The other day found my middle son, Ezra, and me changing electric receptacles. This is an uncommon situation, given that I’m not a fan of including my kids in A) household tasks of any kind, especially B) household tasks that I’m trying to push through as quickly as possible and C) household tasks that involve electricity.
“You’re 5,” I tell him as a no.
“No I’m not.”
“But I’m a big boy. Can’t I stay?”
I almost bark, “No.” Include him, and it will take twice as long. Include him, and I’ll have to include his brothers. The horror of horrors. My oldest, Jesse, would immediately launch into questions about how electricity works, none of which I can answer. And my youngest, Tommy, would immediately exchange the wooden toy screwdriver for a metal one and stick it in the nearest hot outlet.
But Ez? This Ez who has perfectly round blue eyes framed by perfectly round red cheeks, both of which he was turning on me in full measure? Ez has a knack for working alongside me. Because he doesn’t bother me. He doesn’t require instruction, he doesn’t ask questions, and he doesn’t try to kill himself. I hand over the wooden Phillips.
“You take that outlet, I’ll take this one, and you may not talk to me.”
He nods and sets to work. I have a bit more trouble. As in I can’t even turn the screw of the receptacle to get to the wires behind it. I torque my wrists to the left. Nothing. I grunt and repeat. Nothing. I rise to my knees and lean my body into it. Nothing.
I sit back and assess the problem. It’s dark in here. Can’t turn on the electricity, obviously, but I can get a flashlight. Except I can’t find one – not in the tool bag and not in the two metal cabinets of random crap in our garage.
“Where are the flashlights?” I ask my husband.
Matt laughs. “You’re kidding, right?”
I shake my head and don’t respond to the humor. It’s a serious moment.
“A screw is stuck.”
“How is a flashlight going to help?”
“So I can see it,” I explain slowly. Really, this man is like a child.
“The boys always take apart our flashlights and don’t put them back together. How about I help you?”
My eyes must have clearly relayed my opposition to his man hands because Matt shrugs his shoulders and says. “Check the toy bins. I think there are some flashlights from VBS in there.”
Score. I scurry back to my room with a small, neon green flashlight in tow. Ez is still plodding away independently at his task and talking to himself. I place the flashlight in my mouth and grip the screwdriver in both hands to get back to mine.
Nothing. Not one budge and nothing changed other than that all of the saliva now dripping down the flashlight makes me look like the rabid electrician I am. I shout in frustration and lay back on the floor. All I wanted to do was change one receptacle. One stinking receptacle …
And in that quiet – me splayed like receptacle road kill with a saliva-laden flashlight to my left and a sweat-laden screwdriver to my right – I hear my son.
If I do this job, then I will be the Hero. Everyone will see that I am the Hero and …
Sound familiar? It’s the monologue Charlie Brown utters in any cartoon before he face plants and proves he’s just Charlie, once again. But Ezra’s words also echo the ones in my mind as I’d descended the basement steps with my tool bag an hour ago. Because a girl who can change her own electric receptacles is sort of like a hero, right? I don’t need an electrician to tell me where the black and white wires go, just like I don’t need a plumber to change the wax seal on my toilet. I can take that toilet apart myself. And I can also …
Let’s just say the list of my heroic qualities goes on and on. Until it stops. Because the screw won’t turn. And re-assembling that toilet takes 8 hours. And to make way for all these heroic gestures requires me to leave my good nature behind.
I am not a hero.
“I did it!” Ez proclaims at the same time.
I roll over and hand him the flashlight to inspect his work.
“Why is the flashlight wet, Mom?”
“Because I am not a hero,” I confess, letting the words land like a revelation.
“Well I am,” Ez proclaims before explaining his jumble of wires. And then he leaves, satisfied with his work.
The room is dark, cool, quiet. I roll to my back again and close my eyes. I acquiesce. Ez is the hero today. He set his mind to the task, completed it, and remained a cool dude the whole time. And so is my dad, who unknowingly started this chain reaction years ago when he trained his daughter to take care of herself. Me? I’m just the girl who will now have to call my dad to help me sort through Ezra’s wire mess to rewire the receptacle properly. And the girl who still has to figure out what to do with the unmovable screw on the other one.
“Ready for some help?” Matt asks from the doorway.
I sigh a yes. It takes him 30 seconds to unscrew the receptacle and me five minutes to rewire it while Matt holds the VBS flashlight for me.
“Should we take care of that one now?” I nod toward Ezra’s work.
“How about a beer instead?”