I must give my mom full credit for this post — growing up in Florida was great, but living in the Panhandle during the summer months meant hot, muggy days with an always predictable afternoon shower to make things even more intolerable. At certain times in the summer, parents in my neighborhood just wouldn’t let their kids go outside to play after the first few cases of dehydration. That meant indoor activities (this was pre-Internet, pre-DVD players) and my mom only allowed us about 45 minutes each day of Atari (and I can’t really blame her in hindsight). So with three kids, she had to improvise.
I have fond memories of my mom opening up the closet near the front door and letting us peek in to grab “an activity.” These activities were typically of the craft-variety, with glue, felt, pipe-cleaners, and other assorted items. She would sit down and show us how to glue a black pompom (is that what they’re called?) on the round end (the head), cut a popsicle stick in half and glue a piece on each side for arms. Then we’d paint the lower 1/8 black (shoes), followed by 3/8 white (pants), 3/8 red (shirt) and then draw a face on the round end. Instant toy soldier. (I’d pay huge bucks to have a few of those back in my hands — alas, they likely ended up as firecracker victims or chew toys for the dogs.)
Mom always had these kinds of things for us to do; I learned how to use a hot-glue gun, read measurements from a tape, use a paintbrush, and many more “skills” that have carried me through life. I grew up with an appreciation for the hands-on, DIY, build-it-myself attitude. (And I must also state that my dad provided equal training — I learned woodworking, basic electronics, and many handyman skills.)
I graduated, went to college, found employment, got married… and through it all, I never stopped making things. And then my first son, Decker, came along. (If your eyebrows just shot up, then yes, you do know where that name came from.) When he started walking, I remember deciding to implement my own form of the Activity Closet. I purchased a three drawer plastic box and began filling it here and there with craft items I’d find on sale. In went the construction paper, glue, small scissors, glitter, foam stickers, pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, and more. Even better, I’d pick up these small wooden toy kits for $1 each from Michael’s craft store — trains, airplanes, cars, and other items that just need to be glued together and painted. I’m a big fan of Chik-fil-A and they’re always throwing little books and activities into the kids meal bags that I collect and throw in the box (if my son doesn’t discover it first).
I can still remember the day I picked Decker up from daycare and, after buckling him into his car seat, heard “Daddy, I wanna do a project.” There are many days that we dads remember from our childrens’ lives and this is one of mine. “Daddy, I wanna do a project.” It took everything in my power to drive that 35-45 mph speed limit home.
Decker chose a wooden helicopter toy. With a little help, he glued it all up — I believe after the glue dried that it could be dropped from a fifty story tall building and survive. Then the real fun began; he opened the included paints and went to town. In all honestly, I have no problems stating that it was the most horrid paintjob I’d ever seen because I’ll next tell you that after he lost interest in it, I took it upstairs and tucked it away in my box of “Decker Things” that contain similar priceless possessions.
Over the last few years (Decker just turned 4) I’ve collected more activity kits, more craft components, and tons of stickers, but I’ve also added to the mix some younger versions of Erector Set kits (about $5 to $10) for ages 5 and up… his eyes are already lighting up when he sees them so they’re not likely to last much longer. One of my favorite purchases for him was a playset containing plastic pieces the color and texture of wood and with oversized drilled holes for large plastic nails and screws. He likes to watch me cut and drill wood in my workshop and this kit has been a huge help in making Decker feel involved but also keeping him safely at a distance working on his own projects. With my help, he’s built a birdhouse, a robot, a boat, and other items. But a few weeks ago, I had another one of those daddy-moments that will not be forgotten.
Decker was off playing by himself while I was working on the couch with my laptop — I wasn’t really paying attention to what he was doing, but over he walks and sits two things down on the seat cushion next to me and says “I made these for you, Daddy.”
Two cars with all wheels securely attached and lined up properly.
“This is you.” (Pointing to a plastic screw at the front of one car.)
“This is me.” (Pointing at another screw behind the first one.)
“And this is Sawyer.” (Pointing to the last screw to indicate his 11 month old brother. I’m sure his Mommy would have been included had a fourth hole been available.)
My work is by no means done… but the eyes and ears are definitely working. I have a little fellow who is now beginning to express his own creativity. I couldn’t be more proud.
We all have these moments, don’t we? As geek dads, we don’t (or shouldn’t) expect our children to have the same interests and hobbies as we do, but given that they’re going to spend a large portion of their formative years watching and copying us, we shouldn’t be surprised, either.
I’ll support my children in any hobbies or interests they want to develop (the exceptions being skydiving, bull-riding, or anything that will require a second mortgage), but I must admit that I’m smiling wide as I watch Decker develop his creativity and skills. And I can’t ignore the little fellow who occasionally sits on my lap in my office; Sawyer’s wide eyes are always taking in all the interesting stuff on my tables and shelves. He’s so close to walking now, I’m going to have to remember to move those robot kits to a higher shelf.