Straws. We all experience episodes of them stacking up on our backs. This past summer was full of them. Especially July. First, my youngest daughter returned to a classroom for the first time in two years. She had been on independent study. The transition back to the classroom has been challenging for her; it didn’t help that the other students in the class apparently don’t take education quite as seriously as I do, since on the day before the Independence Day holiday, everyone in the class but my daughter failed to show up. Admittedly the special class she is in is a small one: only seven students counting her. Still. She was upset about being alone and begged me to let her come home and began escalating (she has significant mental health issues.) Thankfully the principal happened to be right there and did a great job of talking her down. Since then, she continues to adjust to the routine, with relatively minor outbursts.

Straw. My youngest daughter suddenly decided to give me a hug. Normally that is a good thing and I appreciate it. Unfortunately, my cellphone was in my hand at the time and she knocked it out. It landed on asphalt and the screen shattered. I hurriedly picked it up as she asked me “Is your phone okay?” I told her “it’s fine.” I didn’t want to tell her what had really happened because she would be devastated. Unfortunately, the next day she picked up my phone and noticed the shattered screen—and became as upset as I expected. She perseverated on it for days, repeatedly telling me how sorry she was and how bad she felt about it. I kept reassuring her that it would be okay and that “those things happen.” And it wasn’t really such a big deal. The phone is two years old, the power button hasn’t been working for the past year, and so it was time to replace it anyhow. This just hurried the process.

Straw. The sewer line—the pipe that runs from our house to the city sewer system in the street—clogged up. I went and rented a snake—a power driven router. It was very heavy—close to a hundred pounds and not easy to get in and out of my van. I’ve had this happen before: after all, the house I live in is 34 years old, and so I wasn’t worried about it. Unfortunately, the on-off switch—a foot pedal—was somewhat twitchy and fussy. I got my wife to come out to push it down while I fed the snake into the drain. Doubly unfortunately, the snake came to a sudden halt somewhere in the middle of my lawn and simply would not pass. I spent three hours trying to send it through to no avail. I finally gave up and called a plumber, who charged more than double what the rental for the snake was. He worked hard—with a better snake that had more power and a variety of bits—and managed to clear the blockage. He talked about our likely need of having to replace the sewer line and scared my wife with the cost estimate—between eight and twenty thousand dollars. But he also recommended we start dumping some copper sulfate down the drain every month in order to kill off and dissolve any roots that might be trying to infiltrate the pipes and causing the blockages.

I did a bit of research and discovered that it isn’t impossible to replace the sewer line yourself. The biggest expense would be renting the backhoe to dig the trench for replacing the pipe: about two hundred fifty dollars per day. The pipe itself is four inch diameter PVC that is available at Home Depot for around forty dollars per twenty-foot long section. Given that I’ve dug up by hand and fixed a leak in the pipe that brings water into my house, I figure I should be able to fix the one that takes it back out. And rather than thousands of dollars, it will cost me only a few hundred—assuming it comes to that.

It was later that day, after the clog was cleared, that my youngest daughter told me that one of her friends had been over recently and had flushed her feminine hygiene product—and its wrapper—down our toilet. So I’m thinking that might have been responsible for this particular problem. When my daughter’s friend comes over again we’ll be carefully explaining to her that pads and their wrappers should never be flushed down a toilet. But this wasn’t the first time, of course. We’d had a similar problem with tampons when we had a French foreign exchange student stay with us a couple of years ago. Apparently the plumbing in France is designed to handle such things. In southern California, not so much.

So, three straws in less than a week. But the straws were not finished. At the end of the week I saw my oldest daughter fly back to New York. She’d been here for five weeks during her summer break. I suppose that was a fourth straw. And then she called me about a problem with a traffic ticket she got. Sigh. Straw number five.

Nevertheless, despite all these straws, my back is merely strained, not broken. And I’m probably a long way away from the last straw.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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