cabinetIn my family, if you need something assembled, if you need to figure out how to work your VCR, if you need the clock in your car set to the correct hour – you call me.  I’m not sure what it is about “assembly required” or “see manual for instructions” that intimidates the rest of my family, but I don’t really mind.  The challenge of a new project, one that has finite limits (once the time is correct, you’re done!) is always worth a few minutes of stretching my mind in some new direction.  Last night, however, I nearly met my match.

My wife and I are now a month away from our impending parenthood.  We’re living our days in a constant state of amazement at the life brewing inside her belly, and just recently our son (working name: Boober – don’t ask) also seems to be taking an interest in us, nudging us as we massage him, dancing as I play the piano (or maybe kicking his feet in protest?), and taking it up a notch for some middle-of-the-night jumping jacks within his momma. 

The more of Boober I experience, the more REAL this whole “fatherhood” thing starts to seem.  AND the more inspired I am to quit procrastinating on all of the tasks still waiting for me, as we prepare for Boober’s arrival.  Fortunately for me, my wife and her nesting instinct have picked up the slack over the past couple of months, stocking up our house with all of the essentials (diaper champ, baby swing, crib).  She’s great at finding deals on the most highly recommended items, so I have no doubt that we’re going to be well-prepared when Delivery-Day finally comes.  So when Toni asked me if I minded putting together a changing table, that we could save a little money by getting this much-vaunted combo changing-table/dresser (assembly required), I said “of course, no problem”.  I trust her, and I trust my aforementioned skills.

Instruction manuals have, it seems, changed a lot over the years.  They used to be well-written (verbose even), generally in English, and they were clearly numbered.  In fact, I used to wonder why so many people I knew had problems with them, as they seemed idiot-proof to me.  Step 1, part 1, step 2, part 2, step 3, etc…until you’re done!

makes sense?The current trends in assembly instructions, however, leave much to be desired.  Apparently IKEA has convinced the world that “language” is no longer necessary, that all it takes is a series of pictures to communicate the proper steps to assembling your creation.  I mean, who needs WORDS to describe the more-than-100 bits and pieces and how they fit together?  Add your own personal altar of patience at which you can bow down every 55 minutes (I can’t wait to see the illustration for that one), and a masterpiece truly awaits.

I’ve been on this new schedule of waking up early (5:30 am, which, for me, is REALLY early) and getting started on the workday right away.  The goal has been to finish work early in the afternoon, so that I have the rest of the afternoon free for projects and family.  Last week (my first week on the new schedule) I managed to actually finish early ZERO times (funny how the amount of work expands to the amount of time available), so I made it my mission to live this week differently.  After a 9-hour workday, I wrapped things up at [4:00], and started UNWRAPPING the changing table (which has been waiting for my participation for more than a month now).

assembly requiredAnd unwrapping.  And unpacking.  I carried all the pieces upstairs to our son’s room-in-progress, dumped out the hardware bag (see photo), and spent some time staring at the hieroglyphics of the instruction manual.  It reminds me of seeing/reading Shakespeare, where at first you can hardly understand anything of what’s being communicated, but over time your brain gets used to the music and complexity of the language, rewires itself, and – PRESTO – you start to get it.  So I savored the confusion and started putting the thing together component at a time.

Four and a half hours later (ok, 30 minutes of that was my dinner break), my brain was numb, my eyes were crossed, but the thing was almost complete.  I think that I was reaching my limit.  I spent an extra 15 minutes trying to jam the door into place (all the while thinking “this is really the first poorly designed part of the system”) until I realized that if I followed my own intuition (instead of what the drawing appeared to be portraying) I’d attach that door in the exact OPPOSITE manner (which actually worked).

I did the 3 drawers in assembly-line fashion, coming down to the wire as I raced to finish before Toni went to bed (1. So as not to wake her up with the noise of the driver drill and 2. Because I wanted her to see all that I had accomplished).  They went together nicely, and slid smoothly into place.  5 and a half hours from the start of my project I had finished.  I went to get my wife…who had just turned out the light.

“Oh, so you’re asleep already?” (me)

“No, not…really…kinda…” (her, very sleepy).

I just stood there in the doorway.  Not sure what to do.  It is important that the mother of my child gets all the rest she needs in this last month BB (before baby) after all.

My wife, who loves me (and who knew why I was standing there), slowly inched toward the edge of the bed, and, with my help, came to look at the finished product.  She gave me a sleepy smile, and we both got a little teared-up (which is almost a near-constant condition these days) thinking about the little guy whose bottom would be bared on that changing table before too long.

an escapeeAnd that’s when I saw it.  One lonely wooden peg on the floor, hidden under a piece of plastic.  One peg that I had inadvertently left behind, despite my thoroughness, despite my adherence to the instructions (door hinges excepted), and despite my regular trips to the altar of patience for affirmation.  How was it possible?

My first lesson in parenting:  all you can do is your best.

Well, the thing SEEMS sturdy enough.  So instead of taking the whole thing apart to find the spot I missed, I think that I’ll make a little pedestal for that wooden peg and mount it on my son’s wall.  At some point he’ll be old enough to wonder why it’s there.  And I’ll tell him about how much he was loved, how many hours we spent loving him, before his little toes, little hands, and little nose had even made their debut.