Engineer Extraordinaire

Judy Genandt By Judy Genandt, 30th Oct 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Family

How a grandmother who is tool-challenged manages to put together a complicated child's toy.

Drinks and Sympathy

Thank you so much for the invitation to brunch, Agnes. I needed the time away. I needed to escape. I needed to regroup.
Why? Well, look at me, Agnes. Just look at me. Do you see all these gray hairs that have sprouted overnight, all this puffiness around my eyes? Do you see how my cheeks have sunken in and my hands are trembling and I could pass for one of the walking dead?
Oh, a vodka martini. Bless you, my dear, such foresight. Just let me have a sip first…
What happened? What happened, you ask? Agnes, what you see before you was caused by one of the most upsetting and frustrating experiences of my life. No—worse than that. It was traumatizing. Absolutely traumatizing. I barely survived the ordeal. I barely kept my sanity.
A house fire? A hurricane? A family tragedy? Oh, no, not at all. No, I’m talking about the terrible, nerve-wracking hours I had to spend assembling my grandson’s Christmas gift: a playstation table / desk. The very first time I’ve ever done such a thing, I can assure you. Not that I should have had to, anyway; I’m a grandmother!
My own children had never enjoyed such niceties. Not yours, either, I’d be willing to bet. Oh, my daughter collected a few things that needed minor work: a My Little Pony bathtub, or Miss Kitty pink playthings. Pop, pop, snap; and voilà, the job was done. Simple. As for my son, it was do-it-yourself or nothing, since his toys consisted mainly of those wonderful Legoland un-toys.
But this—ah, this engineering feat required that I read instructions and make plans and attend to detail. Not to mention that I needed to be proficient with small tools, besides. Manual dexterity? What, pray tell, is that? I have trouble inserting my contacts.
Can you imagine, Agnes, having to construct anything using a minimum of 37 steps? Thirty-seven steps in a 19-page booklet. From China, no less! I felt overwhelmed before I even got started. Me, the one with poor vision and achy joints, pretending I could solve this physical conundrum like some agile teenager. And I shouldn’t have to, anyway; I’m a grandmother!
Supposedly I would need only one simple tool for this rebuilding of the Ark: a mere inexpensive Phillips screwdriver. But which size? How large? “Better safe than sorry” is my motto. I dragged out every one I could find in my junk drawer and set to work.
I knew I was in trouble when the directions blithely spoke of “recessed screws.” You’d better believe they were recessed. So far recessed, in fact, that I couldn’t even hold one between my fingers. So I rooted around until I found a pair of needle-nose pliers. Oh, you know the kind, Agnes—skinny little gripper jaws, to hold things that you can’t hold between your fingers.
But then I couldn’t see what I was doing, so I dug my trusty mag flashlight out of the drawer and tried holding it under my chin but earlier I’d slathered on a hefty dose of moisturizer so the flashlight kept slipping and cracking me where it shouldn’t and —
Oh, you laugh, Agnes, you go right ahead and laugh. It wasn’t you swearing at whoever had manufactured this monstrosity in the first place; it wasn’t you having to crawl around on your hands and knees looking for a dropped screw after the cat had batted it under the refrigerator.
Well, I finally managed to get the plastic table base put together, no thanks to those uncaring people in China. Next came the seat and two legs with wheels attached—a right one and a left one, no less, not to be confused with a left one and a right one--that had to be snapped exactly into their corresponding notch. I shouldn’t have had to think so hard anyway; I’m a grandmother!
Another martini? Delightful. But make it a double this time, won’t you?
Then I needed to fasten the band of the seat around the table base. No problem with that, but it wouldn’t revolve. Well, yes, Agnes, it’s supposed to revolve. You see, the baby sits in the seat and pushes himself around the table to play with whatever he can reach. That way he strengthens his leg muscles and his back muscles at the same time he’s exercising his curiosity.
Of course it was too much to expect that this collection of brightly colored plastic parts might actually work properly. Why should it, when I was the one doing the construction; I’m only a grandmother! Three times I had to loosen things and unfasten them and refasten them and tighten them. By then the cat had rolled my screwdriver down the basement steps and I could feel my blood almost boiling in my veins.
Somehow I managed to turn the whole thing upside down—and, mind you, Agnes, I am not the world’s strongest woman; I am just a grandmother—only to discover a small indentation in the table base where the two parts connected. So, then. Nothing mentioned in the instructions about that minor detail. Probably in the Cantonese section, which I somehow missed reading. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. After moving this and that and the other, suddenly there we were; the seat revolved smooth as a theatre door.
I figured out for myself that you push the lever backward if you want the part to turn and push the lever forward to keep it stationery. Ha! So there, Agnes, maybe I’m not such an addle-pated idiot after all, even if I am only a grandmother!
From there on it was duck soup. Just snap in place every cute little accessory--the monkey on a palm tree and the ring of dolphins and the mirror / teething ring, and everything was set to go.
But I must confess to collapsing once I’d finally finished. What a job! Agnes, how on earth does anyone manage all these details? It was worse than setting up a Christmas tree and all its lights and ornaments, besides. No wonder these young parents look so frazzled this time of year—about the way I myself look right now…just like a grandmother!
So. Into my guest room, safely hidden away for the moment, went the playstation. But I carefully resealed its huge colorful carton and plopped a giant red bow on the top flap.
The family will gather at my house on Christmas Day. While all the presents are being torn open in a frenzy of tissue paper and ribbon, I plan to drag the unwieldy box to Chris, my son-in-law, hand it over with a, “Here you go, have fun!” and smile benignly.
The cost of the toy: More than my depleted bank account could afford.
The cost of time and labor: More than my sanity could afford.
The look on Chris’s face when he realizes he will not have to assemble one more 75-piece-plastic plaything family holiday gift: Priceless.
So here’s to us grandmothers, Agnes--bad backs, bad knees, bad hips, and all.
Another vodka martini? Don’t mind if I do. I deserve it. Because I truly am a terrific grandmother.


Grandchildren, Grandmothers, Toddler Toys, Toddlers

Meet the author

author avatar Judy Genandt
Published romance novels: "A Port in the Storm," "Who Bravely Dares," "The Quality of Clemency," "Half-Life." Member of three writers' groups. Presenter of writers' workshops; guest on TV program.

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author avatar Clarence Schreiber
31st Oct 2013 (#)

Wow!!! She has done a lot of work. An excellent read. Thank you for sharing.

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
31st Oct 2013 (#)

Hilarious, a great achievement - indeed tough to keep up with ever changing gadgets. And to think we are trying to extend our longevity! siva

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