This is a long one. So buckle in. Or up. Or down. Or whatever you gotta do…
My parents flew out to help me move into the dorms my freshman year of college. Read: they rented a car and sponsored numerous trips to Wal-Mart and Target, helping me grab everything in sight that seemed necessary: a desk lamp, brightly colored linens and towels, Christmas lights, closet and laundry doo-hickeys, 24 pack of glitter pencils…
While my mom, my sister, and I were frantically buying… stuff (as one often does hoping it will allay their worries and fears about the future), my dad had disappeared (as he often does… anywhere).
He came back holding a giant pink pencil case. If we’re being historically accurate, I probably sneered at it, or rolled my eyes, or said “Dad, why would I want that???”
“It’s to hold your tool kit!” he explained proudly, showing us the pre-packaged set of tools he’d found and the tools he’d gathered to supplement what was missing from the set of teal-handled screw drivers, hammers, and pliers.
It was perfect. And it actually was necessary – or at least more so than the glitter pencils.
I used this toolkit throughout my college experience and even after, moving it from dorm to dorm and house to house, wowing and helping people wherever I went, not just with my preparedness, but with my ability to use the tools with ease. One (sexist) landlord in particular, seemed dumbfounded when I asked if he needed a flat head or Philips screwdriver.
This is not to say that I know everything about tools. I most certainly do not; however, my parents (not just my dad!) made a point of teaching us how to complete basic fix-it projects around the house. Power tools are not my area of expertise, but for the most part, I can use a basic set of tools with relative independence.
I’m not sure, but I like to think that my parents’ – or at least my dad’s – main reason for teaching us how to use tools came from my grandfather, a career repairman. He taught my dad how to use his toolkit and occasionally would bring him along for house calls as a repairman for Sears. As my dad imparted his knowledge of tools to us, he’d often tell stories of Gramps and his days as a repairman. Which I loved. More likely though, both my parents value independence and wanted to ensure that their daughters were self-sufficient beings.
Every time I used my pink toolkit, I cherished the memory of my dad beaming with pride at Wal-mart. I even liked to imagine that if they could see me reaching for my tools, my parents would feel proud knowing what an independent young woman they’d raised. I moved this perfect makeshift pink school supplies toolkit seven times until I finally bequeathed it to my roommates before moving to Colombia.
When I moved into my last apartment, my parents asked “do you have all the tools you need?” I didn’t, so we assembled a toolkit from their garage, Gramps’ personal collection, and impulse buys when we were stuck mid-project and needed the right screw driver. When I moved into my classroom, my mom asked “do you have all the tools you need?” Of course I didn’t, so she gave me her bin of classroom-specific tools, that she’d likely saved just for me (like all moms, right?). Once again, in my new apartment and as a teacher I was prepared, organized, and impressing people left and right with my toolkits.
This isn’t just about my family’s weird
obsession with, dependence on, affection for, addiction to tools. I swear. Although when we moved Gramps into an assisted living facility, now unable to walk or use his dominant side after a stroke, my dad asked him if he needed anything. His reply: “my tool belt.”
As I prepare to move to Spain (in 5 days!), my parents are off touring Europe. They are not here to discuss the pros and cons of this or that packing choice. They are not here for me to make fun of them about never remembering their passwords. They are not here to help me lift my over-stuffed suitcase. They are not here to do the crossword puzzle over lunch. They are not here for me to bicker with over wanting to help me. They are not here to save me when I really do need their help. They are not here to drink Manhattans on the porch at sunset and count the bats they see as I soak in every last bit of Colorado before I leave. They are not here to kiss me goodbye at the airport.
My feelings about their absence change just as rapidly and dramatically as my feelings about moving to Spain in 5 days: elation, dread, sadness, relief, anxiety, unbridled joy… fear. I fear that without them I will forget something or f**k something up so royally and embarrassingly that I’ll have to hide under a rock for the next 5 years.
But then I remember: I have a toolkit! Perhaps more useful than any literal tool, my parents have gradually been giving me a set of tools and teaching me how to use them – at times explicitly and at others simply by living their lives. Just as with the tools in my ever-expanding toolkit, I am at varying degrees of acceptance, understanding, comfort, and experience with each of these metaphorical tools, but nonetheless they are part of my toolkit. In no particular order, the greatest
tools gifts my parents have ever given me:
- It’s ok to make mistakes
- Wear good shoes.
- In life, sometimes there are people we don’t like. But we can learn from them.
- Music is awesome. And mind-altering.
- Lists are helpful (although not foolproof)
- Asking for help is often one of the bravest/most useful things you can do.
- Some days just call for extra ___________ (coffee, diet coke, advil, margaritas, hot cocoa)
- “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the next best time is today.” -African proverb
- Check the weather.
- Be kind.
- Whatever you’re doing/planning, it’s going to take longer than you expect.
- “Practice makes progress.”
- Drink water. And beer. And wine. And tequila. But mostly water.
- Shitty situation? Get creative. You can solve it or at least improve it.
- Friends are priceless.
- Being organized and prepared can save you a lot of time and headache.
- Go for a walk. It does a body/mind/spirit good.
- Set a timer.
- Use a map.
- Sunsets are sacred. Appreciate them.
- Bring a jacket, a water bottle, and a snack. Even if you don’t think you’ll need them.
- Do meaningful work.
- Learning is awesome. And fun. And best of all, it’s all around us. You just have to be curious.
- Stay physically active.
- Never underestimate the utility of sheet protectors, binders, markers, paper, and a variety of tapes and post-it notes.
- Do what makes you happy.
- It’s ok to be wrong.
- It’s best if you can admit when you are wrong.
- Don’t over pack.
- Eat chocolate. Eat well. But eat chocolate.
- Sometimes you just need to be sad or mad or scared. And that’s ok. Just try not to stay that way forever.
- Laugh. And smile.
- Not feeling great? Talk to a friend, move your body, go outside, write, have some tea. It’s ok to veg and watch TV too.
- Always look for the positive in a situation and the goodness in others.
- Keep things tidy. Life just feels better when you do.
- Plants are neat. Stop and notice them. Look closely.
- Think critically yet openly.
- Have a set of tools and know how to use them.
- Oh, and… cheese makes everything better.
Well Mom and Dad, in case you were wondering… I have the tools I need. I may not have them all, but I’m sure I’ll pick up a few more along the way. Thank you for being such wonderful parents and for preparing me for this adventure. I will think of you with gratitude whenever I reach for my tools.