Sunday morning, my dog barked like the world was on fire. It was 7am. Expecting a garden-devouring bunch of vicious rabbits, as is often the case, I opened my door and found, instead, a bouquet of flowers, a bag of chocolate hearts and a note. I caught a glimpse of my neighbor's backside as it ducked into her house. She left a gift from her four-year old daughter. The note, scrawled in large, pink and some backwards letters told me that I am loved.
Sometimes I forget.
Sometimes it takes the enormous, wide-open heart of a small child to remind us about the vast reach and expansive depth of unadulterated, unsullied and unconditional love.
Though it happened to be Valentine’s day, this love extended beyond the one-day celebration and into the infinite. Sidewalk chalk letters and hearts often decorate my steps and copy-paper watercolors are often taped to my door. She is not my child, but she is.
When my daughter was four, she announced that she would like to marry me when she grows up. She had seen enough princess movies to know that marriage meant happily ever after, as in forever. I said a hearty 'yes' and then explained to her that she need not reserve that space and time for us, because, as her mother, I was already her forever. She agreed and then told me that she was going to marry the dog, too.
Since then, I’ve had a few other offers but from people my own age. None of the offers were as sweet or sincere as that of my daughter’s and I’m not about to lower that standard.
My daughter’s love showed up in so many ways: crayons on paper, pens on the wall, markers up her nose, songs on bike rides, car trips, bath time, chitty-chatty walks to the park, hand prints everywhere and for every gift giving opportunity, and lots and lots of excitement and honesty. It was these last two, the excitement and honesty, for which I was able to multi-task my love giving abilities along with my DIY handiness.
One day, after a War and Peace amount of time in the bathroom, my mini-me walked into the hallway. She bee-lined to the linen closet and grabbed a fresh roll of toilet paper. She marched back into the bathroom and shut the door behind her. I was so proud of her for doing what so many adults cannot: replacing the toilet paper roll when it’s out.
But that’s not what she was doing. I knocked and a little voice called out, “yeeeessss?” I asked if things were okay in there and she opened the door, placed her little dimpled knuckles on her adorably round and surprisingly wet, middle and stated, “No. Things are not okay. Did you know that it takes an awful lot of toilet paper to get that water to stop going down the sink?”
The Barbies were trying to have a pool party, but it was failing due to the slow drain of water from the sink. You see, my once-husband wasn’t nearly as handy as he was practical. The stopper on the drain had stopped stopping so instead of replacing it, which he felt was labor, he simply removed it. At the time, it seemed like a viable solution. But now, with two full rolls of toilet paper crammed into the space where the stopper should have been and a sink full of disgruntled Barbie dolls, I was left to figure out how to fix this situation on my own since he-who-was-not-yet-my-ex was away for work.
I called my dad. I asked him to come over and fix the sink and he refused. It was my sink and my problem, he said, and I was an adult and had to figure this stuff out. In my defense, I had. I called him.
He agreed to at least walk me through the process of my first ever plumbing job but not before repeating his favorite adage, “If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach him how to fish, he eats for a lifetime.”
After that, all I heard from my dad was blah-blah-blah ‘J-trap’ and ‘snake’ and ‘bucket’ and ‘teaching you to fish.’ What I had wanted to hear was, “I fixed it for you. Who wants ice cream?” but I knew better.
As disappointed as I was, I knew he was right. This would not be our last Barbie pool party or issue with the sink.
My daughter and I set to work gathering towels, a bucket and a plumber’s wrench, while having a conversation about what types of paper go where and why. I asked her what kind of paper went in the toilet and she correctly answered, “toilet paper.” I explained that toilet paper doesn’t clog the toilet; that it was made to flow with the water versus stop it. Following that same thread, I asked her what kind of paper goes in the sink. “Sink paper!!” She was very excited about this answer. “Right!” I said before asking, “Do we have any sink paper?”
“No,” she said, and then asked, “can we get some?”
“No,” I said explaining that no such thing exists because paper isn’t supposed to go in the sink.
She got it much like I had gotten my dad’s lesson.
I sat her down next to me, giving her the title of assistant, and walked her through the whole process of unclogging the sink.
The pipes were stuffed FULL of toilet paper. She clearly worked very hard to get the water to not go down the drain. She concurred. The toilet paper had reached the wall pipes.
My dad’s words rang in my head. “If the toilet paper is in the wall, you’ll need to snake it out…but be careful. Your house is old and the pipes are probably original which means that snaking runs the risk of poking a hole in the pipes. If that happens, you’ll be needing a plumber and it will be a costly repair because he’ll have to open up the wall…”
Son of a bitch.
I wasn’t upset with anyone other than the plumber that I didn’t want to call. I kept hearing dollar signs for money I didn’t have.
Sure, necessity is the mother of invention, but poverty is its ass-slappin’ daddy. This was the one time I had both parents intact and I was determined to get the pool party back in full swing.
I considered getting the wet-vac from the garage to suck the tp out but settled on getting the bent-nosed pliers from my jewelry making box instead. I made a long ‘J’hook out of a beading needle and fished the toilet paper safely out of the wall. No poking holes through old pipes and no need for a plumber.
The Barbies moved their party to the tub, and I lost my assistant to a bubbly bath, a gaggle of dolls and lots and lots of giggles.
And this is what love is to me. It is a patient teacher—especially in the face of a tantruming and unwilling student such as myself, a quiet determination, an equal partner even if one partner played with barbies instead of handing me the wrench, an undeniable faith that things will be okay, a soft hand, a big hug, and sometimes it’s a bit of fun.
Sometimes love comes like bubbles or like sidewalk chalk or like a note written in a pink marker. It doesn’t need a day like Valentine’s Day, rather it needs an experience where the expression becomes everlasting.
I know I am loved, and I love in return…and I am also slightly handy, thanks in part, to a lazy former spouse and a father who didn’t want to be bothered but who bothered anyway because that’s what love is to him, too…even if he finds it slightly annoying.