Rachel and I went all in this Christmas for the kids. With the help of my parents we purchased a playset for the backyard. Now, the mere mention of playsets in my family is enough to evoke either laughter or migraines, because once upon a time my parents purchased a playset and assembled it together in the garage on Christmas Eve.
My mother's reasoning was solid: she wanted her boys (my brother and I) to be able to play on the set Christmas morning. And we did - we had a ball swinging and sliding and just enjoying ourselves in general. Once Christmas day had passed, it was time to move the set out of the garage to its permanent home in our backyard.
As my parents discovered, playsets are supposed to be erected outdoors for a reason: when my parents tried to pick the set up and move it outside, it simply would not fit out the garage door. No matter how many ways they turned it or tried to shove it, that sucker simply would not budge.
Which meant my father had to take the blasted thing apart and reassemble it. Like I mentioned at the top of the post, the man is gracious.
So yesterday, armed with that family history, a power drill, some borrowed socket wrenches and my pitiful little toolbox, my dad and I set out to give my kids the gift of play. The instructions recommended that the set could be put together by one adult with "an adult helper" in as little as eight hours. "Easy to assemble" the instructions promised. Of course the instructions also said to read them entirely through before attempting to assemble, and to also make sure to have the number of a good contractor handy in case you screwed up royally. Dad and I did neither.
My father opened the book up and said, "Okay - here's what we do first. We've got to build the walls."
And so we did. It took a long time because the walls were held together by 4-inch bolts on lock washers that had to be tightened by hand because we didn't have a drill bit that would fit the WH head. (And if you know what a WH head is, please tell me.) Then the base of the wall had to have holes drilled for its screws, and by the time we finished both we were two hours into the eight hour process. Of course, it didn't help that we built one wall completely bass-ackwards; conveniently, the easy-assemble instructions didn't point out that the walls had to mirror each other. So we had to take one wall apart and reassemble it all over again.
"This feels familiar," my dad muttered.
Once we got the outer walls framed, we began to build the rest of the structure. We attached the header boards, some platform supports, and other things that I can't remember the words for. Then we had to screw in the flooring for one of the platforms. Dad grabbed the wood (with Ella and Jon's help) and brought it to me, and I just started knockin' 'em out. Soon enough we had the lower platform completed floored, and the top one was coming along when my dad said, "That's the last piece of wood for that one."
"What do you mean?" I asked, looking at the gaping 4-inch board sized hole in the platform. "There has to be another piece."
"Well, there's only supposed to be 15. How many you got up there?"
I did a quick count: 15.
"What the heck, man?" I turned to dad. "Did we screw up?"
Dad re-read the instructions and realized that there was a missing board that was labeled differently. He handed it up and I plopped it down in the hole. A good two inches short.
"It doesn't fill the hole," I said.
"That's all the wood that's supposed to be up there. The instructions just say to 'space evenly'."
I looked at the platform. Each of the 15 planks were screwed into place by five one and a half inch wood screws. That meant I was going to have to unscrew at least half of them in order to space the boards out so that there would be no dangerous holes. I took a deep breath and began to unscrew. Dad suggested using a small washer as a spacer, and soon enough the work was done. No problem.
Then dad looked at the lower platform and said, "Wait, that one is supposed to have a little piece of wood like that one."
I stood there, staring. Sure enough, I had used one too many pieces of a certain type of wood on the lower platform. And wouldn't you know it, the correct piece of wood was a tiny little one that required me to unscrew almost all of the lower platform and "space evenly"?
Four hours down. Three near total reassembles. And we were still only on step 5. Out of, like, 205.
Easy to assemble my butt.
Fortunately, the rest of the day went well. We were able to get the third story on the structure, got both pitched roofs assembled, installed all of the braces and anchors, and even got the crossbar mount ready for the swing beam. Of course, we did almost all of this in a persistent, nagging drizzle that never really got you wet but left you awfully damp.
And yet, despite all of these things, I never really lost my temper. Never got short with my father or transferred any anger to the kids or Rachel. Amazingly, it was kind of fun. Dad and I laughed a lot, and I enjoyed the feeling of building something lasting for my kids. Jon was in and out of the construction zone all day, and he was so pumped up about seeing the playset going up that he would just scream at random and then jump up and down. Ella came out and helped us sort wood, and she didn't need that much help; her reading skills have grown nearly astronomically since school started, and she was able to easily identify the letters and numbers stamped on the wood, and then stack the pieces by the stamps. And Rachel was able to use the time to get stuff done inside, like cleaning and wrapping Christmas presents.
Perhaps, though, what I enjoyed the most was just being with my dad. We've not had much time together lately, and we're not exactly the kind that have long heart to hearts even when we do get together. But to be able to work with him, side by side, for almost eight hours was a wonderful thing. There were times that I wanted to ask him about what kind of things he used to do with his dad, but never did. Pop's death in August was a tough time for our family, and we made it through Thanksgiving okay, but understandably sad. I think Christmas will be the same, as it is for any first occasion where Pop isn't there.
And with that absence looming, it was a gift to be able to be present with my father. To laugh with him, to be able to work with him as both a son and an equal. Perhaps most precious of all, to be able to add one more story to my memory banks.
With the rain falling steadily today, we've decided that we'll finish the project on Friday. And while we have a bit more to assemble (included a rock wall with 12,000 rocks that have to be screwed into place), I look forward to being with him again, working side by side, not saying much and yet so much being said between us.
A son can't ask for much more for Christmas.