Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The girl who used to fix toilets

For weeks, the toilet in my bathroom sounded like it was on the verge of exploding. Trickling sounds came constantly from it, along with the occasional hiss.

I kept having magical house thinking about that toilet—you know, the hope that if you just ignore something broken in your home, it will somehow repair itself.


Dave isn't exactly handy, nor do leaky things bug him. I could place twenty hissing toilets in our bedroom and he would sleep right through it. I kept thinking I should call a plumber except I didn't want to shell out for one. Then my mom came for a visit this week. She heard the toilet. "Honey, remember how you used to fix the toilet at London's?" she said.

London's was a community where I spent my summers as a kid—what's known as a bungalow colony. We rented a glorified version of a shack for two months, went to day camp, hung out in the big community pool. The toilet in that cottage was always breaking and I was the one in my family who'd deal with it.

I'd forgotten about that, along with the fact that I used to fix all sorts of things. Countertop appliances, clocks, broken drawers, whatever. I loved to tinker and I found it really satisfying. I was good at it.

What happened to that girl?

I know I have a whole lot less time these days, but I also think that part of my spirit has gotten a little worn down. The act of fixing has consumed my life since Max was born; I've spent the better part of the last seven years building him up. I adjust, re-adjust, try something new, hold my breath and hope it'll work. There are no quick fixes, no shortcuts. It takes time and focus and fervent please, please, please work pleas.

I have been so immersed in Max's challenges—some of which I will never, ever be able to fix—that I'd forgotten I actually am capable of fixing certain things.

Not my mom. She knows all about the girl I used to be, and she still sees that in me.

I cocked my head at her. "You're right," I said. "I am going to fix that sucker."

I Googled, checked out diagrams, marched into our bathroom and messed around with the handle, the overflow tube, the big, black, rubber bobbing thing. Fifteen minutes later, I'd fixed the toilet. And I felt damn proud.

I've still got that girl in me.



  1. This is very useful information should we ever relocate to the east coast again and not want to shell out for a plumber!

  2. I loved this. Way to go Ellen!

  3. This is very capably written: not only can you fix stuff... you can write about it convincingly too. Well done.

  4. So cool!! I can fix toilets too!! Its amazing what you can do when you are on a budget and live in the sticks.
    Hey, I need some help with Christmas gift ideas. My son can't really tell me what he wants. What do you do?

  5. I'm filled with angst over all the things that are falling apart in my house that I'm unable to fix. And my husband is even worse than I am. Luckily, I have a sister that is much like you.

  6. I forgot to mention that I don't make housecalls.

    Good q on the gifts! What I've done is call up various toy sites on the computer (including biggies like Toys R Us to catalogs that specialize in educational toys/stuff for kids with special needs), show them to Max, and let him point to stuff he's interested in. If seeing too much at once is an issue, you could print out just a few photos of things you'd suspect he likes.

  7. You go girl!

    I haven't had to do toilet work in about 8 months. Knock on wood, Luke seems to not be flushing the un-flushable any longer.

    This weekend I changed the light pull thing in two ceiling fans (this kids had pulled too hard when turning on the lights). It took less than 15 minutes each -- but they have needed to be fixed for several months, and I have had the parts that long. Felt great when it was done!

  8. Awesome, Ellen! I think we all have "that girl" inside of us, the girl we used to be (a plumber, reader, dancer, whatever) that we lose sight of once we get older and have kids...especially kids with special powers. Glad you fixed it!

  9. I'm in the place. I used to fix up things around the house all the time. Now I don't. I leave it for my husband to get around too. Why? I don't know. I need to get back to that person.

  10. " I've spent the better part of the last seven years building him up. I adjust, re-adjust, try something new, hold my breath and hope it'll work. There are no quick fixes, no shortcuts. It takes time and focus and fervent please, please, please work pleas."
    This brought a tear to my eye. That's Just how it feels and you know that some things won't fix. But you keep trying, don't you. x

  11. You know, some things take a long time in the repair shop, so to speak. But we can learn from fixing the other things, such as toilets, that we still have part of ourselves that we had forgotten about.

    That little sense of inner recognition will help with what has to be done daily to add up to that long term goal and enjoy ourselves along the way.

  12. I had a very similar moment. Unlike you, I am NOT naturally handy. My husband took care of all that kind of stuff. Then I got divorced.

    I remember the day I, too, did the internet searches, and successfully fixed my toilet, all by myself! I declared it the day I was "potty trained!"

    And, yes, it was a great feeling!

  13. Very poignant post Ellen!

    You know, I don't know if I'll ever get married or have kids but one of my non- negotiables is the keeping of my last name. Ever since I got my high school diploma and more so with my college degree and saw my name in print, I realized that I never wanted to lose sight of that girl no matter who enters my life. At 26, seeing my classmates marry and one by one change their names, has solidified my decision.

    I know I'm at the starting point when it comes to that chapter and should I be blessed with marriage and children, I'll be overjoyed. But i never want to forget the person I am now. The keeping of my last name is one of my ways of doing that.

    Your post brought a smile to my face. Nothing like our moms to remind us who we are.

  14. You are one supermom!!!! I wish I could be that girl also who knows how to fix everything. I'm sure my husband would be very proud of me.:-)


Thanks for sharing!

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