08/27/2012 05:53 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

If Life Gives You Lemons, Take Out Your Toolbox

It occurred to me that many of my posts make me sound all too cheerful and positive, a grown-up Pollyanna, if you know the book about the little orphan girl who invented the "glad game," in which everything in life, including nasty predicaments, become a source of joy and hope. Of course, there are many hard moments, when fatigue, frustration and a sense of failure cloud everything else. I will tell of such moments in coming posts, but first, a little case of Pollyannism.

I came home one evening with Tal and with my beloved nephew, Assaf, an 11-year-old with an intellect of a physics professor -- and absent-mindedness to match. Tal was upset that Assaf beat him climbing to the second floor of the building where we live, so I winked to Assaf and suggested when we came in that they race in the living room from the door to the window.

The resulting events were not quite what I expected: Tal arrived first at the window, where the shutters were closed. He hit them with his hands outstretched, and knocked out two slats. I stared at the ugly gaping hole in my living room shutters while Assaf was doubled over with laughter and Tal tried to decide whether to join Assaf in laughter or to apologize for wreaking havoc.

Tal set the confusion straight by resorting to arithmetic and asked me how much 12 and 12 was. But I shut down that line of thought. "Go get dressed in your pajamas, Tal," I said. I asked Assaf to read Tal his bed time story and help him get ready for sleep, and I got a screwdriver and started putting the slats back in place. It took almost 15 minutes, because I managed to knock out a couple of other slats while fixing those that Tal knocked out. When they flew out, they fell into the street two floors below (they're very light weight, so no safety issues were involved.) Tal came out to see me working, then went back to his room to prepare for bed.


Illustration and photo: Dafna Maor

Assaf did everything I asked him to do and Tal, for once, let his cousin take care of him. This was a very comforting sight at the end of a very long and tiring day. After putting the light out, I asked myself what other good came out of it, and realized that once again, Tal saw that his mother could fix things.

Yes, I know. It's not very convincing. Not all people have the know-how or skill to fix a window, to change a tire, to connect a torn communication cable. But most of these things are easy to learn, just ask a friend or check on the Internet. And you don't have to be a handywoman to earn respect for skill -- it can be cooking, playing a computer game, skipping rope or climbing a very high fence (which I once did, to my nephews' applause and my sister's chagrin, when Tal was just a baby). Those things may not seem important, but to a 5-year-old boy they are, even if he can't express it.

Not everything that happens is fixable, but what can be changed by sheer will power is the way you react to them. I think this is what Pollyanna, a character who has won quite an irritating reputation, meant.