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The Playhouse

The Playhouse

. 5 min read

Someone around these parts is always building. The little boys build with legos, sofa cushions and blankets, empty amazon boxes, whatever's to hand, really. The big boys build for their work, for their family, for their ministry, and for their own amusement. Almost 11 years into our marriage, I consider the smell of saw dust and finish to be potent aphrodisiacs.

"I'm going to build a two-story playhouse for the kids in the basement," Caleb announced one day many months ago.

"Okay," I said absently. Though I should know from years upon years of proof that once an idea ceases Caleb, he will know no rest until it's completed.

A few weeks later, he showed me some sketches he had Dad draw. The design concept was very Dr. Seuss, with asymmetrical trees and bushes. It looked cheerful and childish. It was very Dad-does-kid-design.

"The kids will love it!" I said.

"I want it to be more timeless and modern," Caleb said, shaking his head thoughtfully. "It needs cleaner lines. I want it to still look cool when our grandkids come to play on it."

"Our grandkids?" I was surprised. I know Caleb plans ahead, but this was way ahead, even for him. He stated it like it was a definitive outcome. "You're really planning ahead, then, huh?"

"Just imagine the sleepovers!" he said excitedly.

And I did. I imagined the kids with their cousins, their friends, laughing at all hours, sitting up talking nonsense late into the night, dozing a little, getting into the tiffs and slights of childhood, making up. Then, one day, making out when they found out about girls and about the addictive, transformational nature of falling in love, the agony and joy of it. I imagined our grandchildren, eyes big in wonder when one of our little ones, grown now in my mind's eye, tells them "I slept up here when I was little just like you."

I came back to our conversation. "Yes, it should be timeless," I said.

So he and Dad went back to the drawing board. And this is what they came up with.

"I love it. It's perfect," I said. "How are we going to pay for this?" We're a growing, hungry family on a budget.

"We have most of the material already," Caleb assured me.

This is a small and persistent miracle in my life. There's always material left over from some project or client that must be retrofitted and repurposed for someone's benefit, often ours.

"And we can use the kids' Christmas money to make up the rest," he added as a rejoinder.

Just like that, the Men of the Nest--which is how they refer to themselves--began building.

Dad, Karl, Elof, and Caleb measured (twice) and cut (once).

They framed and welded, put up and finished siding.

And in a day, the downstairs of the playhouse was ready to install.

One night the next week, they gathered in the workshop again, with Nathaniel and Chris in attendance, to build the upstairs of the playhouse, weld the railing for the balcony, and construct the ladder. They also made dumb faces for the camera.

They installed the upper deck of the playhouse the following weekend.

From my perspective, the men disappear into a garage full of power tools and chemicals and come out with nothing less than art. As if the noise and camaraderie of the space bestows some kind of elemental magic that ends up in the DNA of the builds and projects they complete together. Makes them shine, makes them last, makes good things happen in and around them. Perhaps I only think of the workshop as magical because my sphere and talents lie decidedly outside of it. I suspect more likely there's a little holy in the noise and dust and family.

I hear things about what it's like to work in the garage secondhand sometimes. I hear about the disagreements between these fathers and brothers and friends who work elbow-to-elbow with each other. Sometimes I hear a very fine joke if it's worth retelling. Always, there's more plans, designs, and another project on the horizon, someone else to help. Always the question of "who's next?" and "what's next?" And an appreciative, unassailable statement: "We do good work."

I sat back and watched the kids play while Uncle Chris took pictures for the blog a couple of weeks later.

"It's beautiful," I said to Caleb.

"Just wait for Phase 2," Caleb replied.