Last month, after a night of torrential rain, a son told me the water was flowing right over the gutters, none of it going through the downspout. I immediately inquired how he could discern what occurred when it was dark and pouring, questioning his credibility like a prosecutor. This is my coping mechanism because if there is something wrong with the house, that means I have a problem. I don’t appreciate problems. I don’t innately know how to repair broken things. Therefore, I pretend it doesn’t need to be fixed, procrastinate about having it fixed, hire someone to fix it, or recruit my kids to fix it. The latter is my go-to because as home improvement goes, I am not exactly a natural. I am finding that my children are also not naturals.

My first foray into home improvement was when my daughter and I attempted to hang a shelf to hold her TV. I knew I couldn’t attach it to the sheetrock as the weight of the television would pull the shelf off the wall. This was a lesson painfully learned. I grabbed a handy dandy stud finder and demonstrated its magical properties to my teenager. Utilizing the stud finder, we proceeded to drill enough holes in the wall to strain spaghetti. Perhaps there are different qualities of stud finders. Mine apparently wouldn’t know a stud if it smacked it on the head. Eventually, using a hammer, we tapped the wall like we were cracking a safe, listening for a stud. Was there a high school class about what a piece of wood sounds like? No, there wasn’t. Was there a college class offered on the acoustics of a 2-by-4? I think not.

My late husband, God rest his soul, frequently said all you had to do to fix things, was try. I took this advice to heart when my stove stopped working a few years back. I narrowed the issue down to the heating element. This was not by deductive reasoning, but because it was the only issue, I thought I could actually fix. YouTube to the rescue. Per the video, replacing the element seemed easy enough. Gathering my tools, I was set. What looked in the video to take five minutes, took me over an hour and didn’t work anyway. Plus, I dropped a flashlight on my toe, and the kids heard me say a word they had never heard come out of my mouth. They were horrified yet somewhat amused. “I am so glad I was here to hear that!” My brother-in-law stopped by and said the stove likely was shot. Great!

Although the internet didn’t help with the oven, YouTube has restored my faith in humanity. You can look up anything on YouTube. I learned how to tape and mud a wall on YouTube. I learned how to fix a sink stopper. I am fascinated and puzzled by the time people take to educate complete strangers for free on everything from how to get nail polish out of carpet to how to fix a running toilet. I don’t really get what the motivation is to make a video. Plus, the videos are always perfectly done. There aren’t ever interruptions with some kid asking the instructor to make a sandwich, or a dog barking, or kids shooting nerf guns. If I were going to make a YouTube, it would need to be at 3 a.m.

Fast forward two years, and one of the kids slammed the microwave door so hard that most of the buttons stopped working. As is often the case, I initially just made do, but eventually, I can only use the add 30 seconds button. This is not exactly convenient when you want to cook a chicken which takes 20 minutes. Finally, I acquiesce and accept that it needs to be replaced. My parents installed their over-the-stove microwave themselves. I had confidence that my strapping sons and I could replace it ourselves. When I say my sons and me, I mostly mean my sons. I bought basically the same microwave and again reviewed a YouTube tutorial. It seemed straightforward.

The boys removed a couple of screws and loosened the appliance. They were frustrated that it seemed stuck. “Mom, we should have just had Lowe’s install it.” “Are you kidding me? Your grandparents are in their 70s. They don’t even have the internet and have no muscle strength.” I want my children to be curious. I want them to be lifelong learners. I want them to be good problem-solvers. I want them to fix my broken stuff!

The boys were crabby. The microwave seemed adhered to the structure of the house. If they pulled too hard, they might yank down the cupboards. I don’t have the skills for that. “Let’s take another look at the video,” I told them. They turned around, and we were going through it step by step, when suddenly there was a crash. The microwave fell out of the wall, crashed on the stove. The door flew open and the glass plate fell to the floor, breaking into a bunch of pieces. So yes, watching YouTube does get the job done, if not inadvertently.

This summer, I committed to redoing the living room. The kids keep asking when I’m going to get started. I don’t know. I haven’t had time to You Tube how to remove popcorn ceiling. Rumor is it’s difficult and messy. It’s August and if I put it off a little longer, I can probably wait until next year. In the meantime, this morning I left my 14-year-old to paint her room. She has already taped and patched the walls. She already functions at my level of home improvement. Granted, that’s not saying much!

Ruth Boubin has a degree in counseling and seems to find humor in the daily challenges of being a parent.

Jeffrey Jackson is the managing editor of the Owatonna People's Press. He can be reached at 507-444-2371 or via email at

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