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Building a Bookcase

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Four years ago, on one of the last, low-key days of August, my then 13-year-old daughter and I opened a box filled with disconnected parts, and put together a bookcase. At first the planks of wood loomed large as I fought back a non-politically correct thought that dealing with hammers, screwdrivers and unclear diagrams was territory better suited to men than to a mother and daughter.

As my middle-aged eyes looked somewhat bewildered over the visual diagrams on the instruction booklet, my daughter looked at me and said calmly, “Don’t worry Mom, it’s just like Lego, I understand it.”

The scene suddenly felt familiar. About 30 years earlier, this was me and my single, divorced mom. With her marshalling the tools and me reading the directions, we put together a stereo table – alone. I remember feeling it was cool that my Mom jumped right in to build it. She said, “We can do this together,” and we did.

And now my daughter and I were teaching each other about stepping out of the traditional female zone. But the lesson felt a bit different because unlike me, the third generation in a family of women raised by single moms, she has a married mom and a full-time dad.

“This makes me think of the time me and dad built those scales for my science project,” said my daughter with a smirk, as we sized up the task before us.

Being in our Pocono vacation home without my son or husband was a novelty for us as mother and daughter, but experiencing life as a female-centered family comprised of me, my Mom and my Nana, was the norm for me growing up. My father was a visitor in my world, but my daughter’s father is aresident in hers.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then that certainly explains how my mom and I came do lots of things without male help. My daughter’s access to her dad and older brother has given her more choices than I had growing up, but it hasn’t made her less independent.

After studying the instruction booklet a few minutes, my daughter rubbed her head in concentration, looked at me, and then smiled, as if she had cracked a code.

With visions of past Lego sets dancing in her head, my daughter took charge. “Mom, take everything out of the box and group the pieces that look the same.”

I’ve bought tons of Lego’s for both my kids. Learning to build power stations, towns, and scenes from Star Wars has been a great equalizer for my son and daughter because they don’t think of constructing things as boy or girl stuff. This means that my daughter’s not thinking – the way I still do on a certain level – that she needs a man to put together a bookcase.

While we spread all the pieces out on the floor and took turns deciphering the directions, I saw my daughter’s capable hands and alert eyes go into action. “Here Mom, if you hit the hammer from this side, I can push on the other. Great, now I’ll hold the sections while you hit the nails in.”

As we were working, I spied a small piece of blue Lego on the floor. It was a reminder of a time when my adolescent daughter and her college student brother were about five and eight – old enough to work on Lego sets together.

As the bookcase began to take shape, I felt like the spirits of my late mother and grandmother were smiling down on us. We were in the vacation home they bought for themselves and for future generations to enjoy. My daughter was only four when her beloved Grammy and Nangie (short for Nana the Great) both diedin a car accident. But she has strong memories of them, like how Grammy loved to mimic other people’s foreign accents and howNangie would let both great-grandkids cover her with sofa pillows.

At 13, my daughter was already five inches taller than me, and though her face was very youthful, I could see the woman she was becoming. She has always been her own person, respectful, yet strong enough to sometimes disagree with me or her father, even more now that she is 17, starting college, and a full six inches taller than me.

As we finished, my daughter stepped back, looked at the completed bookcase and said, “See, Mom, we did it ourselves, and we didn’t need any men.”

“Without your help I never would have finished,” I told my daughter, and we both laughed.

She put her arm around me and said, “It’s all right if you’re graphically challenged, Mom. Directions were all written out when you were growing up.”

After wemoved the last books into the new bookcase, I bent down, picked up the piece of blue Lego, and placed it on the top shelf. Somehow it seemed to belong there.

I think we built something more than a bookcase that afternoon. We leaned on each other more like two women than mother and child.

Perhaps my daughter summed it up best when she looked at the new bookcase and said simply, “It looks good.”


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