I am exhausted, but wiser.
I spent the weekend working on a fort I promised my daughter. I am terrible at these kinds of projects, so I rarely take them on. I don’t even own many tools. So why am I building a fort?
Here is how it happened: Last year I built a shed, which is really just a corrugated roof attached to the side of my house. Although it was a low stakes project, building it made me feel bold. In a weak moment, I promised Kennedy that we would build a fort this summer for her and Aaron. I immediately forgot all about it, but not Kennedy. Over the winter she occasionally reminded me.
This past weekend, the rubber met the road.
Working on a construction project with a nine year old girl can be very satisfying. As I struggle to figure out how to attach two boards together, Kennedy suggests we play carpenter.
“Okay,” I say. “Hand me that tape measure carpenter Kuzco.”
“No, daddy, you’re carpenter Kuzco. I’m carpenter Malina.”
For some reason I cannot commit the name Malina to memory. When I want Kennedy to hand me something, I try to fake it, mumbling an emm sounding word. Wise beyond her nine years, Kennedy kindly suggests we switch to carpenter Bill and carpenter Joe.
But even with an obliging partner like carpenter Malina, building a fort with a nine year old can also be very irritating. Occasionally I ask her to do something for me, only to find her galloping around the backyard, neighing softly and holding the shovel between her legs.
But far worse than anything Kennedy might do are my limitations. Although I have no confidence with building projects, I have big expectations. We’re building a tree fort 8 feet off the ground. The plans also call for a secret trap door, a rope ladder, and a gable roof.
So far we’ve erected two of the legs and bolted it to the tree. The posts we’re using are 4×6 posts, and the crossbeams are 2x8s. My original plan called for 4×4 posts, but the 4x6s were not that much more expensive. I thought: What could go wrong?
After attaching the crossbeam to the posts on the other side of the yard, I realized the combined weight was close to a ton. Between lugging the posts and using the borrowed posthole digger, I strained my right bicep and had to stop work.
By late afternoon, this was the situation: we had dug the holes and seated the beams, but it was all about two inches too far from the tree. Because the final structure is going to rise twelve feet or more from the ground, I wanted the tree for extra support. Besides, it is a tree fort.
I considered my options: forget about having plum supports and lean the posts back two inches, or forget about attaching the structure to the tree. I could also give up. None of these seemed like the right thing to do. My only choice was to pull it all out and make the holes wider. The sky was dark and brooding and my right arm was numb from an hour of holding a bag of frozen peas against it.
With much grunting, we finally got it out of the holes. I had to let the kids widen the holes, because my arm refused to do any more posthole digging. There was the usual amount of sibling competitiveness, but surprisingly the hardest part for me was letting go of the results. I had to let the kids do the work the best way they could.
Somehow, we did it!
If I can get the other two legs up next weekend, the joists and floorboards ought to go in pretty easily. With the platform finished, I can turn my attention to the walls and roof.
I know it probably won’t come out as grand in real life as it has on paper. And if I am really lucky, the kids will enjoy this thing for a few years before they ignore it completely. But hopefully they will always remember the fun we’re having building it together.
I know I will!