It was just before seven a.m. All five of us were up early eating breakfast. The kids were doing the normal deal- stabbing each other with spoons, stealing each other’s napkins, debating over who had more cheerios and taking the time to count them. I ran quickly into the basement to grab something and noticed the floor was slightly damp near the drain. My husband was on his way out to work and I grabbed his arm- “Joe- can you check the basement maybe if you have time? There’s a small leak or drip or something. Or I don’t know, no big deal….” Joe ran downstairs. Two minutes later there’s a noise like a fire hydrant has exploded in our basement. Joe starts yelling my name, I run downstairs to see him completely soaked, his full body weight pressed through his hand that’s pressed against the value on some pipe- holding back pounds of water that is exploding into our laundry room.
He was trying to tell me about the some broken valve and some switch and something about our basement being ruined. It was important. I know it was important but he had to yell over the pressure of the water and the boys were yelling and Elena was yelling and so I started yelling. What do you need?! I can’t hear you! What do I do?! Where is a switch? Are you going to get electrocuted? And I see the basement floor being covered in water while Joe is trying to think through the situation and how our plumbing works, while holding back all this water while I stand on the stairs and yell insane things at the kids. I yell things like, GET A FLASHLIGHT!! (a flashlight?!) The boys come running to me with fisher price playskool lanterns. I go down in the well- lit basement to try and hand them to Joe. He looks at me like I am insane and yells for a flathead screwdriver.
I can do that. I run upstairs and look for a screwdriver. No Elena you cannot have more cheerios. (Do you understand we are under duress?!) NO more cheerios. No! NO! Where’s the screwdriver?! Fine. Have some cheerios.
I deliver the screw driver and after more water, more water, a slight shock, a white wire, and a switch later the flooding has stopped. The pump stops violently pumping water into our home. I run upstairs for towels where Elena is sitting eating her fourth bowl of cheerios. She must have heard all the commotion downstairs and the boys running for flashlight upstairs and picked up on the sky high tension adrenaline level because now she sits very quietly and sings softly- “Mom, I am being soooooo good. I am sooooooo good.”
“Yes Elena,” I hand her napkins as I head downstairs.
Having stopped the water Joe now needs to run to Home Depot to grab a new valve. Or plug. Or whatever it is to replace the metal thing that is broken in half on our basement floor. Our hero heads out and it is 7:30am and I set to work to cleaning up our basement. I’m standing in the basement with wet towels and wet carpet pieces and wet laundry and can hear the t.v. upstairs. I had sent the boys to watch cartoons so I could clean up the wreck. All of a sudden I realize that one day their basements might flood. And Elmo, or Curious George won’t be able to help them. So I yell for my sons. I also think about yelling for my daughter (her basement could flood too one day) but she’s two. And she now has complete control of the cereal distribution, so I decide not to rock that boat.
The boys come to the top of the stairs and look down at me while I explain that I need their help. I ask them to take off their pants and shoes and socks and come down in the basement and help me clean up this water.
They start to complain. Water is wet. And cold. And they don’ttttt waaaannnt tooooo.
“BOYS!!” I say, my voice tense, rising, “MEN- Men DO NOT complain when there is a CRISIS.” I point to the water. “This is a crisis. MEN DO NOT COMPLAIN OR WHINE. They HELP and they WORK and they do what needs to be done.” I stare them down and address my five and four year old. “Men, take off your socks and get .in. this. basement.”
They look down at their mother. Soaking wet pajamas, messy bun on top of her head, standing in water and wet towels and deadly serious. They get down in that basement.
Well. One did. The other was sent to his room to consider if he wanted to help like a man, or wanted to whine like a baby. Then he too, came down into the basement.
I handed my five year old the shop vac. This is how you shop vac water I told him. I showed him and he went to work. I handed my four year old a garbage bag. This is how you cut up wet carpet pieces to put into a garbage bag, I told him, showed him and he went to work. And we all worked in that basement. And they became so proud of their pruney feet, and that their shirts were getting wet and how strong they were as they lifted up clothes. And I became so proud of them as I watched my little boys clean up our home.
And that morning, it was good. I mean, besides the water, and the flooding and the hours of work ahead of me. Those boys in nothing but t.shirts and underwear standing in our basement, learning how a family works, learning how to clean up a mess they didn’t make, learning that helping isn’t always fun. That working is what gets the job done. And when a job needs to be done, they are completely capable to somehow help do it.
And this is real life- I tell them as we move wet towels and vacuum the water and throw away trash. And sometimes when real life throws water into your basement and you don’t know what to do –you just figure it out.
Maybe there will be yelling and running around, but you figure it out.
Just like how Daddy did and Mommy did and now you are too.