by Mike Todd

“Help!” my two-year-old son Zack yelled from behind the 18-wheeler in our driveway, holding his hands over his head. He stood directly in the intended path of several large boxes perched on the back of the truck.

“I don’t think that’s the best idea, buddy,” I said, moving him several feet back.

Zack was actually offering help, rather than requesting it, but that’s only because he didn’t understand that the boxes he was offering to carry were heavy enough that if we’d gently placed one on top of him, he would have come out looking like a mushroom that Super Mario had just jumped on.

The truck driver lowered the lift and wheeled the huge, flat boxes into our garage, managing not to squish any of my children, despite their best efforts.

As the truck rumbled into the distance, I stared at the pile of boxes and shook my head.

“How long until it’s together?” my son Evan asked.

“Maybe a month or so,” I said.

“A MONTH? I’m never going to get to use it!” Evan wailed because to a four-year-old, a month is the same thing as forever.

By purchasing an assemble-it-yourself playset, the backyard kind with slides and swings, I had doomed myself to the type of appreciation that Evan had just demonstrated. No matter how complicated the item is and how many hours it might take to assemble, nobody respects the person who just follows the instructions and pounds the thing together.

“Oh wow, you really know your way around an Allen wrench,” is a compliment never bestowed.

I fished out the instruction manual, which was so thick it looked like someone had printed all of Wikipedia and slapped a black-and-white picture of a playset on the front.

“10-12 hours,” the front page estimated for the project’s completion, showing a picture of two adults. Who was that mysterious second adult supposed to be? My wife? So while we’re in the garage, trying to figure out which piece is the LT Flange and which is the B Transom FSC, the kids would be upstairs, seeing how much Play-Doh the garbage disposal could handle. The instructions didn’t seem to take into account the slight possibility that the people ordering a playset might have young kids to look after.

I checked the largest box for the second adult, to no avail. Perhaps we could have invited one of our friends to come be the second adult, but people with young children will understand why that wouldn’t work. You can have kids or friends, but not both.

In the beginning of the project, Zack tried his best to fill in as the second adult. “Can you put that washer on this bolt?” I’d ask him.

“Yes,” he’d reply, dropping the washer onto the bolt. We’d high-five, then he’d push all my careful piles of different-sized screws, bolts, lock washers and flat washers into one giant, extra-convenient pile. While I sorted that out, he’d drop my drill bits into the deepest holes he could find.

In the end, we had to import our second adult from out-of-town. The regular reader(s) of this column will recall how great I am at home repair when my dad and I work together. We like to take a big job and divide it up equally. He does the part that most people would think of as “doing the work,” and I do the part that most people would think of as “holding the flashlight.”

After a mere three-day weekend and 50 person-hours of work, we had our new playset. The best part about it was that three generations of Todd men contributed. One generation to do all the work, the other two to mix up all the screws.