On the Verge of Indoor Plumbing

Last night, John announced to me that he was on the verge of indoor plumbing. This sort of context-free statement is not unusual in our household. We’re both prone to using peculiar phrases to express thoughts we don’t quite have words for. Usually I can follow his non sequiturs, but to this I could only wonder… Was this a metaphor for his current state of being in some way? Physical or emotional? Should I be disturbed? Was there something wrong with our apartment that I wasn’t aware of?

My blank stare must have given away my bafflement because he quickly clarified, “In Dwarf Fortress. I’m on the verge of indoor plumbing in Dwarf Fortress.”

Which made all the sense in the world. Dwarf Fortress is a graphically-challenged systems game that he’s been wrapped up in lately. (Think uber-complicated Oregon Trail, only with dwarven pioneers and a fortress in place of a trail.) I laughed when I realized what he meant and explained what I had been thinking, which kept us puzzling over what he might mean if the announcement had been applied to his mental state.

As a major technological development, the most obvious choice is to compare it to a breakthrough in a problem you’ve been puzzling on. Given that indoor plumbing has been around a while, I think it would be fair to apply it to the kind of problem that has beenĀ  wrestled with by others many times before. Like reinventing the wheel, only with the connotation that the invention is positive for the circumstances.

For example, I was on the verge of indoor plumbing at work yesterday morning. My program is held in a school cafeteria which also has a stage built on one side, and the stage is strictly off limits to the kids because of various equipment that’s kept up there. It’s torture for them, though, because the stage is only two tiny steps up from the cafeteria floor, and it’s so much fun to run around up there. They often sit on the edge of the stage, which I have been Ms. Meanie about as well. When they whine and complain and ask me why, however, I haven’t had much better reasoning than, “Because I said so.”

We all know how much sticking power that answer has.

As I was sitting on the stage yesterday to reach under on of the tables for some discarded toys, I stood up and found myself standing on the bottom step. From there, it’s just the teeniest step to the stage itself, and there I had my plumbing moment: Sitting is a gateway drug to standing, which leads to running if you’re under the age of twelve.

The same rule applies to the folded-up bleachers in the gym, which are also strictly forbidden. The kids protest, “But we’re just sitting here!” every time I warn them off. And sure, it starts out harmlessly enough with sitting. But the next thing you know, one person will decide that standing is safe. His friends will stand up too, and then they’ll want to move around. And once you get more than one child moving along a six-inch-wide channel, you will inevitably get a domino effect when one kid trips on a shoelace, careens into the others, and sends one of the three-feet-tall kindergarteners plummeting to the gym floor, three feetĀ  and 9.8 meters-per-second-squared away. I’m not much of a math or physics person, but I know that equation does not end in giggles.

I know I am not the first person to have this revelation that sitting leads to standing. I imagine every parent since the dawn of time has known this. (“Ogg, get away from the side of that cliff!” “But Ma, I’m just sitting here!”) My own mother has always told us where not to sit, although, given that she was more often swatting me away from the kitchen counter and the dining table, her concerns might have been slightly different. So the fact that I can have an epiphany about this idea of sitting as a gateway to standing, which was undoubtedly impressed upon me as a child, leads me to another piece of understanding.

My kids are not going to listen to or hear my explanation of why they can’t sit on the stage no matter how many times they ask why with a whine in their voice, so there’s a good chance I’d be able to save our time for more valuable teaching moments by sticking with the infamous old standby: “Because I said so.”