The other day I was trying to figure out how to re-install the toilet in the utility room downstairs. This is a combined use room with a toilet and sink and small shower in addition to the laundry machines and some storage so it will be an important factor when we sell the house. Mary had laid down a new floor and together we repaired the new drywall. It was one of those jigsaw puzzle rooms that had been modified – badly – by at least two previous owners, so it presented its share of challenges.
One of the challenges we faced was figuring out how to install the new toilet. I’ve installed several toilets over the years but the closet flange for this one was covered with decades-old lead and sat at a non-standard depth. So Mary sent photos to the plumber recommended by the toilet store who upon calling back promptly went into his ‘little lady’ routine. You know the one: “Oh, that’s going to be a big job, we’ll have to jackhammer the concrete and use a splinkfragit connection and of course, those are special order…”
Mary, she of the long experience with folks trying to put one over on her politely declined the major remodel this character insisted was the only way and off we went to the big box store to see if we could figure something out. I was digging through all manner of exotic fittings, connectors and whatsits and was about to suggest we call the plumber back when Mary picked up an item I had already passed over and asked The Question, “Why wouldn’t this work?”
You know where this is going, right? Sussed it out about halfway through that last paragraph, didn’t you? Yes, dear readers, the toilet is indeed back in its proper place and fully functional because Mary figured it out. I figger this $26.00 dollar fix saved us somewhere on the order of $400.00. Perhaps more since we would have been coming back to this guy hat in hand, so to speak.
There are well meaning friends and family who marvel when we tell them Mary does most of our drywall work, our finished flooring installation (I do the underlayment) and in this case wrapped her mind around a plumbing issue to figure out a solution I had already looked at and discarded. They will make comments to the effect that her ability to do ‘men’s work’ makes her somehow remarkable.
She isn’t. Remarkable, that is.
Well, truth be told, she is remarkable, quite stunningly so in many ways. It’s just that figuring out a plumbing connection isn’t the proof of it. In order to consider this incident remarkable, one must first accept the premise that womenfolk are somehow genetically incapable of figuring out things on their own.
I have been as guilty as the next person of assuming capability – or lack thereof – on the basis of unrelated characteristics. But I like to think that over the years and with accumulated experience and some inspired noticing I’ve learned a thing or two. My wife and daughters and other women friends, the gay friends who have always been part of my ‘normal,’ the folks I work with who live with myriad disabilities have demanded that I either learn and embrace or walk away in silence.
It is not remarkable that Mary frequently is the first to figure out how to do things or that she is more adept at some of the tool-using activities than am I. Or that our family managed to get through our gay friend’s wedding (note: not a ‘gay wedding’ but a wedding which happened to join people who are gay) without any lightning strikes. It is snooze worthy that people living with disabilities are able to do what they set their mind to, sometimes with reasonable accommodation and sometimes just through being given the opportunity.
I know we generally consider congratulation a positive thing. But sometimes, methinks, it is more accurate and even more human to simply accept competence in others as normal.