"Mommy . . . who did this?" three-year-old Peyton asks, as she steps into the foyer of our house and looks around. Her voice has that same warm-fuzzy mix of reverence and gratitude it has when I dress her in pretty clothes she's never worn before and she says, "Mommy, who got this for me?" But on this Monday morning, Peyton is not marveling at something she sees but rather at what she doesn't see. While she's been away at her father's for the weekend someone has moved those big, unopened SmartBargains.com boxes full of sheets and towels Mommy ordered ages ago. And someone has put away the books, stuffed animals, lotion, shoes, and pajamas which had hung in limbo for God-knows-how-long in the purgatory of the stairs leading from the first to the second floor of the house. Now that we have the use of entire steps (instead of always walking up the left side), Peyton wants to know who's responsible for all this.
Taylor, 8, also looks around in disbelief. She peeks around the corner at the living room and says, "Everything is so nice and clean!"
I laugh. "It's not like the house has never been clean before."
"I know," Taylor says. "But this is different." She glances up and notices that the light fixture in the foyer that used to dangle precariously overhead has been restored to its proper place flush against the ceiling. She and Peyton decide to make a game of it, wandering through the house like two Alices searching for home improvements in Wonderland.
On the first floor, they find a dining room table we can actually dine on now that the piles of unopened mail and their artwork have been cleared away. The family room and the powder room are brighter now that the burned out light bulbs have been replaced. The cardboard boxes of various sizes which once littered several different rooms have been collapsed and driven away to a nearby recycling center. Later, the girls will marvel at the spic-and-span-clean of our car, inside and out.
The girls then race up the stairs where they bask in the coolness of their bedrooms. The window air conditioners have been hauled up from the basement and re-installed.
"You sure do get a lot done when we're not here," Taylor observed as she lay back on her bed (made up with new sheets from SmartBargains.com).
I can't lie to them -- or rather, I choose not to lie to them completely, so I say, "I had some help from a friend."
Taylor laughs and says, "Oh, okay. I was going to say: Are you SuperMom or something?"
My ego would have liked for the girls to believe I have superhuman powers of cleaning, maintenance, and organization. But my ego isn't the one doing the parenting around here. The parent in me wants my girls to know it's a good thing to get by with a little help from one's friends. However, "Sam", the Fix-It Fairy who did most of the work the girls admired and who is much more than a friend, is still my best kept secret.
Even though it'll be a while yet before my kids meet the Fix-It Fairy, our relationship is thriving. Sam and I have ice-skated in Toronto, hosted games night for our friends, enjoyed seven-course dinners on a mountaintop over looking the city, emailed haiku back and forth throughout an entire day just because, and reveled in an intimate connection that is deeper than either of us has ever known. And, when he comes to visit me, I always have a honey-do list of things that need fixed (as Pittsburghers say) waiting for him, a list he requests. So, a typical weekend might consist of an Almodovar film, bottles of our favorite wine, and a trip to Home Depot.
While I like to think of fun and romance as the yin to the do-it-yourself yang of our relationship, Sam, practical guy that he is, puts a more practical spin on the matter. He says I'm simply getting my needs met -- my need to be loved, cherished, respected, cheered on as a mother and a writer, challenged, appreciated . . . and have my oil changed and my screen door replaced. Of course, these are things I do and have done for myself. But how much sweeter and easier life is to have someone do these things with and for me. To have someone want to do these things for me.
I grew up down South, raised by my mother and my grandmother, and we were not handy women. Our idea of fixing something was pretty much limited to fixing you a plate of fried whiting and grits or barbecued ribs and corn bread. It could be a hassle finding (and usually paying) someone to mow the yard, repair broken appliances, and do heavy lifting. Consequently, a lot of stuff like that didn't get done around our house, or didn't get done in a timely manner. As a result, I've come to place a high premium on getting things done around the house. I like the efficiency, the sense of accomplishment -- even if I'm not the one actually doing the work. And the feminist in me doesn't hesitate to declare the heaviest lifting "a man's job."
But, to my credit, I don't leave all the hardest labor to my Fix-It Fairy. Standing on a ladder with my arms upraised for long stretches of time trying (and trying and trying and trying, with Sam's direction) to reattach a ceiling light fixture gave me a new respect for carpenters and electricians. And I've become a bit of a Fix-It Fairy myself. On weekends when I visit Sam, our to-do list is just as likely to include painting his daughters' rooms and spring cleaning, as hikes through the woods and dancing 'til the wee hours.
All of it -- the fixing, the traveling, the cleaning, the loving, the dancing -- all of it comes together seamlessly to form a relationship that is simultaneously practical and impractical (he's a four-hour car ride away), romantic and rational. We're not perfect, but we make sense. We get things done. And it feels good. I can hear one of Sam's favorite sayings: "That's it, that's all." Sometimes, I'm learning, things really can be that simple.