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She Saws, He Sautes

My wife fixes up the house. I fix dinner. Who knew that owning a home would bring out her inner Norm Abram?

Illustration by Serge Bloch
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If you asked my wife what her number one complaint is about our marriage, I know what she'd say: She can never get me to level with her. She's not looking for more honesty in our relationship. No, what she really, really wants is for me to help her use one of those long stick things with the bubble in the middle that tells you whether an edge is perfectly straight or not. I'm exaggerating. Slightly. She'd be just as happy to spend a romantic weekend stripping moldings. You see, my wife and I are proof of the maxim that opposites attract. She loves home projects. And I loathe them.

Oddly, it was a bit of Aurita's carpentry that first won my heart. One evening many moons ago, I returned home to my tiny apartment to find that she had constructed a massive pine bookcase that ran the length of an entire wall. It held all the volumes and LPs that had been piled, Stonehenge-style, in a circle around my bed. I had a strong suspicion right there that this might be the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.

Back then, I suppose I wrote off her hammer skills as a hobby; more practical than stamp collecting, certainly, but a hobby nonetheless. And so for the first eight years of our marriage, a happy equilibrium held. I did the cooking. She did the cleaning. We split the childcare duties for our three sons. A series of wrench-toting landlords took care of all the maintenance that our apartments required, as Aurita looked on critically, and occasionally retightened a bolt or two after they left. But with the exception of the year she asked for a Milwaukee workcart for Christmas, I saw no danger signs that there was a Norm Abram lurking within her, looking to hacksaw his way out.

Then, three years ago, we bought our first home. It's a beautiful house, an 1895 Victorian with details so original that, until recently, it still had gaslight valves sticking out of the ­attic walls. We'd even gotten a pretty good deal on it, since the elderly man who'd lived there for five decades had converted the first-floor library into a white-tiled, handicapped-accessible latrine with no door. (The real estate agent had touted a "spacious first-floor ­powder room.") On our second afternoon as homeowners, I took the boys on our monthly trip to Williams-Sonoma while Aurita and her father ripped out the bathroom—tile, fixtures, plumbing, and all—in a miracle that I still equate with walking on water. (At the risk of blowing my own horn, she'd been equally stunned by my earlier revelation that pasta ­doesn't have to come from a can.) Everything was going great until I used the verb "hire" and the noun "painters" in the same sentence.

"We can do it ourselves," Aurita said.
If you asked my wife what her number one complaint is about our marriage, I know what she'd say: She can never get me to level with her. She's not looking for more honesty in our relationship. No, what she really, really wants is for me to help her use one of those long stick things with the bubble in the middle that tells you whether an edge is perfectly straight or not. I'm exaggerating. Slightly. She'd be just as happy to spend a romantic weekend stripping moldings. You see, my wife and I are proof of the maxim that opposites attract. She loves home projects. And I loathe them.

Oddly, it was a bit of Aurita's carpentry that first won my heart. One evening many moons ago, I returned home to my tiny apartment to find that she had constructed a massive pine bookcase that ran the length of an entire wall. It held all the volumes and LPs that had been piled, Stonehenge-style, in a circle around my bed. I had a strong suspicion right there that this might be the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.

Back then, I suppose I wrote off her hammer skills as a hobby; more practical than stamp collecting, certainly, but a hobby nonetheless. And so for the first eight years of our marriage, a happy equilibrium held. I did the cooking. She did the cleaning. We split the childcare duties for our three sons. A series of wrench-toting landlords took care of all the maintenance that our apartments required, as Aurita looked on critically, and occasionally retightened a bolt or two after they left. But with the exception of the year she asked for a Milwaukee workcart for Christmas, I saw no danger signs that there was a Norm Abram lurking within her, looking to hacksaw his way out.

Then, three years ago, we bought our first home. It's a beautiful house, an 1895 Victorian with details so original that, until recently, it still had gaslight valves sticking out of the ­attic walls. We'd even gotten a pretty good deal on it, since the elderly man who'd lived there for five decades had converted the first-floor library into a white-tiled, handicapped-accessible latrine with no door. (The real estate agent had touted a "spacious first-floor ­powder room.") On our second afternoon as homeowners, I took the boys on our monthly trip to Williams-Sonoma while Aurita and her father ripped out the bathroom—tile, fixtures, plumbing, and all—in a miracle that I still equate with walking on water. (At the risk of blowing my own horn, she'd been equally stunned by my earlier revelation that pasta ­doesn't have to come from a can.) Everything was going great until I used the verb "hire" and the noun "painters" in the same sentence.

"We can do it ourselves," Aurita said.
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Illustration by Serge Bloch
We didn't hire the painters. Actually, we didn't even buy the paint; the walls in our kitchen are still covered with square splotches of semi-gloss samples—my wife likes to "live with" a color for a few months before deciding on whether or not to buy it—which gives some visitors the impression that our decorating inspiration was the Partridge Family bus. Meanwhile, Aurita installed a sink that three plumbers had quoted us thousand-dollar estimates to put in. Through most of this, all I had to do was fetch screwdrivers, hold washers in my pockets, and carry heavy items up and down stairs.

For a year or so this seemed like harmless fun, the equivalent of letting her play with a gigantic Lego set. But after the boys had each moved rooms three times—which required three dismantlings and reassemblies of their bunk beds—things began to get a little frosty around the house. Some couples fight over money and sex; we were fighting over her late-night trips to the 24-hour Home Depot to check out sconces. She asked, with a straight face, if I'd be willing to spend my vacation upgrading our attic insulation. She had to be talked out of trying to sand and refinish the floors. I live in fear of the day we need a new roof. Blame it on our fathers. My wife equates fixing stuff with childhood weekends spent side-by-side with her father, hammering nails and weatherstripping windows. Her dad has two rooms in his self-remodeled basement filled with tools. A typical phone call from Aurita to her father starts with something like, "Are you using the router next weekend?" I, on the other hand, grew up with a father who spent his days off fixing dinner. We kept our tools in a kitchen drawer.



To achieve DIY detente in our household, I'm trying to push one of our boys to become Aurita's new buddy. Alex, the oldest at 10, is a daddy's boy who likes nothing better on a Saturday morning than to cook a batch of pancakes and melt into the couch with a good book. Lucas, who's 4, seems more preoccupied with taking things apart than putting them together. So I'm betting on the baby, Magnus. He refuses to go anywhere in the house without his red plastic hammer, and his constant tap-tap-tapping against the nearest available surface—tabletops, windows, his brother's skull—is the heartbeat of our domesticity.

But until Magnus is ready for his first cordless drill, I guess I'm going to have to help Aurita out with a few projects, just to keep the peace. Every once in a while I might even level with her. Just one question: How do they get the bubble into that stick thing, anyway?
 
 

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