Steak and Incompetence

Ah, Massachusetts. 

Where the roads are cut labyrinth-like through the forests and the trees are thick with colors and the leaves rustle like paper in the breeze. Where even the hot days are cool beneath dark shade and the grass is chill with dew well into the middle of the day. Where many, many things are the same as they were hundreds of years ago, and you can easily imagine yourself a Puritan in a wagon riding down a cobblestone road—some of their houses are still standing next to Dunkin Donuts and pharmacies. The only place Andrew has ever seen this many birds, and bunnies, and deer.

Basically, while the South is baking and broiling under dry and blistering conditions and the paint in the apartment is probably bubbling, Andrew is spending all day in this colorful world where his grandparents grow vegetables and flowers. He doesn’t really know what to do with all the open space. He freaked out walking barefoot on the grass. He wanted to go out in the rain, and I let him, but it took a lot of getting used to. His world is expanding.

He and my precious niece have been getting along as well as two toddlers can who only sort of remember each other. And their dueling regional accents have been a trip: she says “Whaddya sayin’, Ont Lindsay?” And he asks his grandmother to return something to him by saying “Gimme Daaaayut.” 

I met my baby nephew and now he knows I’ve always been his favorite, so that’s done. I’d forgotten how good babies smell and how great it is to kiss them on their little button noses. My mother-in-law has a gigantic dish of chocolate chip cookies that we can’t see the bottom of. Life is good on the North Shore.

But alas…complications have arisen in the form of my obsession with my own incompetence. 

For you see, dear GrownupInternetWeb fans, you guys in the Blob (the blog mob) know that I have spent the last few months writing about how bad I am at everything. Well, it turns out this can be a tough place for someone who struggles with basic competence. 

My father-in-law is very smart, the senior VP of a bank, no less—he also keeps a garden that has produced various fruits, vegetables, and a whole lot of cilantro. My mother-in-law doesn’t like to be discussed, but we already mentioned the cookies. And they’re pretty incredible.

My sister-in-law, now that she is the mother of two kids, has 100% more responsibility than I do. Also, she carries them both at once (Or she says she does…the one time I saw her doing it, that might have been an illusion of some kind…) She is also an artist of great ability—she will be supplying her wares to a craft fair in a few months. CRAFTS. That SENTENCE exhausts me. I do crafts the way my mother solves murders—vicariously through reality TV.

My brother-in-law has two jobs that both involve saving people’s lives. When I was up at 11 the other night, scrolling through Pinterest and wondering what to blog about, he was packing his sandwich and heading out to work in one of his many uniforms. When Drew and I stumbled out of bed and sasquatched our way into the kitchen the next morning at 7, he had just returned from work and was standing there, parenting, in a uniform… while his wife successfully fed two children a nutritious breakfast.

Oh yeah, I thought as Drew and I munched on some veggie straws and a cookie—here’s something to write about.

I haven’t really done anything on The List in awhile, and it seems like it’s easy to find excuses not to. There’s always something I’d rather be doing, or it’s too hot, or Drew needs something, or the new season of Hoarders just came out on Hulu. You don’t get to be thirty and not-quite-competent without ignoring things that need to be done. 

Luckily, my father-in-law has my back, because he’s said for the last few weeks that as soon as I got to Massachusetts, he would teach me how to grill steaks for the 4th of July, and I would knock another item off The List. I believed him, and I obeyed. 

So while Andrew was still napping, Lawrence came in from the golf course —still covered in sweat— and pulled a bunch of steaks out of the fridge. I was summoned to the kitchen, where I watched him trim pieces of fat off the sides, then rub the steaks down with Montreal seasoning that looked like rock candy. He was interrupted when his wife rushed in and told him she’d just seen two young men with car trouble stranded on the shoulder of the road and they should bring them some cold beverages. I made guacamole while he rushed out to help her perform a good deed. When he returned, the steaks went on the grill.

I only made one King of the Hill joke about the propane tank. I managed not to drop anything or set the property on fire. He handed me a pair of giant, heavy tongs and showed me where to put the steaks, which were now adorned with pads of butter. I arranged them on the blackened metal and he shut the lid.

We stood around for a while—every once in awhile he opened the lid and the rich smoke tumbled out…the butter hitting the heat. He turned them a few times, and each time they looked more like steaks. They got that gray color, then turned brown, then darker brown, developing those satisfying criss-cross patterns that steaks should have. Then they were done, and I carried them inside. 

Andrew had watched all this, sitting with his Mimi on the porch, his huge blue eyes shining because he was having such a fun day, and talking to mom through the screen door was just one more adventure. And while I was sitting on the steps and asking clarifying questions about steak, I had a revelation. 

Competent people are mostly just people that do things when they’re tired. My father-in-law and his grilling, my sister-in-law with her crafts and both babies, my brother-in-law with his world-saving, and Drew’s Mimi who is never too tired to snuggle with him…I bet they don’t always feel like doing things. My brother-in-law, I know, is always tired. If you’re going to save lives or raise two children or fill a barn with crafts, you have to do it even when the thought is exhausting. Because sometimes the price for great steaks or great kids or charming pieces that sell is the price of exhaustion.

I hope when I’m back home and the apartment is sweltering, when I’m back at work in a month and the days get shorter and quicker, that I remember that. Massachusetts is a veritable paradise in the summer, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to live here. The people who came to this continent and pushed their way through these forests were probably exhausted all the time. The pilgrims didn’t land at Plymouth when the weather was nice. That’s one of the things that New Englanders have going for them—they’re hard to wear down. And this is where I was born, and where my husband was born, and where Andrew’s people are from. I’ve lived a lot of my life in Texas, but this place sharpened and shaped many of my better qualities.

Oh, and one other thing. I DID tell my sister and brother-in-law that I would be writing about them. And in an effort to help my sister-in-law get ideas for her craft fair, I suggested a motivational painting of a woman…in her thirties…riding a scooter to Family Dollar, the wind in her hair. It could have one word written above her…SCOOT. 

I was only sort of joking. I then told them, completely serious, that I missed my scooter.

“You could just use mine,” my brother-in-law suggested when he was done changing from his mild-mannered alter-ego into Hero Uncle. 

Down in the garage, lo and behold, there was a scooter from the days when they were “the thing”. It had just been sitting there, stabled and quiet, waiting for me all these years. I brushed it off, unfolded it, and scooted up and down the long driveway with the wind in my hair and the trees forming a protective wall on either side. It reminded me of how I used to ride my bike around our property when I was a kid in Massachusetts, and when I would stop and sit there quietly, I’d slowly become aware of that silence that’s loud with the breath of God—those trees. 

“Did you use the scooter in the garage?” My father-in-law asked me, and I responded that yes, I had and it had been awesome.

 I expected him to laugh at me. He’s sort of given me a hard time since the first day I met him. About the same things, actually. “Oh, I ride that scooter to get the mail sometimes,” he said.

“You do?!” I asked with a laugh. “Can I say that on my blog?”



My sister-in-law has a lovely Etsy shop if you’d like to check it out…hopefully the link works…or just cut and paste I guess.


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