Friday, October 29, 2010

Raising the Roof

With four walls up, the shed was ready for rafters, exterior sheeting, and a roof. With the help of Sharon and Jay (whose brawn went equally to moving wood, hammering nails, and running interference with Gwendolyn), that all went up in a day and a half.

Next up: windows and a door!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

An Angel with a Hammer

By the end of my first week of vacation this August, the floor of the garden shed was complete. The next step was to frame the walls and put up rafters for the roof. That Friday morning, at about eleven o'clock, Sara and I pulled out my sawhorses and circular saw, then hauled out a load of 2x4s (true, actually 2" by 4", milled by yours truly) into the back yard. As I searched for my safety glasses, a car pulled up to the side of the road next to our yard. Out came a man and his wife, who introduced themselves as Gus and Ann-Marie.

Last year the property across the road sold to a group of four brothers, all born in Greece but now all living in the Five Boroughs with children and grand-children. They bought the house across from us to use as a family getaway; every time another brother came up from the City for the first time, he would see one of us in the yard and come over and introduce himself. Gus and Ann-Marie were in-laws of the four brothers, but were just as enthusiastic about introducing themselves to us.

Early in the conversation, Gus pointed to the lumber and sawhorses. "What are you building?"

I motioned proudly to my garden shed foundation. "Today we're going to start framing my new garden shed."

Gus smiled. "Do you want some help? I'd be glad to help."

My internal monologue listed several reasons why I should decline his generous offer. First, I was on vacation, which means cherishing alone time or family time. Energy spent getting to know someone new--not high on the priority list. Second, Gus was clearly past middle age. I recognize that it's prejudiced, but my assumption was that his good-natured offer would produce more delay than help. Third, Gus had mentioned that this was their first visit to the new house; how could I take him away from his wife on their getaway weekend? What actually came out was, "No, thank you. Not today. But if you're around for a couple of days, maybe I could use you Saturday or Monday?"

Gus seemed genuinely disappointed. But our conversation moved on. Later, as Ann-Marie and Sara played with Gwendolyn in the swing, I asked Gus what he did for a living.

"I'm a framer. I've been framing houses in New York City for thirty-five years." Then he offered again to help.

I almost laughed out loud at the irony, and certainly appreciated his offer, but the last thing I wanted Gus to do was work on his weekend getaway. I declined again. We chatted some more, then Ann-Marie came back, they got in the car, and Gus offered his help again. I thanked him again, did my best to decline politely, and waved good-bye as they drove up their driveway. Sara and I walked into the house to get Gwendolyn a snack.

"He seemed really eager to help," said Sara. "You know, if he helps you I could get work done in the house while Gwendolyn naps. Maybe you should take him up on his offer."

I took that as two signs that I should repent. So I turned around and walked up to Gus' house. He was on the porch. "I've changed my mind. I could use your help today after all."

You'd think he was a kid just given a blank check in a candy store. He jogged into the garage to get a hammer (with a signature complaint, "it's not as heavy as I want, but . . .") and walked down to our yard. I realized in short order that when I asked Gus to "help" frame the garden shed, I had actually relinquished control of the project.

He took the saw, pencil, tape, and my framing hammer ("ah, this is a much better hammer") and went to work, consulting me only about measurements. When his hands picked up a 2x4 ("no one has used true 2x4s since 1940"), he was in the zone. Before I knew what happened, we (I use the term loosely) already had one wall up:

As he bent over the beginnings of the second wall, bending over to hammer nails below his feet without a grunt, I realized that I had not hit a single nail yet. Middle age had not impaired this guy in the least. If there was anyone who was holding up this project now, it was me. Humbled by the realization, I grabbed a hammer and nails and followed Gus' lead.

I had planned three days for the framing of the shed. Gus (with me in tow) started at noon. By two o'clock we had all four walls up and were putting in the cripples for the windows:

I learned a new trick for every step of the process: how to mark where the studs go on the plates; how to keep a finished wall level; how to frame a doorway. Every five minutes, I thought to myself, "Man, I would have screwed that up," and realized it would have taken me an extra hour to correct each mistake. I became quite thankful that Gus had stopped by.

Most wonderful of all was the joy that Gus took in his work. Far from confirming my fear that Gus would chaff at having to do work while on vacation, his zeal for the task of framing came out. I can only imagine that he is an excellent framer, because he takes such pleasure from the labor.

