It was a simple plan. As a way to spend time with my daughters and give us something to have fun with all summer, we decided to build a tree house.
After the first weekend, it was a few boards stuck to a couple of trees. The second weekend didn’t improve things much. In fact, it looked more like we were building an awkward swing set than a tree house. After a month, we had a small platform between the trees. The girls were impressed. I was disappointed about how slow we were progressing.
We could have stopped there. We had already enjoyed a great time together and it compared well with some other tree houses they had seen, but after a few months we still saw something in our backyard that looked closer to a beginning than an ending. Our fun project had begun to be a work project. The thought crossed my mind more than once to hang up my hammer, tell the girls it was finished, and devote my weekends to watching football, or grilling, or napping, or any of the hundreds of other things that were feeling more fun.
And then something began to happen that wasn’t in our plan. People had been watching as we braved the heat, and the hauling, and the smashed fingers, and the splinters. . .Neighbors began to come into our backyard and watch. Some helped. Many brought materials: pieces of a torn down porch, leftover lumber from a deck, donated hardware from a playground that was being replaced. . . My brother in law and nephew even brought over a workbench top and helped me nail it in as part of the roof.
We kept going.
That summer we had worked so long at the project people began to notice. When they noticed, they wanted to be a part of what we were doing. Sticking with something through the difficult times not only changes you, but it also attracts attention. Things are revealed by determination that cannot be discovered any other way. When you are determined to finish what you start, even something as simple as a tree house, it can produce new relationships and deepen existing ones.
One day, as we were installing some leftover kitchen cabinets donated by another neighbor, I asked my oldest daughter if she thought the tree house was finally finished. She said, “I don’t think it will ever be finished. We can always keep going, can’t we?” It’s been a few years and she’s right. We’re never going to say the tree house is finished. It’s too much fun adding another piece and repairing it together. People still drop by to see how it’s going and still donate pieces to the lifetime project.
This month maybe it’s time for you to find a long term project to do with your kids. It can be as simple as reading a bit of a long chapter book with your kids each night. It could be a backyard building project, or learning to play a musical instrument, or seeking out the recipe for the perfect pizza, or building the model of the 1976 Plymouth Grand Fury Interceptor. Decide together that no matter how long it takes or what difficulties arise that you will finish the project together. I think you’ll be as amazed as I was at what you discover along the way.
Greg Payne is a multi-talented creative writer for Orange and 252 Basics. He has been married for 17 years, has two daughters and two unnamed dogs. He is a grill and smoke enthusiast, tree house builder, vacation planner, and Mario Brothers competitor.