It’s no wonder life expectancy in the 1700s was right around 35 years of age. Most of that was due to high infant mortality rates, but still, it makes plenty of sense. Poor hygiene, no clean water, lack of scientific understanding. These days, to truly experience that level of “roughing it” would be incredibly difficult, what with all the creature comforts afforded us by our modern environment.
As I’m typing out these words, it’s Tuesday around lunchtime. We’ve not had running water at our house since Sunday afternoon. Between the dirty laundry, dirty dishes, and dirty diapers, keeping our hands clean has been a chore. I have been to the store no less than four times to buy gallon jugs of water. Water for drinking, sure, but in reality, water to refill the back of the toilets so we can flush them. The going rate for flushing a toilet at my house these days is just about 80 cents. Washing your hands runs about 10 cents (if you do a good cleaning). Doing the dishes, well, we’ve not done dishes since Sunday. And showers? Fuhgettaboudit.
And it’s all my fault.
It was supposed to be a $12 repair. The ball valve in my Delta shower handle was 27 years old and needed to be replaced. The downspout was leaking at a rate of about a gallon per week, but the noise of the drip made falling asleep at night a bit of a chore. I found a video on YouTube, I made a trip to Lowe’s for parts, then I got to work on this insignificant DIY repair.
But, as is par for the course, five minutes after starting the work I realized I had the wrong part. I had found the wrong YouTube video for my specific shower set up. This realization, of course, came after spending four or five minutes yanking, pushing, twisting, cursing, hammering, twisting again, and finally, sighing. I found another video – this time, the right one – that educated me on my particular valve system. Turns out, there are three soft copper pipes that YOU DO NOT WANT TO TWIST. If you twist them, they will break. If you recall the list I spouted off a couple sentences back, I mentioned “twisting” twice. Guess what. I broke the copper pipes.
The entire time, I’m giving updates to my lovely bride every half an hour or so. I can imagine what it must’ve sounded like from her perspective. Something like a slow-motion car crash. She could see where this was going, but there was nothing she could do to stop it. To further the analogy, she knows and loves the driver (that’s me) and trusts that he can maneuver his way out of the impending doom relatively unscathed. But each update I gave came with a new concern walking hand-in-hand with an even more hair-brained idea for a solution.
So the copper pipes are busted. The water to the house is turned off, and if I turn it back on, a steady stream of water leaks into the wall behind the shower. At this point, Allison starts calling around to plumbers and I resign myself to the idea that this is a bigger issue than I can handle. But in the meantime, I at least need to patch the pipes so we can turn the water back on. Sure, the shower won’t be usable, but at least we still have the guest shower.
Our poor children just want to play. It’s Sunday evening, my wife is trying to cook dinner (salmon and roasted veggies), and the kids are getting restless. This was supposed to be a family day, but I’m upstairs trying to figure out a way to get the water back on. Allison needs water to be able to cook and I’ll need it eventually to clean.
“Honey, I need to make another trip to Lowe’s real quick.”
I called my dad and came up with a solution. It meant I needed a tool I didn’t already have in my garage. I needed a blow torch. I needed solder. I needed flux. And I needed it now.
Fifteen minutes later, I was back in the shower with my new toy…err…tool. The fiberglass tub was cut pretty close to the piping, so I needed to take care not to catch the entire house on fire. I haven’t soldered anything since high school and definitely overestimated my skill level. I finally got the piping hot enough to melt the solder, but then it was too hot and the molten solder dripped all over the place. After messing with it another ten minutes, I finally felt like maybe, just maybe, I’d patched the hole well enough to turn the water back on.
Allison watched the valve while I journeyed into our dirty crawlspace for the ninth time. We talked on the phone as I turned the handle on the water shut-off valve so she could give me a play-by-play of what she was seeing. Less than two seconds after turning the handle, I got the “nope, turn it off” signal from my partner in crime. The solder patch had not been successful.