Of course, having an expert framer on site did not daunt Gwendolyn from her self-appointed supervisory role:
At three o'clock I told Gus we had to stop. He wanted to keep going, to put up the rafters and roof ("they won't take long"); but Sara and I had an evening engagement for which I needed to look respectable. So Gus trundled off home, back to his wife (whom he said was napping, and he could never nap anyway), and I was left with the peculiar sensation that God had sent me a strange and worldly blessing: an angel with a hammer to teach, to lead, and to save me three days' work.

Many thanks to Gus, and to the Lord of Framing Angels!


Friday, October 15, 2010

Good Things Come on Rubber Scrapers

G knows that when the mixer turns on, usually good stuff's coming. I've caught her going after the paddle when I've left it in her reach. Now she's come to recognize that good things also come on rubber spatulas. She has been caught licking off a spatula that was in the silverware tray of the dishwasher. This one she swiped off the counter while I was making cookies: snagged it from behind my back. At least she kept it in the kitchen.

She's been working on her Karate Kid moves. Just wait until that cast comes off (3 more days!) and she'll be faster than the speed of - well faster than the focus on my camera. (And yes, she managed to wiggle her leg out with the tray in place and her other leg firmly stuck.)

She's also enjoyed playing in a backpack that we're borrowing from a friend. Again, that pesky cast keeps getting in the way!


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Postponing Adulthood

Don't get me wrong. I'm on board with the ideal that in a nation as wealthy as the United States, everyone should have access to adequate health care. That's not my concern. But, perhaps inspired by the folks at Freakonomics Radio, I'm looking at unintended consequences.

The most recent iteration of health care law made it necessary for insurance companies to allow parents to carry their children on a family plan until the child reaches age 26. In theory, therefore--and I posit that it will be quite likely in practice--a significant chunk of us won't be seeing the real cost of our own health care until age 27.

Just before I had the coordination to operate a stick shift, my home state raised the age for an unrestricted driver's license to 18. Sometime before I knew how to say "beer" in Australian, most states raised their drinking ages to 21. I don't know when Atlantic City will allow you onto the floor, but the Dow Jones and NASDAQ won't let you gamble on their screens until 21. And in university my friends and I, as we planned a road trip, discovered that certain rental car companies wouldn't give us a vehicle until we were 25.

Risk, along with the necessary opportunity and responsibility, is being pushed out of our hands until a later and later age.

In the 1930s and '40s a new phase of human development was discovered in Europe and North America: adolescence. Folks who paid attention to this kind of thing noticed that, socially and behaviorally, individuals did not develop stability, responsibility, and maturity as early as once expected. Children took until age 17, 18, or even later to become "adults." This was a shift from the generations that told of having to take on a job at age 13. My own experience of working with college students at the turn of the millennium shows that children were not becoming responsible adults--capable of weighing risk and enduring negative outcomes from conscious choices--until age 21 or 22. As college staff, we had frequent discussions about how to "teach responsibility" or "encourage accountability," precisely because the students under our care didn't have those adult attributes.

Of course, they drove after midnight for the first time just before they came to college. They weren't allowed to drink before they showed up on campus--and we know how that works out! They'd never handled significant amounts of money on their own, or been responsible for paying bills. All the things that teach us about risk, responsibility, great failure and great success had been pushed off for them.

It's been postponed for a good cause: education. A child who must work full time at 13 can't get a full-time education. The collegiate expectations in our nation prohibit starting a career until the Bachelor's (or even Master's) is complete. But there has been a trade-off. And our nation has just instituted another trade-off: access to health care for un- or under-employed youth (under age 26) in a job market that's weak at best. Health care is good. Let's pay attention to the unintended consequences.

Now our "children" may not see the true weight of their financial responsibility for health care until after 26. I predict that this move will push development of financial responsibility and fiscal adulthood further into the future. The next generation will become adults not between 13 and 16, not between 18 and 21, not even between 23 and 25, but between 27 and 30. They won't think as wisely about their saving habits, about health care decisions, or about voting for their leaders until their fourth decade of life. Unless . . .

If we are parents who are blessed enough to have the wherewithal to provide health insurance for our adult (I use the term hopefully) children, we ought to make our children pay for it. Show them the bill, have them pay their share of the premiums (let alone the co-pays!), and let them understand that living with the perks of a developed nation comes with responsibility.

They'll be getting health care on the cheap, it's true; paying for one's own plan rather than being a member of a family plan is significantly more expensive. But just because their names are under ours on the benefits card, let's not deprive them of the chance to learn how to live on their own. After all, they're going to be the parents of our grand-children some day. Before that happens, I want them to be responsible adults.