Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Insert Son A into House B

This weekend, my family had an impromptu picnic in our backyard to celebrate the return of the sun. As we lazed about on our blanket, my wife and I surveyed the hurricane debris-like spread of balls, Tonka trucks, scooters, bikes, baseball bats, mitts, and assorted plastic gardening equipment taking up approximately 90% of the back patio surface not already claimed by actual patio fixtures like tables and my giant manly stainless steel BBQ. We both decided it was time for some better outdoor storage for the boy’s toys, so off to our local home improvement warehouse we went.

We scored a sweet clearance deal on two 130-gallon storage chests that are approximately 2-1/2 feet wide by 2-1/2 feet tall and 5 feet long. They have a nice flat lid, that when closed, becomes a handy bench seat. That is no less than 62 cubic feet of clean, dry, weatherproof storage that should leave us plenty of room to acquire the inevitable 45 more cubic feet of toys in the coming years.

We tied those bad boys to the top of the Ford Expedition, and drove home triumphantly to begin the “easy assembly process.”

When I cracked open the first of the two cardboard boxes, I found just what I was expecting. Six heavy-duty plastic sides, two metal hinge assemblies (complete with gas spring-assist shocks), one long metal reinforcing bar for the lid, and the assorted corner brackets and hardware to fasten everything together. Piece of cake.

The good folks at Suncast Outdoor Storage Products were also kind enough to include three copies of the owner’s manual. One in English, and two in languages that I don’t understand. I went with the English version.

One thing that separates me from many of the other males of the species is that I always read the instructions before I try to put anything together. It saves time, and money. It also saves me from having to explain to the boys why some words are “adult words” that they’re not allowed to use.

Almost immediately I became skeptical of the instructions when I read on the first page, “Only adults should set up the product. Do not allow children in the setup area until assembly is complete.”

I thought to myself, “Uh-oh. The lawyers have gotten to them. There is no single part to this chest that weighs over 7 pounds. How could a kid possibly get hurt during assembly? Besides, how will my boys learn anything if I don’t at least let them watch?”

Then I lost all respect for the engineers at Suncast when I read, “Two adults required for this step” on the instructions of how to slide the 2-pound side panel into its slots in the front and back panels. There is no way that I could need another adult to help me with this step. My kids could probably do it by themselves.

Even though I was totally disgusted with the manual, I read to the end and then began the installation. I wasn’t even half way through before I started to change my opinion of the guys that wrote the manual.

With my three young boys playing all around me on the back patio, I went to work. I had the base and all four sides on the chest in a matter of minutes. Just as I had suspected, the “need two adults” step took me about 5 seconds by myself. Ha! What were those manual writers thinking?

Almost as soon as I got the last side wall into position, the new toy chest began getting filled with toys. Balls, baseball bats, and plastic trucks were hurled at me from all directions, ricocheting around the inside of the chest and flying at my head. Progress was halted for a few minutes as I explained to the boys that they needed to wait until Daddy was done installing the lid before we could fill the chest.

The lid hinges were to be fastened to the side walls with screws. I had never given much thought to the individual parts list and count that you always find in manuals, detailing exactly how many #5-type screws you should have received. I always figured there was no sense spending time counting them. Either I had them or I didn’t, and if I was short a screw or two, I would figure it out.

Well, I went to grab the eight #2-type screws I would need to fasten the hinges to the chest, and only two were sitting in the spot where I had left them on the patio table. One was on the ground under the table, and my two-year-old son was sitting Indian style a few feet away with three in his lap and one sticking out of his mouth. Two on the table, one on the ground, three from his lap and the one I just wrenched out of his mouth makes seven. I was supposed to have eight. Did he swallow one?!? Or did I even have eight to begin with? I never counted them!!

As I picked him up to inspect him for a perforated esophagus, the last #2 screw fell out of his pant cuff. Whew! That must be why they tell you how many you’re supposed to have. Mental note to self: Always count them ahead of time to avoid unnecessary trips to the ER for exploratory hardware X-rays.

OK, crisis averted, and on to lid attachment. After I had retrieved the four #6-type screws from their new storage location on the ledge high above the sliding glass door, and out of reach of all two-year-olds, I was ready to fasten the long reinforcing bar into place. Now, where did that long reinforcing bar go? It was lying on the patio right in front of the new storage chest a minute ago. A yellow plastic Wiffle Ball bat has taken its place, but no reinforcing bar in sight.

After a lengthy interrogation of the four-year-old and the five-year-old, I was led to the fort that they had made with the cardboard lid of the shipping box. My 5-foot-long reinforcing bar was stuck 2 feet into the mud, helping to support the fort’s roof. I had to give them points for ingenuity and structural integrity, but I was not amused.

After cleaning off the bar on one of their shirts, I went back to work on the chest. While I was away dismantling the fort, the two-year-old had managed to put away a few more toys into the new chest. The reinforcing bar attaches to the inside of the lid, so I needed to step into the chest to do the work. No problem. I just scooted the soccer ball and Tonka truck out of the way with my foot, and stepped in. Thirty seconds later, the reinforcing bar was attached and the first of two new storage chests was completely assembled.

I stood up straight, stretched my back and swung my right leg out of the chest. Just before the weight transfer was complete I realized that I was about to step on the two-year-old, who had taken up a prone position in front of the new chest. I quickly and awkwardly adjusted the landing zone for my right foot, narrowly missing my youngest son, but planting my foot squarely on the yellow plastic Wiffle Ball bat.

I’m not 100% sure what really happened next, but after some mid-air acrobatics, the end result was three young boys laughing hysterically, and me flat on my back inside my brand new Suncast Outdoor Storage Products 130-gallon storage chest with a soccer ball in my left kidney and my head resting rather uncomfortably on a Tonka truck.

As I lay there gazing up at the late afternoon sky, slipping in and out of consciousness, it occurred to me that the guys who wrote the instruction manual were some of the smartest men on the planet. They weren’t lawyer-shy wimps or limp-wristed computer jockeys like I had first assumed. They were dads.

They advised me not to let the kids into the assembly area, and I didn’t listen. Then they tried once more to keep me safe by suggesting that the project could not be completed without a second adult. It was my short-sighted machismo that kept me from seeing that warning for what it was. The second guy isn’t there to help you with the assembly. He’s there to keep a lookout for stray hardware and toys if you happened to ignore their first suggestion about no kids. He’s also the guy that drives you to the hospital when you step on the Wiffle Ball bat.

See you soon,

Copyright © 2010 Marc Schmatjen

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