31 January 2005

Single...With Children: My Son, Me & Our Aviary

Project with son builds more than aviary

Single ...with Children


Publication Date: 08/09/00

My son decided we needed to embark on a woodworking project last summer. School had been out for about four weeks, so it was clear boredom was starting to set in and along with it, creativity. He invited me to sit down and listen to his plans, which, I was soon to learn, were to become my plans as well. I could think of a thousand other things I needed to do, but when my eyes met his, nothing else seemed nearly as important. I did as I was told and sat down and listened.

My son is a lot like Lucy Ricardo; he's one of the most creative souls it's ever been my pleasure to meet, much less give birth to. Most of the time, I find myself in the role of Vivian Vance (Ethel Mertz) - not completely convinced of the success of the scheme of the moment, but much too intrigued and charmed not to sign on.

The project of the moment was an aviary. Just to make sure we were on the same page, I asked his definition of an aviary so I'd have a vague idea of what we were about to undertake. Sure enough, his definition was almost exactly what came to my mind. With our mutual love of all things small, furry and feathered, it really didn't seem that out of the ordinary for the zoo that is our house. I even loved the concept. I just wasn't certain either one of us had the basic woodworking skills to execute something that sounded rather complex to me.

I wasn't sure he had really thought this out but, as I was about to discover, he had not only thought of just about everything, he had put pencil to paper and produced some very detailed sketches of where this was going to be built. I was impressed. So far, the project had demanded his use of math (there were lots of calculations involving measurements, amount of lumber required and size of area) and biology (adequate ventilation, substrate and suitable avian habitat). How could I possibly disregard this project when he had painstakingly drawn it out to such impressive specifications? In fact, I wasn't about to. I did the only thing I could. I drew a deep breath and said..."Get your jacket, we need to go to Lowe's."

And to Lowe's we went. Soon we had a shopping cart filled with 2 x 4's, plywood and thick sheets of Plexiglas, as well as hinges, a door handle and molding to give it that "professional" look. As I studied the items in our shopping cart and waited for the clerk to give me the total, the only thing I could think was we were about to build something incredible, or have a rather expensive failure. I feared the latter but hoped for the former.

Production began the next morning. We took turns with the drill, both of us hammered, and slowly, amazingly, something was actually starting to take shape right before our eyes. Of course, there were a few things we hadn't counted on. Thick Plexiglas does not lend itself to being cut by a jigsaw. It melts. Blades break. We ruined one piece but, learning from our mistake, we took the pieces yet to be cut and returned to Lowe's and let the professionals handle that, which they kindly did in less than five minutes. As the associate was cutting our Plexiglas, he asked my son what we were using it for. Proudly, confidently, my son informed him, "My mom and I are building an aviary. And it's going to be awesome." The clerk glanced at me skeptically, as if he needed confirmation. (I'll admit I don't exactly look like "Tim the Tool Guy.")

"That's exactly right...we're building an aviary. Together." I said it with pride.

With the freshly cut Plexiglas in hand, we continued our work. We changed a few things here and there, but for the most part we stuck with the initial plan my son had created. It's amazing how creative you can become when certain parts don't fit. We both learned to listen to each other, even when we thought something might not work. We also learned that it's a lot of fun to use a power drill and it was only fair to take turns.

We worked hard. We laughed a lot. Surprisingly, we argued very little. There was a palpable sense of camaraderie that I suspect can only come from working toward a mutual goal.

Stopping only for lunch and dinner, we learned perseverance and compromise. We also discovered that when it came time to work from the inside of our almost completed Plexiglas enclosure, I was too tall and he fit just perfectly. For the first time in his life, it became an advantage to be smaller than me. He loved being the only one of us to complete finishing touches on the inside.

To our amazement, 16 hours after we drilled our first hole, we both stood back, eyes wide and grinning, and admired our work. It turned out better than I could ever have imagined.

Fortunately, we had four zebra finches in a wire cage that was too small to permit flight. We were as eager to try out our aviary as I'm sure those birds were to try out their wings.

After filling the bottom with corncob bedding, installing some perches fashioned from dowel rods, and placing food and water containers in strategic locations, it was time. Together, we each took two of the finches and opened our newly hung Plexiglas door and released them. They took to it like...well....ducks to water. By now it was 1 a.m., but there we were, mesmerized, seeing the fruits of our collective labor. It was a stellar moment that I don't think either of us will ever forget.

If someone had told me a few years ago that my son and I could ever have built anything resembling an aviary, I would have thought that person was out of his mind. Looking back on it, it's become one of the ultimate "don't miss" experiences that enriches the experience of parenting, single or otherwise. It is tangible evidence of what a mother and son can do if they put their mind, and a generous amount of faith, to it. I think we both gained a newfound respect for other's capabilities.

Not to mention that he finally found a concrete, practical application for all that math and science.

Readers can e-mail Susie at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News.

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