I do a fair amount of DIY projects, and over the weekend I started making a twin size bed frame for our 2-year-old daughter. I thought this would be easy, not only because a bed is a relatively simple piece of furniture, but also because when I say “making”, I’m really describing the process of completing something we bought off Craigslist.
For $40 bucks, we found two similarly styled twin beds. They’re both solid oak—a steal for any DIYer. Sebastian has been using his for at least a year now, and Sophia is ready to transition to a big girl bed. The issue with Sophia’s bed frame was that instead of wooden side rails, it came with two industrial steel beams. Not sharp enough to slice skin, but thin enough to be a hazard. I admire my kids’ thirst for adventure, but if spontaneous off-the-bed diving contests occur, their heads would whip millimeters away from the bed rail knife edge. Abby and I spent some time trying to modify the existing rails, only to decide that building new ones was the best solution.
I purchased the lumber, screws, and paint (sorry woodworkers, yes, I had to paint the oak) at the local Home Depot. The trip to the hardware store is usually where my enthusiasm shifts to caution, and eventually turns to frustration. The beginning of my annoyance starts when I glance down at my receipt to find out that I’ve blown past my intended project budget. But it doesn’t stop there– I always notice the DIY flaws after I get home. There might be a crack in the lumber, a knot hole where a nail was going to go, a discoloration in the wood. And when I get over those problems, there’s the painstaking amount of time for sanding, staining, and finishing. I always seem to forget that multiple coats of paint, stain, or varnish triples or quadruples the amount of time required. My DIY projects rarely take a day. They’re usually finished after three or four weekends.
I should learn the lesson of never going to IKEA during or immediately after a project. Walking around the display floor the other day, I saw an outdoor patio table with similar dimensions to the one I built earlier in the summer. I normally would have walked past without a second thought, but when I saw the price tag equal the mere materials cost for my handmade version, I questioned why I still undertake any projects. Simply buying the IKEA version would have taken a couple hours to set up, as opposed to the month of weekend time that I committed to watching lacquer dry.
When I finish the bed project, I still face the issue of the kids and their lack of respect for the fruits of my meticulous labor. No matter how often I remind them that a table is not a runway and bookshelves are not a jungle gym, they have a knack for turning any environment into their personal playground. It’s not that they don’t take instruction; they hear me and even verbally repeat the lessons. However, remembering those lessons and assigning importance to them rarely seems to be my children’s priority.
I know kids aren’t perfect out of the womb, but they somehow grow actively disengaged with a parent’s education. It almost seems like they’re intentionally trying to thwart me. Frustrations reach a boiling point after the tantrums, the need to constantly supervise, the need to repeat myself. They don’t learn things the first time. They don’t learn it the second time. By the third time they learn, but still disobey because apparently it’s fun to watch Daddy bristle.
As a stay-at-home mom, Abby deals with this on a daily basis. At work, I might have a break while I walk to a meeting, and I can usually get a half hour to look away from my computer and enjoy lunch. When I’m at work and talk to Abby on the phone, I hear one kid crying in the background, while the other screams defiantly. There are no breaks for a stay-at-home parent. If we were both working parents, daycare would be our savior. We would drive them somewhere, kiss them goodbye, then pick them up after they’ve been tired out. Daycare has disadvantages that I don’t want to get into, but they at least have a structured approach to teaching kids. For a few hours a day, the daycare folks take the heat off parents. It allows a parent to work or have more time for themselves. As long as parents find a trusted group of adults to watch their rambunctious offspring on weekdays, daycare allows a mom or dad to come home from an exhausting work day with enough capacity be a great parent for at least the rest of the day.
Although I complain about my DIY projects progressing behind schedule or beyond initial cost estimates, I always find myself coming back to finish them, then undertake new ones. It’s an exercise in endurance, and it took a few years to see the benefits, but now a number of DIY pieces adorn our home. They mostly fill a practical need, such as an entryway bench, train table, or shelving system, but with some artistry and a personal touch. And despite taking time and effort, I feel like they embody a sense of quality. Each piece meets my personal standards, and I trust the workmanship. Each of those knot holes, once a sign of structural weakness, has become a badge of originality. When my kids inevitably use a piece of furniture as a human launch pad, I know that the glue and screws should hold. I’ll know they sat atop my bench while they learned to tie shoelaces, I’ll know they completed their Lego masterpiece on table I built specifically for them. They’ll build their stories of childhood alongside the objects around them, solidified into the grain of sanded oak, anchored into memory through every inflicted scratch and dent.