At this point, I was feeling every sort of emotion you can imagine. Anger was the main emotion emanating from me, but behind that anger was embarrassment, guilt, fear, and self-loathing, among other things. I was trying to hold it together for the sake of the family, but my voice had a verifiable bite to it, and Allison didn’t appreciate my tone with her and the kids. She made sure to let me know, but did so in a way that only she could, taking care not to destroy my already fragile ego. One harsh word from her could have sent me into a new level of rage (frankly, I was looking for something or someone to release my frustration on), but instead, she calmly told me I was being harsh with her and that this would be a really good time for me to compose myself and lead our family. Sure, a mistake had been made, but I had the chance to collect myself and lead well, despite screwing the pooch.
As she troubleshooted with the plumbers over the phone, it sounded like we’d need to cut a larger hole in the shower wall to be able to access and replace the piping and valve. In her mind, this was going to cost thousands of dollars. This wasn’t just a small screw-up, this was a “hey, we didn’t really need a vacation this year anyways” sort of gaffe.
And yet, she stayed calm and urged me to lead better.
What a saint.
We put the kids to bed and discussed what needed to happen next. I would have to work from home the next day, calling plumbers first thing in the morning to get things squared away. Allison had to work (she’s a nurse practitioner), so I got the kids off to daycare before heading to the store real quick to buy a second round of water by the gallon.
“Company A” called me first thing and told me they had a technician that would be at the house by 9am. It was great news. When the tech arrived and had a chance to survey the damage, he gave me a rough estimate. I called Allison and talked through the options. Yes, they were going to have to cut into the shower wall, but they felt like they could keep it small enough that a larger cover plate could be used. This would keep us from having to replace the entire shower shell.
The problem was that Company A didn’t have the sort of “smitty plate” they needed in stock. The tech told me I’d probably have better luck running to the store myself and picking one out, saying it’d probably be quicker. He offered to put a call into his dispatch to hold a slot for me later that morning and instructed me to call the office when I was on my way back to the house to get put back on their schedule.
So I did all that. The dispatcher I spoke to put me on their schedule, saying the next tech would be out sometime between 11 AM and 2 PM. Having that all taken care of, I booted up my work computer and got caught up on emails.
Around 1:30 in the afternoon, I still hadn’t received the courtesy call from the tech saying he was on the way. I decided to call the dispatcher to check in. And what do you know…they didn’t have me in their schedule. I urged them to check again and of course, nothing. But, they had a spot for the next day from 11-2. I calmly explained the situation, reminding them that I didn’t have water and that my two children, both under the age of 4, were needing to be picked up from daycare and promptly bathed (because daycare is petri dish) and that also my lovely wife would be needing to shower after a 12-hour day seeing all sorts of sickos. Her lab coat probably had 9 different types of flu strains on it, so it was pretty important to me that our water get turned back on by the end of the day.
No can do, they told me. I begrudgingly took the appointment time the next day, but also made sure to mention that I’d be calling around to other plumbers to see if anyone could come out and fix the issue immediately.
I had to jump on a conference call for work right after that conversation, but I stewed for an entire 30 minutes about how Company A had screwed me over. As soon as my conference call was over, I called Company A back and complained about what had happened. The lady I talked to put me on hold for a few minutes before finally telling me they were going to put me on their emergency list, meaning the next available tech would head my way. I thanked the woman profusely and hung up.
Whew. Disaster averted. My wife and young children could go to bed clean after all.
Except…30 minutes later, the main dispatcher called me back and explained the other lady had made a mistake. They couldn’t put me on the emergency list because they needed one of their senior technicians to do this complicated job, and all their senior technicians were unavailable until the next day from 11 AM to 2 PM.
So, if you’ve been keeping count, this is now three different times I was told our pipes would be fixed that day, and twice I was told that it wasn’t going to happen. I mostly kept my composure on the phone with the dispatcher. I may have sworn once. Maybe. The woman explained that because I left my house to go get the part, the technician was reassigned to another work order. By the time I called back, their scheduled was completely booked. I explained that the tech urged me to go get the part because, and I quote, “if you go get the part yourself, that’ll give you a much better chance to get this done today, seeing as we’re not gunna have it at our supply house.”
At this point, it’s almost 5 PM and every other plumber I call is unavailable until the next day. The house is starting to smell. The dishes from the salmon and roasted veggies are still sitting on the counter, waiting to be washed. I filled up one side of the sink with a gallon of water and hand-washed a couple of the nastier dishes, but it was too little too late. I lit a candle and left the house to pick up the kids.
