Completing a complicated project, start to finish, takes a certain je ne sais quoi when you have little kids.
(You parents are all saying, “Duh,” right?)
Even small tasks, like this column, take 39 times longer than necessary when you consider the 15 fights you have to referee and the 24 times you have to repeat that no, we are not going to Dairy Queen today.
Yet somehow I have become interested in the most unlikely and — considering my daily allotment of seven minutes of free time — unsuitable of hobbies: furniture building.
Sometimes passion grips you and propels you to the finish, as it did when I finally installed the epic big-boy fort/loft bed I’d been working on since my youngest son turned 3 in May.
It started as a whim two weeks before his birthday. He’d get his big boy bed when he turned 3, just as big brother had when he got his Corvette bed, complete with working headlights. (Note: It is unwise to set a precedent of a Corvette bed with working headlights.)
We had to live up to that awesomeness with the second child, and I happened to have newly acquired some skill on a miter saw, thanks to a community building project I’d volunteered for last spring. So I asked for a miter saw for Mother’s Day …
(Mandatory children-coddling break. Perfect example of why I can’t get anything done: Oldest demands an apple, sliced! Youngest demands a movie. Pop in movie, descend stairs and — ack! What is that yellow puddle, and who made the wet footprints leading away from it? There is the oldest — where are your pants? The dog did it, you say? Wash boy, wipe floor, slice apples. End intermission.)
Still with me?
So I got a miter saw and needed a project. Bennett picked out a Pottery Barn-inspired fort bed, with peaked roof, windows and stairs leading up to the door.
The website, Ana-White.com, promised it would take 20 hours to build. Problem is, when you get about 10 minutes a day, your son ends up sleeping on his mattress on the floor for three and a half months.
I harnessed my initial enthusiasm by working late at night, after the kids went to bed. After a few days I’d completed two of the four main panels. With a weekend coming up and another full week, this puppy would be assembled by his birthday.
Ha! Heh-heh. Stupid girl.
The factor I’d forgotten was Murphy’s law. It’s especially strong when Mom wants to focus on something other than her children. No matter how long I spent pre-loading them — setting up Play-Doh, snacks, drinks, helping them in the restroom — disaster would strike the minute I’d wet my paintbrush.
Bruises. Bike accidents. Bite marks. Tandem toilet time. Even the dog would rally for the latter, leaving a steaming pile next to the back door, mocking me for neglecting him even for a second …
(Children-coddling intermission. “Mom, I just spilled my juice.” On the carpet. On the antique velvet couch. Scrub, scrub, scrub. End intermission.)
So I worked piecemeal, with the pieces spread through my stall in the garage. And at a couple of key pressure points, I recruited my dad to help assemble what I couldn’t do easily myself. Now the bed is up, adorned with a placard my son Bennett helped make that proclaims the pine behemoth “Fort Bennett.”
With projects like this, I burn through tons of inspiration and energy and sputter to a finish. There was the year I committed to making all the Christmas presents by hand. Around midnight Christmas Eve, as I raced to finish sewing my mother’s monogrammed blanket, my husband padded upstairs to bed with forlorn eyes. “You’re not just doing this to yourself, you know,” he muttered.
Last year I sewed the boys’ Halloween costumes. I found a Peter Pan pattern for the oldest pretty easily. But Pluto the dog for the youngest? I had to get creative and modify a pattern I found for a monster costume. I became focused, and the final product was spot-on.
My pride and mothering ability, however, took a hit when the costume-wearer dug through my sewing mess and explored a tube of superglue with his mouth. After a visit to our friendly ER, all orifices remained open and he was fine.
Projects are hard, and I’m still figuring out how to manage them effectively in my role as a mother. But the thing is, I have to create. It’s in me, and it’s linked to my happiness. I have to write, or build, or sew, or plan or do.
I can’t just be their mom, as much as I relish that role. I have to be the old me sometimes, too.