Thursday, May 26, 2016

Let It Go: Struggles of a Type-A Parent

Like most educators, I have a type-A personality. I like things in order. They may not always seem to be in order to others, but my order makes sense to me. I like routine. I like plans, especially my plans. And like Hannibal Smith from "The A-Team", I love it when a plan comes together (hmmm, "Type-A", "A-Team". Coincidence? I think not...).

I struggle with this when it comes to my kids. They don't like order. They like to throw wrenches into plans. They like chaos.

This may be hard to believe for people who have read this blog, but for anybody who knows me, this probably comes as no surprise. I often get frustrated when my grand master plan starts to unravel.

So let me tell you about last week. My three year old son was very sad because his sisters had a decorative cross hanging in their room and he didn't have one. So we decided to make one together. I have pieces from an old organ, and we searched through to find a piece of wood that we thought we could use. So far, everything was going according to my plan. And I was spending some great time with my son.

We decided to plane the piece down to remove the old varnish, stain, and marks. And here is where the metaphorical wheels fell off. As I was straightening up the workshop, Little E decided that he was going to work on a project of his own. He found my bin of irrigation supplies, and his engineering spirit took over. He started constructing a machine. And he had a description of everything that this machine did. I started to get irritated. After all, he was the one that enlisted me to work on a project. I was doing this for him.

And then he held up his machine, and my heart melted. He was having so much fun. So what if the cross did not get completed that day. Actually, the cross didn't get started that day. But Little E and I got to play with PVC pieces, build machines, and laugh. I was reminded, not for the first time and definitely not for the last, that my children will not necessarily remember our output, but rather the quality of our time together. There will be plenty of time for me to build things for and with my kids. But when their engineering spirit, or creative abilities, or gardening minds take over, I should embrace that. After all, parenting isn't just about bringing my kids into what I am doing. It's also about the time that I spend doing the things that they love.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

From Cluttered to Classy - Organizing a Homework Station

Before my wife and I had kids, we were really cool. We would regularly go out on dates, we vacuumed and mopped our house every two weeks whether it needed it or not, and we had a wine rack on which we kept bottles of wine. Yes, actual bottles of wine, stored on horizontal holders. It was fantastic.
Cut list - good for four medium sized baskets

And then the kids came. They just started showing up until we had three of them. The bottles of wine were apparently consumed, or just moved away from little hands that seemed to pull down everything below the three foot line. As the kids got older, that really cool wine rack started to fill up with baskets of kids things. Coloring books, pencil boxes, hair band kaboodles, and all kinds of kid things started piling up on our once-cool and appropriately-named wine rack. And the thing about kids is that, no matter how much things are organized, they have a tendency to undo it. I have a theory about this, something along the lines that they want to see if parents can get better and more efficient with their cleaning and organization.

Then one day my wife and I looked at each other and silently decided that we were going to take back the organization in our kitchen. Actually, it sounded more like my wife saying, "What do you think about building a wall rack to organize all of this junk?" And so one of the easiest, quickest, and aesthetically pleasing projects took shape. As with most of my projects, this was done on the cheap. I used scrap pieces of 3/4" maple plywood to build the shelf unit. Twelve inch boards could also be used, or, if you need to buy the plywood, the size pictured can be cut from a half sheet of 3/4" plywood. The baskets were $5 each, and the paint was fairly inexpensive, resulting in an organization project that was less than $30.

I started by cutting the plywood according to the diagram. I used pocket holes and wood glue to attach the horizontal pieces to the vertical pieces. If you don't have a pocket hole jig, you could also use screws driven from the outside into the shelves, with a little wood filler to hide the holes.

Once the shelf was assembled, I attached a cleat to the back of it, under the top shelf. Since I was only planning on storing school supplies and hair do-dads, I was not anticipating too much weight, so one cleat seemed sufficient. The cleat allows the bracket (receiving cleat) to be leveled and hung without needing a helper or two.

At this point, everything was ready for a coat of paint. Since all of our appliances are stainless steel and black, we decided on a black shelf with grey baskets. Once the paint was dry, the cleat was positioned on the wall and screwed to the studs (make sure your kids are around when you calibrate your stud finder - point it to yourself, wait for it to beep, and let your kids know that it has found a stud. This never gets old). With the wall cleat secured, the shelf cleat can slide into place, with two additional screws attaching the shelf cleat to the studs.

The last thing to do was to transfer all of the junk from the wine rack into the new baskets. Actually, this is a great point to realize that you do not need 50 outlet covers, to find the missing shelf pin, and to put the 27 half burned tea lights in with the fireplace starters (we used to light candles when we had wine). Baskets organized and set up, and the kitchen goes from cluttered to classy.

With a project this easy, I might need to design and build a wine rack that can be attached high on the wall. Maybe I'll even attach some candle holders. Time to bring back the class!