When my husband announced Saturday morning that he was going to refinish the picnic table this weekend, I did not have high hopes. For one thing, I didn’t even know the picnic table needed refinishing, which meant that this was one of those projects that one of us considers essential and the other frivolous–like buying the kids winter coats, or cleaning the basement right before a dinner party (two guesses who considers which activity non-essential). For another thing, while my husband has many exceptional qualities, completing a household task is not one of them. Just check out the treehouse he and my son started two years ago, or the dislodged bathroom tiles that have rendered one shower unusable for the past three months, or even the stack of magazines dating back to 2008 that he intends to “go through.” He has great ideas and intentions, but is lacking a little on the follow-through. I like to call him, affectionately, Mr. 70 Percent.
So I might have rolled my eyes when he mentioned the picnic table project. I could have rattled off at least 150 chores I considered more important. But I also know the tasks that stand the best chance of completion are the ones he’s most invested in, so I let it go. While a refinished picnic table didn’t beat out fixing the bathroom tiles, it definitely trumped five hours of watching golf on TV. Indeed, I was pleased when the sander came out; luckily we have every tool ever invented, so it’s not a lack of proper equipment that stands in his way. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that sometimes he undertakes a new project simply so he can buy a new gadget.
My hopes faded once the picnic table was stripped and sanded. That’s because he got temporarily distracted by conducting a “controlled burn”–a concept I previously associated only with exercise class–of the debris in the woods behind our house. It drew several other neighborhood pyromaniacs, such as our 13-year-old son and our next door neighbor, who happily joined in the fun of feeding sticks into a mammoth bonfire. Interestingly, not a single woman showed up.
At least we didn’t get bogged down in the conversation we’ve had many times before–namely, why are our kids such lazy slobs who never do a damned thing around the house? My husband, who as a boy performed all sorts of outdoor chores without pay or complaint, gets especially irritated with our son, who lasts about ten minutes on any given task–even one involving woods and fire–before wandering inside to turn on the TV. (Note to Xbox game designers: would it kill you to come up with “Call of Duty: Yard Work” or “Mortal Kombat With a Snow Shovel”?) Indeed, my husband has a fantasy that our whole family will one day file cheerfully outside in our work clothes and embrace whatever weeding/raking/shoveling task he has on tap for the day. The kids may have picked up on this, but my philosophy is if one person is already doing that work, why do we all need to? There are plenty of other things that need to get done.
Like go see a movie, which is what I decided to do. My husband was a very good sport about it, tending the dying embers of the bonfire with leaves stuck in his hair. I felt a brief flash of guilt, but my girlfriends were waiting in the car. Besides, I reasoned, how many times have I gone grocery shopping or washed endless loads of laundry while he watched five hours of golf on TV?
Imagine my shock, then, when I came home from the movie (and dinner) to find the picnic table newly stained a lovely shade of brown! (Though I am not certain I would have noticed if I didn’t know he was planning on it.) Still, it just goes to show that sometimes even those you know and love the best can surprise you. Now, Honey, about those tiles…