Minor States of Disrepair and Other Missteps of Motherhood

By Brenda Donoghue

Could I be the architect of my own undoing?

This is the question I faced that winter while sitting on my kitchen floor in the total darkness of my freezing home. Surrounded by my kids and a meager collection of candles and cell phone flashlights, I reflected on the circumstances that brought us here. Just a few short hours before, I was the poster child for having it all: part-mother, part-household CEO, part-consummate professional. And I was killing it on all fronts.

Or so I thought.

It turns out, sticking your head in the sand in an act of willful blindness because you are too busy (or too dumb) to troubleshoot a faulty boiler does not make you Superwoman after all. ...Especially when that repair issue morphs into a downright mini-catastrophe.

It was the middle of a typical whirlwind week, one that demanded a head-spinning load of family and work responsibilities. Though I was certain I handled it with competence and grace, the truth is I behaved more like a runaway freight train, barreling down the rail unable to switch tracks. It all began that morning when the heat didn’t kick on. With little time (or inclination) to address the issue, I practiced avoidance like a disciple and prayed for divine intervention as I made the before-school rounds and headed to work.

The heat wasn’t working when I stopped home either...and I needed help. But it was too late for anyone to come by, and I needed to get out for kids sports and errands. Forging ahead with the evening schedule, I resolved to make the most of blankets and cuddling upon return. But, when the neighborhood lost power while we were out, my little problem became big trouble. Returning to the frigid blackness of our home, I faked calm while selling the shivering, bewildered boys on hours of family board games by muted candlelight. My sense of peace and order, shattered. My sense of guilt, enormous. I cried (only to myself) like a spoiled little kid.

It turned out the heating issue was an easy fix after all, requiring a simple boiler valve replacement. The next day, my plumber walked me through a process far less complicated and intimidating than I feared. I fixed it myself. It took five minutes. I’ve learned the hard way the error of my ways. Obviously.

In the past, I’ve tried to keep minor states of disrepair under control, but I’m not strong on the home repair front. Or on the basic household maintenance front. Or on any front when it comes to dealing with tricky domestic issues. Two minute projects have taken me all afternoon. And even then, I wouldn’t always succeed. I often watched “how-to” segments dozens of times as I stood helplessly by my bathtub drain attempting a snake, or by my bedroom door as I tried to properly line up the hinges to reinstall into the jams. Or during virtually every other task I tackled. Once, I threw a wiffleball bat at my house when I couldn’t figure out how to fix my lawn mower after it broke down mid-mow. I later learned the lawnmower had simply run out of gas. Once, I even brought my power drill to a friend for yet another lesson in basic drilling techniques, because recent lessons by my siblings weren’t enough and I was too embarrassed to ask them again. I eventually learned to use it, and it’s come in handy. I used it last year to open a jar of powder makeup that I couldn’t summons the strength to budge.

Sometimes, in moments of frustration, I run a cost-benefit analysis on how badly I need certain things fixed. Very few repairs outweigh the cost. I haven’t had a working doorbell in years. This is not a source of pride.

I almost always refused to ask for help, too stubborn and prideful to see reason. Once, I left an unopened jar of pasta sauce in the pantry for almost a year when I couldn’t manually open it, refusing to buy one of those handy jar openers, or another jar. Instead, I just kept occasionally trying to open the same damn jar. The kids had plain spaghetti with butter about a dozen times that year.

I place the blame for my lackluster performance squarely on motherhood. The dizzying amount of demands has sapped the last of my brain cells. My memory is toast. My wherewithal to grasp “complex” repairs and maintenance - AWOL - because, frankly, I no longer have the capacity to learn things that I don’t enjoy.

I used to be a highly-functioning adult. Repeatedly facing my failures and shortcomings is a hard lesson in humility. And so, recently I slinked away in defeat; avoidance and denial became my go-to coping skills. It’s easy to understand why. But my house looks like hell. And if the enormous breakdown of that heatless day taught me anything, it’s that I must keep trying. Despite all of my excuses, in the end, it’s my responsibility to continue learning... and to never give up.

And so, I’ll keep on truckin’. I may not have it all together yet, but I’m getting there.