Dumb Mistake? Brilliant Move.

Who in your life puzzles you the most? Your spouse? Your boss? Your president?

For me it’s my brother Matt. For starters, he’s a PhD engineer with exceptional communication and human relation skills. I know lots of brilliant engineers and lots of talented communicators but both in one person? Harder to find these days than Richard Simmons.

Matt’s married (to a lawyer, of course) with three boys, lives atop a cold, windy mountain in NY State, and tends by himself all 75 acres of land that surround him. He built his own house, cuts his own firewood, hunts and grows his own food, has no TV, and insists on driving total crap cars that he services on his own. You get the picture? Smart, charming guy with a storybook family who could breeze through life but chooses instead to spend his free time laboring like a protagonist from Grapes of Wrath.

Spring Break is a perfect example of Matt the Enigma, as the rest of our family escapes to sunny Florida while Matt chooses to stay home and struggle through a miserable process: making maple syrup. Have you ever done this? It’s novel to tap a couple maple trees and boil a little sap into a spoonful of syrup but go beyond a short afternoon activity with the kids and it turns into a frigid, smoky, sleep depriving slog. Trust me, unless you have the latest equipment and technology (which, of course, Dr. Matt does not), syrup making absolutely sucks compared to a week of R&R in Florida.

For days he taps trees, collects sap, stokes a fire day and night, and slowly boils down over a hundred gallons of sap into a few gallons of sweet nectar, all while his loyal wife gazes out at the snowy landscape and checks in on how the rest of the family is enjoying the beach. (Renee, You are a saint.)

After days of misery Matt’s ready for the finishing touch, draining those few gallons of precious syrup from the boiling pan into a jar. Imagine Matt’s satisfaction as he gently pours his warm, delicious, hard-earned syrup into the jar, knowing he’s forged with his own hands a year’s worth of delicacy.

Why, then, did the Lawrence family’s only-ever PhD end up last week on his hands and knees, buried in the snow, face covered in a sticky mess, howling like an angry wolf that had just lost its prey? Because after all those hours, all that work, all that misery, my kid brother chose to set his jar on an uneven surface. Just as he’d poured the last drop of syrup into the jar, he caught a glimpse of his mistake. To his horror, the jar toppled over and his syrup disappeared beneath the snow.

Oh, the agony! In Matt’s words: “For a second I just stood there, mouth agape, not believing the tragedy I’d just witnessed. Then I fell to my knees and madly began scooping the snow back into the pan in hopes I could salvage some of the syrup. Well, that wasn’t working at all so I figured, “What the hell. Either I gorge myself right now or I’ll never get a taste.””
So down he went, face buried in the snow, gorging for all he’s worth on his self-made maple syrup snow cone.
Back to Matt: “When I finally surfaced, my hands and face were covered in sticky snow and I had the worst ever ice cream headache.”
At least I think that’s what he said because by this part of the story we were laughing so hard neither of us could breathe.

Perhaps like me you grew up with a brother who never had to study, always aced his tests, breezed through college, and can do more with a crescent wrench than you can do with Home Depot’s entire inventory. If that’s the case, then you know I took ZERO pity on a moment of dumbass that made me feel I still have a chance in a battle of wits.

Well, brother Matt, thank you for the flash of dumbo. Even if only for a moment, you gave your brother a sense that maybe, just maybe, you’re a real human being.

To my readers, what can we learn from my brother? For one, gravity always wins. Two, leave the maple syrup process to the experts. Three, show your human side! I gotta tell you, self-deprecating stories about your innocent failures win more hearts than anything you can share about your perfections.

Whatever satisfaction our family woulda gotten from that syrup is nothing compared to the laughter and lessons we learned from my brother’s disaster. Fail often and laugh it off, and I’ll bet you go through life with more smiles and more friends than Mr. or Mrs. Perfect ever will.