I’ll be honest, I was a little self-conscious walking into the daycare, having not showered since Sunday morning. I’d climbed in and out of the crawlspace probably ten times, and my hands smelled like salmon. My hair was shiny and matted to the side of my head. And as I walked in the door, I couldn’t quite remember whether or not I’d brushed my teeth that morning.
That evening, once Allison got home, I ran back out to the store to pick up some plumber’s epoxy. I’ve used this stuff in the past and knew it was pretty heavy duty. Since I knew the old piping needed to be removed anyway, I just covered the entire thing with the putty.
Alas, an hour later after the putty had cured, I crawled back under the house and turned the water on. The epoxy held! For about three minutes. Just long enough for me to get upstairs to see that it was holding, and then it wasn’t. I almost injured myself running down the stairs to shut the water back off.
Later that night, as I caught up with work, I thought back on what Allison had urged me to do the day before. Was I leading better today? My tone had been nicer to her and the kids, and frankly, despite the ineptitude of Company A, I’d been able to keep a fairly positive attitude throughout the day. I knew I had to if I had any chance of actually displaying good leadership.
Tuesday morning, I stayed home from work again to make sure the plumbing work got done. Well, that and the fact that I hadn’t showered in 48 hours. I felt it’d be pretty rude to my coworkers if I walked in smelling like a two-day-old salmon fillet. Allison called a handful of other plumbers in the area and found one that could come to the house first thing. Two men showed up at 10:30 AM and promptly got to work. After about 30 minutes, they told me I had gotten the wrong kind of valve at the store the day before. I had flashbacks, thinking I’d have to run back out to get the right one and they’d leave again.
Instead, they offered to run to Lowe’s themselves to get the right one. Oh, yeah, well I guess that works, I told them. An hour after they got back to the house, we had water once again. Hallelujah!
And guess what. They didn’t have to cut a massive hole into the shower wall like Company A had claimed. They also charged $200 less than what Company A quoted. All that to say…shouts to Jayk’s LLC. Go give them your business if you live in North Carolina.
It’s amazing how much I took running water for granted. I mean, I take everything for granted, really. Power, clean water, air conditioning, my car, my job. The list could be its own book. I know there are plenty of people out their rolling their eyes at this “disaster” I just wrote 2,500 words about. But I learned a lot over the past two and a half days about myself. Well, not so much “learned” as much as I was reminded about myself.
First, when I get flustered, I get real sassy. My wife and kids will usually adopt the sort of mood I am in, so if I’m being sassy, all I’m doing is getting everybody riled up. I have to remind myself that I’m raising my son and daughter mostly by example. You know, actions speak louder that words and all that. When I’m able to remain calm in stressful situations, the mood is much more collaborative. Good things happen. And if I can teach my kids to handle situations in that manner, all the better.
Second, when I make a mistake, I beat myself up way too much. This particular flub was a costly one, which makes the self-loathing even more unbearable. If I focus too much on the mistake, I can start to tell myself some really toxic lies. Acknowledging the mistake, learning from the mistake, and moving quickly toward finding a solution can be good if done well. The other side of that coin, though, is that “moving quickly toward finding a solution” needs to happen at the appropriate pace. If I’m rushing to move on for the sake of not having to focus on the fact that I screwed up, well, that doesn’t do anyone any good, because I never learned anything. Which, of course, leads to more mistakes. A vicious one, this cycle.
Third, leading well doesn’t always mean you do everything perfectly. And to that end, if things are going off the rails, it’s never too late to pull it back. The only way you can’t get it back is if you’re too stubborn to adapt for the sake of your pride and ego. If you can get out of your own way, you can lead well even after an error (or several).
Lastly, don’t be a jerk on the phone to people. I rarely do it, but when I do I always feel like a jackass after the fact. That lady wasn’t trying to make me mad. I certainly couldn’t control the circumstances presented to me, but I could have controlled my response to it a bit better.
So, that’s how living like a pilgrim can teach you to lead better.♦