A few weeks ago, on a spring teaser of a glorious Saturday, Brett and I took our children to get new bicycles.
You see, they had grown over the winter, my Andrew and Zoe, as children are wont to do. One day, everything was status quo, and the next, their pants were short, and their wrists stuck out of their long sleeve shirts. When seated on their old bicycles, they were all elbows and knees. Even their heads had gotten bigger, as determined by the woman who helped us select not only bicycles, but new safety helmets too.
So we upgraded to the next size, color, shape, and model of gear for the season ahead and handed over the credit card. Then we brought the shiny equipment home and stared at it proudly.
Now all we needed to do was teach the kids to ride.
I began typing. “Do you have a good bicycle teacher? I need a guy.” I selected a bunch of friends from my address book and hit send.
The emails responding to my question poured in the next morning.
The best one came from my friend Laurie. “No, but I’ve got a grill guy, a camp lady, and a guy to help you cut the line at Disney, if you need.”
Good to know! I took the name of the camp lady and continued opening emails until I happened upon one with a bike guy.
It’s not that I’m lazy. Although I sort of am. It’s not that I’m uncoordinated on a bicycle, even. Though I definitely am. It’s just that, when it comes to certain tasks, I feel ill-equipped and would rather put the job in the hands of a so-called professional.
I mean, no one would expect me to fix a broken dishwasher, clean my house’s gutters, or teach my kids math when they get to the high school, right?
There are experts out there for tasks like that, with technical knowledge, whom we have traditionally deferred to. Like the auto mechanic, the plumber, and the SAT prep team. No one would bat an eye at me for hiring one of them. But at some point, these trades evolved through a type of upper middle class Darwinism, creating what I’d like to call the Tier II specialists, a species that helps to make life’s overwhelming tasks seem more manageable. Although this Tier II cohort of connoisseurs is certainly not necessary, they have become part of our regular vocabulary. Think baby nurse, party planner, college guru. It used to be that you could burp your own baby, plan his bar mitzvah, and write his college essay for him all by yourself. But thanks to cultural evolution, there’s a guy (gal?) for that.
Let’s go one step further. I like to think that I can read a book, get together with some friends, and discuss said book over cookies and wine. But there are those who might insinuate that my leader-less book group is incomplete. What we need, apparently, in the armchair of importance in the corner of our living rooms, is a paid, professional reading liaison. This person asks us the same questions about the text that we can filch off the internet or find in the back of our reading group paperbacks, or — dare I suggest it — come up with ourselves!
Now that’s a cushy Tier III niche market industry right there.
Let me explain. Tier III specialists include the nichiest of professional niches, such as the guy who picks up dog poop from your back yard for you should you have an electric fence. That way, you can just let your dog out the back door to conduct her business and not have to walk her or clean up after her.
Yes, there’s a guy for that.
I’m suddenly thinking about getting a dog.
Because, in this ever-increasing world of specialized technical knowledge, I’ve come to see that we don’t have to do it all. In fact, we don’t have to do much of anything!
Is it learned helplessness? Do we just give up too easily if we have the money and/or lack the time and interest to complete these tasks ourselves? Or, is it based on some sort of fear that, if everyone else is doing it a certain way and you don’t, you’ll end up losing out somehow? I’m not sure.
There’s the IT guy who fixes your internet connection, the home organizer who re-arranges your kitchen pantry for maximum efficiency, and the personal shopper who examines your closets and tells you what to keep, what to toss, and how to wear that old blazer so it looks fresh. (Hint: belt it and roll up the sleeves. I just saved you $75 bucks.)
Now let’s take “camp” as a category. There’s someone to help you select your child’s sleep away camp and then someone to tell you what to buy for that camp and then someone to put nametags in the camper’s clothing. There’s someone who will package and send bunk junk to him in Maine, and then someone else entirely to boil his disgusting after-camp laundry and yet another person to pick lice out of his hair when he comes home scratching.
On a nice day last summer, Brett and I were in front of our house with Andrew and Zoe, not teaching them to ride their bicycles. I turned to watch my neighbor for a while, who was also out enjoying the day. He was walking back and forth across his lawn, pushing something.
“What is he doing?” I asked Brett.
“Seriously?” Brett replied, giving me an odd look.
“Julie, he’s cutting the grass.”
Can you believe it?
My next door neighbor actually mows his own lawn! How retro is that? Manual labor!
It’s gotten to the point where my brain cannot even register people who take it upon themselves to complete tasks that could be doled out to a sub-contractor.
It’s a slippery slope from personal trainer to bicycle tutor, that’s all I’m saying.
Maybe you taught your own child to ride his bicycle. Maybe you even view this task as a rite of parenting passage, and you proudly admit how you taught all three of your kids to ride in the park next to your house. Well, good for you.
Metaphorically speaking, I am not that guy. I am the guy that needs that guy.
Dear reader, you are going to have an opinion about this, I am sure. And that’s fine. That’s why I air my comical — if not somewhat deranged — life in the newspaper. So that you are entertained, a. And to perhaps spark some conversation on the train platform, b. Please, turn to a fellow commuter and ask them: what tasks that you could have accomplished yourself did you hand off to a so-called guy, like a baton in the great relay of life? And, how did delegating that responsibility make you feel? And, conversely, which tasks are those you do yourself?
And, finally, if you know a guy who can come and re-grout the concrete between my front steps, could you please let me know? Thanks a ton.