Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Out of Doors Adventures

Durango Wooden Gym Play Center Swing Set, Adventure Playsets, Summer 2007

The instructions listed all the tools I’d need:

  • 3/8 Drill
  • Socket Wrench
  • 7/16 Socket, 1/2 Socket, 3/8 Socket
  • 7/16 Box Wrench , 1/2 Box Wrench
  • Tape Measure & Level
  • 5/16 Drill Bit
  • Shop Hammer
  • Phillips Bit (included in hardware bag with purchase of play set)

And it also stated I’d need one adult (me) and one adult helper. I looked around. The only other adult, Ms. The Critic, wasn’t going to be much help, as she had her hands full keeping The Littlest Critic off my back and off the various pieces as I put them together.

TLC, as you may imagine, was nearly incandescent with excitement about her “very own playground” that Grandma had just bought for her. And I was going to be putting it together.

We bought it on Tuesday, June 12th, some time in the afternoon. I picked it up at Wal-Mart (I know, I know, I’m sorry) and drove it back in my mother-in-law’s Toyota Echo, bungeed into the trunk. At home alone, I emptied the two enormous boxes it came in, took out the instructions, and repaired inside to the air conditioning to puzzle this out.

I read all of the instructions, drank an enormous glass of water and a can of diet Pepsi, then emerged into the muggy heat. Sluggishly, I laid out all the pieces of lumber the kit included, measuring them, comparing the wood in my hand with its diagram in the instructions, arranging everything neatly into a long row across the yard.

Sweaty, I went back inside and checked all the nuts, bolts, screws, clips, hangers, and every other metal oddiment that would fasten this behemoth together. I had everything; everything was in its right place.

It’d be dramatic to say that that night I had dreams foretelling of my impending ordeal, but I rarely remember what I dream, so even if that were true I couldn’t say it.

The next morning I was up early enough. I ate my breakfast, and by 9:30am I was at work. I had my tools all arranged in my toolbox, I had sunglasses and a hat, I had my iPod loaded and was listening to (ominously enough) a bootleg of Ryan Adams’ The Suicide Handbook.

For the first half hour or so, my daughter kept sneaking out of the house to come and take a look, to come and “help” me, and to come and show off how excited she was. She danced, she shimmied, she wanted to grab boards and bring them. She wanted this thing built and she wanted to help move things along faster and faster and faster.

There is no amount of explaining that can penetrate the mind of an excited four-year-old and make her comprehend the idea that her “help” will slow down a job and have precisely the opposite of its intended effect. I know, because I’ve tried. Nevertheless, she was persistent and cute. Eventually, Mom and Grandma took her away to get breakfast and some other things.

And so, stage one was completed. The frame of the treehouse side of the kit was up — and I had only made one mistake so far, which I quickly rectified. I had my first (but hardly my last) lesson in looking very, very, very closely at the instructions. Board placement wouldn’t always be clear from the diagrams, nor was the two inch difference in board length patently apparent, two instruction faults that would haunt me and dog my steps as things progressed.

The frame started, I had to solidify it with various other boards, then put together the ladder. That done, the ladder needed to be attached. Silly me, I merely glanced at the instructions and immediately proceeded to drill and place the bigger of the two sizes of T-nuts, automatically assuming the ladder would be held on with the biggest and best. Nope. The ladder is held on with a smaller size, not the 3/8 inch ones (clearly listed in the instructions as “Rockwall T-Nuts”) but the ¼ inch ones.

What happens when you drill things in you can't get out.

Mistake number two would leave the rockwall missing one of its rocks, but no matter, since what they called a rockwall was little more than a ladder with some protrusions sticking out of it.

Note second rung from bottom.

The floor on, the rockwall attached, the ladder attached, I hung the canopy up top. Oops. Mistake number three. You can not substitute a 43” board for a 45” board and not notice something amiss. Two inches might not seem like much, but when you have to slide a rectangular frame base over two rigid posts and the sideboards on said frame bow considerably, you start to look over your materials.

None of the wooden pieces are labeled, and I can see why not. This swingset came with 83 different pieces of wood. Can you imagine selling 10,000 of these sets and someone having to sit there and make sure they put sticker AC on the 60,000 “Monkey Bar Top Ladder Rungs”? Adventure Playsets (and your child) are counting on you not to mess it up, buddy.

So, I take apart the canopy and attach the proper boards. The eight holes caused by screwing the canopy to these sideboards will be masked by the clever means of turning them around so they are invisible to four-year-olds. Wile E. Coyote, Supra-Genius.

I attached the slide out of the instruction’s order (and later had to double the number of screws used to stabilize the slide's support board, as Adventure Playsets completely underestimates the vigor with which children approach slides). I did this because time was short and I suspected I might not finish the entire thing before it was time for me to go to work that evening.

Even if she couldn’t swing that night, I figured, The Littlest Critic could climb and slide. Which are Very Important Things anyway.

A few support beams on the bottom later, and I was ready to try to get the monkey bars up and the swings attached. Time was ticking. I had to bring out the charger for my cordless drill’s battery as I was starting to lose power. As it charged up, I managed to get all the non-drill-related parts of the job done. Every so often, I yanked the battery out of the charger, slapped it into my drill, and urged a few more turns out of it to get one last piece set.

I had been working for seven solid hours and was almost there. I hitched up the monkey bars, tightened the last of the bolts, then dashed up the yard for the swings. All of those hooked up, I had ten minutes’ time for a shower, five minutes to get dressed, and enough time to make my commute.

And was the kid happy?

You be the judge.

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