Developing A Little Boy’s Self-Esteem With A Swingset

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Late last night, my wife read off a few of the more urgent things on the honey-do list she made for me. We’re preparing for my parents, who will be living with us, to return from from their Mormon mission next week. As with most people who are expecting visitors, we want to present the best version of ourselves to my folks after not having had them around for two years. After listening to the litany of not-so-thrilling duties – clean up the office, fix the broken sprinklers… – my interest was piqued by my wife’s reminder that our children’s playground set has been lying on its side in multiple pieces since a heavy windstorm blew it down a few weeks ago.

Not deterred by the quickly fading sunlight, I grabbed my toolbox and hustled out back to the back yard to see what could get done before my late evening construction project would begin annoying my neighbors. My wife was going to work on some things on her list of to-dos while I was handling my manly duties. Thinking that it might be helpful to have our two-year-old out of her hair, I mentioned to him on my way to fetch my tools from the garage that if he would put on a warm shirt and some shoes, he could come help me fix the playground.

Soon after I sized up the damage that had been done to our playground, the sun was gone. It was already past 10pm. You might be wondering why my kids were still awake at that late hour. Every night I wonder the same thing.

As I wandered between my house and garage trying to get together everything I though I’d need, I noticed my little boy running around the house frantically looking for something. I asked my wife what he was up to, and she mentioned that he wanted to hurry and get his jacket and shoes so that he didn’t miss any of the action.

The hour and a half that followed taught me about a lot more than how to patch back together a broken swing set. My two-year-old, Spencer, was eating up the opportunity to spend some time with his dad and the contents of the toolbox. I’ve noticed that interacting with my toolbox is a rite of passage for my son. Pulling out a hammer and pounding on a few surfaces is his way of communicating to me that he totally empathizes with my need to bang on stuff. Closing the lid and flipping the latches is another of his favorites.

Our time spent together looking for tools, sorting through screws, fumbling with extension cords, a drop light, and a power drill, and discussing how to put back together his and his sister’s playset took on a kind of rhythm. Each time we started something new, I could expect to hear, “What’s that, Daddy?” I’d then explain what the tool was. “Oh! What are you going to do with that, Daddy?” I’d show him what my plans were. “Oh!” After I’d get started into the next step, there was the inevitable, “Can I try, Daddy?” Each step of the repair process gave him the opportunity to hold up the light, turn the screwdriver, bang the hammer, or help out in other ways.

When we finally got the playground back on its feet and pounded in the stakes to hopefully keep it from flying away again, I could see that my little boy was beaming about his part in the effort. I told him we were finished, and that his momma would be proud of what he’d help to accomplish. He ran inside to give a report. Meeting my wife at the back door, I heard him exclaim, “Mommy, we fixed it!”

Now, I understand that the chore would have taken about half the time had I left my son inside watching a cartoon or otherwise kept him out of my way. Had I done so, I would have lost an opportunity to bond with the little guy. When I have experiences such as this one with my two-year-old boy or either of my other kids, I’m always reminded that time cannot be reversed, and I won’t get a second chance to make any particular moment count. As hard as it is sometimes to place work, personal interests, and any of the other many competing time sinks in their rightful place, I’m confident that on this particular occasion I made the right decision in fulfilling my role as a father.

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