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One of parenting first challenges: Overcoming fear of electricity

I had watched enough of "This Old House" to know that do-it-yourself projects didn’t have to be intimidating.

I had also watched enough "Home Improvement" to know that … in the hands of an amateur… a do-it-yourself project was one short step from a trip to the ER.

That’s why my mouth said, "What a thoughtful gift!" while my brain said, "I wonder if I could exchange it for a Cap Snaffler?"

Steven was a newborn, and a friend had brought us a gift — a new light switch plate for Steven’s room.

It really was beautiful: ornate scalloped edges with tiny, delicate flowers and a little pair of baby shoes, all molded in ceramic in shades of white, pink and blue that reminded me of cake frosting.


The only problem was that it wouldn’t work in Steven’s room; our house was outfitted with pad-type light switches, while the switch plate was made for standard switches.

This gift deserved better than to end up on a shelf in the basement or being re-gifted. It was obviously picked out with great care, and it needed to become part of Steven’s room.

Yet I knew that would only happen (and this is when my vision blurred) if I replaced the existing light switch with one that would fit with the new plate.

Not friends

The problem is that tools and I are not on friendly terms, and replacing a light switch involved more than just pounding a nail into the wall to hang a picture, which, in the past, has required Band-Aids and repainting the living room or replacing a cracked windowpane, which has required duct tape and a fire extinguisher.

No, this project involved electricity.

The same stuff they used to run through condemned men.

I felt like one.


I called my handy repair service and asked for some how-to advice: "Turn off the electricity to the bedroom, remove the wires from the old switch, attach them to the new switch and turn the power back on," he explained.


I resisted the urge to ask, "How soon can you be here?"

My son, my project.

At least I knew where the electric panel was: it was in the basement, next to the doohickey for the furnace and the thingamajig for the water softener.

"Guest bedroom" was written on a label next to one of the switches.

I threw the switch into the "off" position and went back up to the bedroom.

The ceiling light was off and the electric clock radio was no longer displaying its red numerals.


Either I had successfully turned off the electricity to the room or the light bulb and the radio had coincidentally burned out at the same time.

Maybe they would write that on my tombstone, but the electricity seemed to be off.

I pulled a screwdriver out of my toolbox with a growing sense of confidence.

While the screws that held the old switch plate came out easily, the feeling of confidence quickly faded when I peeked into the dusty space behind the old plate.

It was filled with wires that two minutes earlier were channeling enough electricity to give me a hairstyle Don King would envy.

Inspiration on the job

I thought about my repairman. Then I thought about Steven.

"I might not be handy," I vowed to him, "but I’m determined."

I loosened the light switch from its bracket, dried my hands on my jeans, took a deep breath and slipped the tip of my screwdriver into the slot on a screw that held down an electric wire.

Nothing tingled or sizzled, and my hair wasn’t smoking. Five minutes later, I gently tightened the last screw that held the new switch plate in place.

I slid the switch on the electric panel back into the "on" position, and by the time I got back to the bedroom the clock radio was flashing "12:00."

The ceramic switch plate looked just right in a baby’s room, and the new light switch worked just the way it was supposed to: I had expected the garage door to go up every time I turned on the light.

Best of all, I did it myself.


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