• Lijing Cobb

The main switch

A few days ago I opened the freezer door to get something out, and the lights in the freezer went out. Crap. Another appliance trouble. When my husband got home I told him about it, and we waited to confirm that the freezer had stopped working completely and it was not just an issue of the lights burning out.

When things started to thaw in the freezer, I moved the contents of the freezer out. Should I call the freezer company or the electrician? I decided on the electrician.

My electrician kindly advised that I ascertain whether it was an outlet issue or a freezer problem first before having him come in. To do that we would have to unbolt the built-in freezer and slide it out of its containment. Finally last night my husband had some time to look at it, and we were both in the kitchen trying to figure out how to move the unit out without breaking it. “It’s above my pay grade!” My husband concluded when the freezer wouldn’t budge. So I went to the drawer of owner’s manuals and pulled out the freezer manual. I had thought about checking the manual for a while now. The devil stopped me from doing it till then, I swear. Somewhere in the reading process I hit the words “turn off the main switch.”

“Where the heck is the main switch?” My husband and I both wondered out loud. Following the diagram on the manual I knelt down on the floor, poked my head in the now warm freezer, looked up under the middle shelf, and saw the mysterious switch. Upon depressing that magical button, the lights came on with all the familiar whirs of a live and well machine.

Of course, the solution had to be that simple. You probably wouldn’t believe it if I told you that we’ve owned and enjoyed this appliance for the last 9 years, blissfully ignorant of the existence of the magic main switch, until a few days ago when it got accidentally depressed in the wrong direction.

Dumbfounded and humbled by the ingenuity of German engineering, I told my husband to keep the freezer off for the night and let me “stew in the situation” a bit longer. It’s pretty shocking to realize that for 9 years I didn’t know the existence of the button that kept an appliance I used every day running, and we were only introduced to each other yesterday by an accident.

I’ve never liked reading owner’s manuals. I would only touch an owner’s manual if I had absolutely no other choice. I believe my life would have been so much easier and simpler if only I had paid more attention to owner’s manuals. But I haven’t.

Yesterday my daughter’s school had a bingo night, a school wide event with an invitation for the whole family to participate in. As I drove my kids to the event through pouring rain, I wanted to retreat back to home, thinking that many people probably decided to not go because of the weather. When we got there and situated ourselves at a table, the entire cafeteria filled up with people amiably chatting with each other. My kids saw kids they know; I saw parents I know. But somehow we ended up seated at a table by ourselves. Decades of being introverted in social situations makes me not want to break the pattern and make more of an effort to be social. Nothing much changed last night. I enjoyed not talking to other people.

My kids got bingo in turn, the oldest first, the middle one second, and the youngest one last. Before getting their bingos, they were all getting very frustrated with getting close but not quite there. My oldest was very grouchy, my middle one was irritated to say the least, and my little one was loud with protestations. I tried to feel their pain, but my brain was busy reflecting on the nature of the game of bingo. A game of pure chance and no skill. Why would I ever want to base my happiness off of such a game? So I didn’t respond physically to my kids’ cries for sympathy. I kept my eyes on all their bingo cards though, and as soon as they got bingo, I was the first one to raise my hand on their behalf. Human nature, right? To get excited over little things that by no means reflect our merits.

When we got home I recounted to my husband how our oldest daughter has been throwing her attitude around lately. Using the night’s example I started saying 1, 2, 3… and I heard every word I said to my husband, the just arbiter, and waited for the vindication and support that I knew would come from my parenting partner. My husband corroborates with me on parenting; I can count on him backing me up in almost all situations. But a sense of unease cast a long shadow over my sense of “victory.” I’ve been having way too much compassion for my own causes and very little for my kids these days. If they misbehave, they deserve the consequences. If I misbehave, I have my reasons and I forgive myself. I was starting to feel like a cheat.

This morning I got up to go downstairs. Our 11yo dog was already barking downstairs to be let out. I started to get annoyed, and then realized that he does this only as a result of my training. Aside from asking me for food, water, and going outside to do his business, this dog hardly gets my attention. I’ve coexisted with him for the past 11 years, resigning to the fact that he’s my husband’s dog and would only get up and dance around when daddy is home. I’ve never consistently given him a chance to present himself to me for any other reasons than the ones listed above, the bare essentials. Why should I get annoyed by being used as his begrudging servant then? I did this to him. I trained him to not shower me with his attention and affection. I said no to more in our relationship.

Every day we get to repeat a lot of things, and relationships are often taken for granted. We don’t change on a daily basis, right? So it goes when we play roles in our lives and perform our functions as expected. It is so easy to lose sight of where we were yesterday and where we’d like to go tomorrow, because today seems to be the same as yesterday and most likely won’t be any different tomorrow. But as I sit here typing away in front of my computer, knowing that my affairs are so much more orderly than before; my efforts, although not always successful, are always focusing on the present moment; despite the mean streaks here and there that leak out of a past riddled with wounds and scars, my intentions reach towards kindness always like flowers bloom towards the light: I know that I’m better than ok.

But back to the freezer scare that caused quite a bit of physical, mental, and emotional disturbances, all because of the fact that I was ignorant of the existence of the main switch. If only I had known, I would have saved myself and everyone else involved so much trouble and grief. What is my main switch? What keeps me running? Do I know the existence of that switch?

Do I know my husband’s? My kids’?

This morning as I walked up our driveway after seeing my daughter off on her school bus, I was greeted by our house framed in spring. As my eyes took in the view, my heart acknowledged the truth of what I saw. All these things and people are here to fill my existence with their beauty. I am the main switch that power up my world.

Keep it powered on. There is so much more to look forward to.

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