Dismantled and unglued

Because my husband is a wonderful father, and perhaps even a litle over zealous in his attempts to further our son's education, he naturally assumed responsibility for showing our three year old the delicate knack of using a screwdriver.

It was the lawnmower they were originally ''fixing.'' Our son, delighting in his new found dexterity, helped my husband completely disassemble the lawnmower into what looked to be hundreds of very important little pieces. I marveled at my husband's patience. ''Turn it the other way now . . . you got it. You GOT it! Great! See, now we can take this part off.''

''Do you know where all those pieces go?'' I just had to ask.

''Sure we do,'' he said confidently, ''don't we, Ben?''

''Yup.''

By noon they had the promise of trimmed pastures scattered about the carport. The vital pieces, like the air filter and the carburetor, were carefully placed on clean newspaper. The others, like the piston and the pull cord starter, lay on the cold cement floor. ''Now let's put her back together,'' my husband said enthusiastically.

''Right,'' I murmured. ''And then would you mind putting the muffler back on my car before I get arrested?'' That had been last Saturday's project.

A few hours later they had finished. A dozen or so pieces still lay on the gray cement floor. Curiosity got the better of me. ''What about those? Dead weight?''

''I don't know where those go.'' (It is refreshing to know a man who doesn't know everything.) ''I'm going to try to work them in.''

Our son had lost interest in the reassembling process, taking directly after a side of the family I am trying desperately to understand. My husband, being an older version, managed to keep working a while longer.

They sat back to back on the carpet floor discussing the weather, cars, and other modes of transportation.

''Why do trikes have wheels, Dad?''

''Because wheels are round and roll!''

About this time a wheel rolled across the carport floor. This brought a casual glance from my husband. ''What are you doing, son?''

''Oh, I'm fixin' my trike.''

Not ever being one to stifle creative genius he said, ''Well, that's fine, but be sure you put the screws in your shoe so we can put it back together when I'm done with the lawnmower, OK?''

''OK, Dad.''

This was Saturday. By Tuesday we had enough loose screws to fill my husband's knee-high fishing waders to the brim and then some. My husband had long since taken the lawnmower to ''Al's,'' the neighborhood fix-it shop, to convalesce with my dishwasher and the air conditioner.

My husband was quick to our son's defense. ''It's all part of learning, dear. You have to take things apart before you can learn to put them together.''

He convinced me it would all be worthwhile. Such dexterity and determination was a sure sign of genius. Ben would no doubt be enrolled at Cal Tech by age five. ''Is that when he learns how to put the screws back in?'' I asked.

''Right,'' he laughed, as he closed the kitchen cupboard with a triumphant slap. It now hung at such an angle I could see boxes of Cheerios glaring back at me. ''Just keep your sense of humor.''

We took great pains to rechannel our son's desire to unscrew. My husband dragged home an old TV, a sad looking washing machine, and a large object we have yet to catalog. He put them in the carport and the boy genius had the time of his life. ''Experience is the best teacher,'' my husband reiterated. And once our son had the experience. . . .

''Hey, Mom. What needs 'fixin'?''

''Not a thing,'' I answered nervously.

''Want me to 'fix' the car?''

''No!''

''I could 'fix' your dishwasher?''

''What dishwasher?''

''OK, then,'' Finally assured that my needs were met, he announced, ''I'm going to 'fix' my wagon!''

''Go for it!'' I beamed.

My son was appalled when a few days later I asked him for his screwdriver because in all previous colloquies I had praised him for his agility and miraculous ingenuity. I tried to explain.

''You took the doorbell apart. Daddy won't be able to fix that.''

''But, Mom, Al can fix it.''

''Al doesn't have time to fix everything!''

Reluctantly my son began turning in his screwdrivers. As he brought me one he said, ''This is Dad's biggest and goodest screwdriver, Mom. And, he will be very , very angry if you lose it.''

''Boy, it is big.''

''It's for 'fixin' really big stuff, like bulldozers and houses.''

''You mean this screwdriver could 'fix' our house?''

''Yup.''

''Well then. I know just what to do with it.''

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