This is my current Fix-It Pile:
It sits on the kitchen counter next to my “desk” (and yes, that’s leftover Halloween candy in the background, and also a pile of cookbooks opened to recipes I intend to make…someday).
You may have something similar.
The Fix-It Pile, as its name suggests, is a collection of broken things that need fixing. When our girls break something and want it repaired, they add it to the Fix-It pile. Once the Fix-It Pile reaches a size that I can no longer ignore, I plug in my magic hot glue gun (what did I EVER do without a hot glue gun?) and get to work.
The Fix-It Pile in the photo above is obviously seasonal, since it features a beard-less Nutcracker and an angel ornament with broken wings. Usually, the Fix-It Pile includes a rotating selection of the same items: animal figurines with missing limbs, wingless fairies, and headless Barbies. (My girls went through a “Barbie Hospital” phase; Barbie Hospital apparently specialized in head transplants).
I was staring at my Fix-It Pile the other day (in lieu of actually fixing anything), and thinking how it’s an example of something I didn’t expect when I became a parent: I never expected that parenting would require me to spend so much time fixing broken things. In truth, like most parents, I didn’t give much advance thought to what parenting would require of me — but if you’d asked me five years ago, I probably would’ve mentioned quality time with my children: going on outings, doing crafts together, reading to them, and generally shaping them into independent adults.
I do all of those things as a parent — but much less than I expected. I have to squeeze in the quality time between fixing things. Once I set down the hot-glue gun, I pick up the packing tape and become “Book Doctor.” As Book Doctor, I repair the torn pages and broken spines of countless books that have either been well-loved by three children over time, or ill-loved by our youngest daughter. And when THAT’S done, I pick up a rag and a bottle of Kids & Pets (what did I EVER do without a bottle of Kids & Pets?) to clean up bodily fluids. Not to be gross, but as Erick told an acquaintance recently: with three young children and a dog in the house, “there’s always a bodily fluid SOMEWHERE that it shouldn’t be.”
And those are just the physical things that I have to fix. Because here’s the thing: I love my children very much, but they weren’t born knowing how to share, or knowing how to speak politely, or with any desire to think about others. They were born broken. We all were.
So every day, I also get out my spiritual hot glue gun, my psychological packing tape, and I try my best to repair broken relationships and mend fragile egos. I’d like to say that my invisible work lasts longer than my Fix-It Pile efforts — but it doesn’t. Just as the same toys and books keep coming back for fixing, the same hurts and injuries keep opening up in our family. I’ve already said numerous times to Fiona — who’s only five: “WHY do we keep having the same conversation over and over again?!” It’s the same question I ask Erick. And my own parents. And myself. Also, God.
Parenting is a relationship, and it occurs to me that all relationships — at least the real, meaningful ones — ARE essentially about having the same conversation over and over again. And that conversation boils down to the soul-cry: Why can’t you love me the way I want to be loved? We’re all waiting on the Fix-It Pile with our broken hearts, and sometimes a parent or friend or spouse will paste us together for a time. Sometimes we gather the tools and strength to repair our own cracks. But in my experience there’s never a permanent fix — not in this life, at least. We keep breaking, and having the same conversations over and over again. I’m unaware of a single person who’s made it to the end of their life, and who couldn’t have used another dab of glue or piece of tape.
I don’t mean this to sound completely hopeless, because I think it’s the opposite. I think it’s liberating. There are fairy figurines in this house whose wings I will NEVER permanently affix to their bodies; there are cracks in my children that I can NEVER mend. But in parenting, as with the rest of life, I think we get points for trying. And trying again.