A Wish for Normal Problems
My husband was cooking breakfast, and today, we were on time for school.
Continuing a string of productive mornings thanks to melatonin-filled nights, I decided to take out the trash. After throwing out the bag, I washed my hands in the sink that looked out into the backyard, onto my office, and noticed movement. There were some expletives followed by, "There's a rat."
The rat darted between the side of my office and some planters, not a care in the world. My husband rushed over and issued some expletive phrases that tilted toward wonder. The rat hopped into a planter, and our commotion caused my daughter to look with us, with my son hopping behind the sink, too short to see. She used her new kid versions of expletives, even though I told her the other day I knew what they translated into.
There is a rat under my office. His name is now Barry. There's a Looney Tunes version of a hole in the siding of my office. He is likely quite pleased that he's found a location with air conditioning. He may be a threat to my army of backyard lizards. He may also be a she, may enjoy her fertility and may carry disease. Barry is a problem— an absolutely normal problem to solve.
I asked, would we resort to professionals? "No!" howled my husband, who warned of using chemicals in our baby pollinator garden. My mom warned about Barry's babies; it could be a growing problem. Where were the hawks that prowled our skies? Where were Smokey and his cousins, the neighborhood roaming cat gang?
As an increasingly rare millennial homeowner, I hadn't the foggiest notion about the random problems that would come with owning a Gen X-aged house. It's not something they teach in high school. But, like the marriage-testing gauntlet of an Ikea trip, owning a house is when you know whether you picked the right spouse— or if that spouse picked correctly, depending on the current unexpected debacle.
A few years back, my husband realized that when he stepped on one piece of flooring in the kitchen, water would — ”almost comically”— seep up through the edges. It was in the kitchen where I had initially developed the most anger I held toward past generations when I realized they had just put down new layers of linoleum over the old. We, and really good friends of ours, removed the three layers, scrape by scrape, before installing our own floor.
I now think about the problems I install into the world for the future, thanks to that stupid floor.
In short, it was a pipe leaking through the foundation of the house. But my memory of that dreadful experience was realizing that after I'd walked through a portion of the problem with grit and determination and hit the Despair Wall, I had help. I'd flop to the floor with a beer and my husband would perk up and say, "You know, it's not that bad, we can just replace the underlayment." I'd get back up and keep going— until his grit would wither when we realized it did come from the foundation. I'd tell him, "OK, but here's the thing," handing him a beer as he sat on the floor, "it's only from this section... so far."
Normal problems come with a layer of established support around you. You can Google solutions; you have friends who had the same experience before. There is support you can lean into.
The last few years, however, have been rife with problems that had no solutions at the levels we live. The problems seem to loom, and there's a hopelessness about what you can accomplish to change anything. Some days you take in the news and spit it out in frustration. Of course, you can choose not to take it in, but there's still a lingering awareness.
But there are still plenty painfully normal problems to solve if we come back out of the world and into our communities, like hungry children who go to our schools or the unhoused who walk the same streets we do. And there are still those who have the experience, perhaps you're one of them, to help us find solutions, or just help us not lose our grit and determination. There are layers of the past that we must fix and rebuild, and then build again when the water seeps through.
Cassie McClure is a writer, millennial, and unapologetic fan of the Oxford comma. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.