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I'm not the person to call for help with household repair. But I no longer consider myself an idiot.

"Cherie, why is that steel utility shelf at the front door?"

"I'm hauling it away."

"There's nothing wrong with it."

"The shelves are lopsided and can't hold weight."

"That's because you have it upside down."

My husband, Bob, walked away. He knew this dance. We've followed the same steps throughout our marriage.Dupuis

When I took the GRE (graduate record exam), I breezed through most sections until I reached the geometry visualization section. There was a column of polygons with impossible angles and curves. The polygons were followed by three more figures that featured more polygons that looked like hieroglyphics to me. I was to identify which of the three figures was the side view of the first polygon. My mind started screaming, "There is no way I can figure this out!" I believed that a spatial recognition part of my brain was missing and there was nothing to be done about it.

Through the years I would gather stray parts of plastic and metal that resembled those GRE polygons and place them before Bob. "Tell me if these things belong to something and should be saved." He would look at each piece, turn it this way and that, study markings, and then identify the machine to which it belonged. I would marvel at his male abstract reasoning and tell myself that it was a genetic deficiency on my part that made me unable to recognize these pieces or how machines were put together.

But this time Bob returned, ready to twirl me in a different direction in this dance of ours. He pulled a chair in front of where I sat reading a book. He placed the utility shelf between us. And, in a quiet voice, he said, "Your father was a loner and did not involve you when he made household repairs. You weren't taught how to take the time to analyze mechanical problems, but you are not too old to learn. We both have the time now to change that." A dance should have passion and joy. It should ignite a fire in us. Our well-worn steps no longer held that element. So I was ready to listen.

"It is a matter of looking at the shelf and letting it tell you its design." Bob showed me the clues in the design that help in assembly. And I UNDERSTOOD. I knew I could assemble this shelf myself. It was a matter of taking the time and skipping the self-talk about my own inadequacy and my fear of looking foolish. I was doing my women ancestors a disservice by implying I had a genetic defect when they had been powerful women willing to take on any problem. Perhaps I was also doing all women a disservice by assigning mechanical problems to the male.

As happens in life, Bob's lesson came just in time. He experienced two years of health problems which greatly diminished his ability to perform his usual responsibilities. When furniture would break, or the computer would act up, or the car would make a funny sound, it was now up to me to solve the problem. And I surprised myself by doing so. Of course, Google and YouTube also helped.

I'm not the person to call for help with household repair. But I no longer consider myself an idiot or genetically defective if I can't immediately give you a solution. I can take the time with you to think through possible causes of the problem. And the dance of life goes on.

Cherie Dupuis is a member of the Jottings Group at the Lake Oswego Community Center.

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