along the way, like rebuilding the bathroom 3 times…love you, honey!  Once I completed most of the framing, we bit the bullet and hired contractors for the plumbing, wiring, and dry wall.  By the way, hiring dry wall guys was the best investment I think I’ve ever made.

My job was to paint, lay flooring, then do the trim work.  That was it, then we could enjoy the ‘Man Cave’ to its fullest.  That was 3 years ago.

The basement looks fantastic if I do say so myself, but under closer inspection, there’s a little piece of trim that I never got around to installing.  3 years, and a 1 foot piece of white trim, and I can’t get it done.

That’s another funny thing about guys and their projects – when they show them off to friends, they immediately point out all the flaws.  Why is that?  Maybe we do that so no one else can point out our shoddy work.

Incomplete projects drive the ladies nuts!  How many homes have partially finished backyard projects, or a job started, the tools sitting out, and left there for weeks on end?

Well, I have a theory that should give the therapists out there lots to chew on.

We don’t finish these jobs, because we’re afraid.  There are two main fears that we men have:

  1. We’re afraid that if we finish the job, we’ll be tasked with another immediately afterwards, so the honey-do list never ends.
  2. If we put that last piece of trim on, and the job is finished, we are open to ridicule about how well we did.  As long as there’s one little thing left to do, we always have the default response when someone points out a flaw; “Well, I’m still working on it”, thus extinguishing any negative comments.

You see, you can’t truly fail if you haven’t finished trying yet, can you?  Even if the flaw has nothing to do with what you haven’t completed, there’s that little caveat that gives you an ‘out’.

That’s what the experts say, right?  As long as you don’t quit, you haven’t failed.  Well, the same thing applies here – as long as you’re still technically working on a project, you haven’t failed at it.

I also think a lot of men are like me.  I love tackling a project.  I lay awake at night, figuring out how something will come together.  I actually get a bit obsessive about, which may not be entirely healthy.  The trouble starts as the job gets a ways down the road and all the big manly parts are finished.

We’d do the big stuff – the deck is framed, concrete poured and the huge beams are secured in place.  Renting heavy equipment is like a day at Disney World for us guys.  Have you ever seen someone at the rental counter with an auger or hammer drill?  Like a kid on Christmas morning!  These large pieces of equipment also have to be lubricated….with beer and a couple of friends – as spotters, you know.  Now that sounds like a manly project.

But it’s those little finishing things that are kind of a let down.  It’s almost like driving home after a great vacation.  You know it’s  coming to an end, and all the fun stuff is over.  Back to the rental counter with your head down and a hint of sadness in your eyes.

Maybe that’s the tie in on all of this.  If we finish a job, not only are we in the cross hairs for the next one, and we have to fess up to a less than perfect job, it also marks the end of something we wrestled to the ground and beat.

If home projects ended with something cool like using a jack hammer or a flame thrower, we’d probably finish a lot more of them.  Unfortunately, they usually whimper out with a small paint brush and a rag, or a handful of dainty finishing nails.  Not very manly.

Is this what it comes down to?  Are we men so shallow and insecure that we intentionally refuse to complete home projects because it means all the cool tools have be put away, and the arts and crafts stuff comes out?

With all that to roll around in our noggins, here’s a thought.  From now on, all home projects have 2 distinct parts.  The first part is the big stuff; demolition, dismantling, framing, rough construction.  Then the second part is the little stuff;  painting, trim, door pulls, cleaning up.

Maybe the jobs should be shared with someone else less ‘heavy equipment worthy’ so we don’t have to deal with the glue guns and accent colors of the project world.  At the very least, we may actually say we finished something.