Tuesday, June 14, 2011

More about boxes (and empowerment)

One entire bay of our three-bay garage is full of boxes, most of them taped shut, some of them labeled and some not. This is because we moved two and a half months ago and haven’t bothered to unpack our non-essentials yet. So the stack of boxes in the garage is much taller than I am, and each of the boxes seems to weigh about as much as I do.

I’ve come to see it, regretfully, as our own personal landfill. The sight of all those boxes piled up makes me feel guilty in the same way that passing a mountain-sized heap of trash at a municipal dump does. What are we ever going to do with all of that stuff, and how did we accumulate it all, and what’s really in those boxes, anyway, and are we really ever going to sort through them?

Once in a while, though, we actually need something from our storage collection, and then the situation gets even uglier as we start trying to excavate through our neatly boxed archaeological dig.

But over the weekend, I was surprised by a small sense of triumph inspired by the stacks o’boxes.

During the spring, as we packed up all our belongings, we filled three large boxes for the annual library book sale. I asked the library if we could possibly drop the boxes off a few months early, knowing they normally didn’t start collecting contributions for the sale until June, but the librarian told me they didn’t have enough storage space. So in the end, our movers took the boxes of books to our new house, along with all the things we actually wanted.

But finally it’s June, the month the library volunteers start actively collecting books for the sale, and I had a place to bring them. One task I was absolutely determined to accomplish before leaving for Portland early afternoon on Saturday was dropping off the books. But first I had to find the right boxes, pull them out of the stacks, and load them into my car.

Quite uncharacteristically, though, I must say I worked efficiently and effectively. I remembered to wear boots, because of the likelihood that items would fall on my feet as I moved things around. I found a pair of work gloves, which I knew would make tugging at the boxes and even lifting them easier. I backed the car right up to the garage door, so that if I did happen to find the boxes I wanted, it would be easier to load them. In short, I worked sensibly, rather than in my usual fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants way.

And to my great delight, it paid off. After moving just a small number of heavy boxes, the first one marked for the sale revealed itself, and the other two did as well not long after. There were no crashes or breaks or other mishaps. I even managed to load the boxes into the car myself.

It would have been so much more typical of me to wait until my husband Rick could help me. But in this case, I was under the gun. Rick was at Tim’s baseball game, and I needed to get this done. So I found the boxes, moved the boxes, lifted the boxes, and was rewarded with a tremendous sense of empowerment.

Later in the weekend, I thought about a friend of mine who found herself unexpectedly on her own this spring. She hasn’t complained or even talked about it much, but she had her great moment of empowerment when it came time to prepare the swimming pool for summer. She hired her usual pool service to do the initial steps of opening the pool, but she then spent three days trying to balance the chemicals properly to get the water to clear – a job her husband had always done in the past. When her efforts finally proved successful, she crowed unabashedly about her newfound chemistry skills.

There was no doubt that this was a symbolic moment for my friend, discovering that she really was capable of managing pool science on her own when necessity called. I have to admit I’m happy I had the option to wait for Rick to move the boxes, knowing he’d be back in a matter of hours, but I’m even happier that I didn’t do that. There are enough things I rely on him to do, either out of habit or out of the belief that I can’t: deal with ticks when they appear on the dogs or the kids, shovel snow from the roof, climb the ladder to change the batteries in the ceiling smoke detectors. Not only finding the boxes but going about it the right way – even simply remembering to wear work gloves – gave me a great feeling about myself. It’s trivial, but it mattered to me: I solved a problem on my own. And I couldn’t keep from feeling proud about it.

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