Wood Tape

My wife calls me at work, and we have the usual end-of-the-day chat. Then:
"Oh, by the way, Guy wants you to take him to the hardware store, he wants to get some tape."
"What kind of tape?"
"He says he wants 'wood tape'."
"Wood tape?"
"Wood tape."
"Uhhh, ok. When?"
"Sometime this weekend. He is really looking forward to going."

Guy is my four-year-old son. No problem, I just need a fraction of an excuse to visit a hardware store.

Sunday morning rolls around, the tape has completely left my mind. Guy comes in with this drawing on a clipboard:
"See what I made, Dad?"
"That's very nice Guy. What is it?"
"Well, this one is a big board."
"And that's a saw."
"Yes, I see that, very nice."
"And this is a table I want you to make by cutting up the board with the saw. I'm going to paint squares on it."
"Really. And what's this?"
"I... I don't know."
"Oh, Ok."
"But first, I have to go to the hardware store. I have to make a list."

He disappears, and a half hour rolls by as I check email and what not. The table has now left my mind. Guy is yelling:
"How do you spell 'tape'?"
"T-A..., what's the rest?"
"How many letters? I've got... three."
"Four letters. T-A-P-E"

A bit later:
"Ok Daddy, I'm ready to go to the hardware store now."
"You are?"
"Yes, I have my shopping list. I cut it out."
"You did, what's on it?"
"Oh, yes," I say, now remembering the Friday conversation, "anything else on your list?"
"No, just tape."
"What's this?"
"That's just a windsock."
"Oh. Well, get your shoes on."

We are now at Home Depot. This is his shopping trip, so I completely let him take the reins. I decide to keep my involvement to a minimum, partly for entertainment, mostly as a learning experience for Guy.
"Where is the tape, Dad?"
"This is your trip, Guy, you are going to have to find it. You can try asking the people in orange aprons."

He trots off after a fellow in an apron. He's quick, and I have to hustle with the cart to keep up with his bobbing and weaving. The fellow is already engaged with another customer, talking on a phone and looking at various plumbing boxes on the top shelf. I'm just spectating, about 10 feet away. Guy is having a hard time getting noticed and finally gives the fellow's apron a tug. The man looks startled at the gnome who has just appeared at his feet asking questions. I hear the words 'wood' and 'tape' go back and forth a few times, and I can tell by the look on the fellow's face that he doesn't think he has heard correctly. He is rather busy, and is starting to look around frantically for a parent to clear the matter up. "Tough luck, buddy," I think as I'm stepping forward:
"What does he want?" he asks me.
"What kind of tape?"
"He says he wants 'wood tape'."
The man looks at me as if I were daft. "Wood tape?"
"Wood tape."
"What for?"
"Honestly, I have no idea. I haven't asked him what it's for. He can probably tell you."
Again the look. This shopping trip is turning out to be very entertaining.

The poor fellow begins to ask Guy what the tape is for, but decides to punt instead: "Paint department," he says to the four-year-old, "you can find tape in the paint department." When the four-year-old keeps looking at him, the fellow starts to give him directions. Then part way through, he switches to give me the directions instead. I'm just staring blankly, and I can tell he is trying to figure out if perhaps Guy is my legal guardian instead of the other way around. He switches back to Guy, then recaps:
"Go to the end of the aisle, turn left, go until you see paint."
"Thank you," Guy says, then "This way Daddy."
"Ok" I say. "Thank you," I say to the fellow, and trundle off after Guy.

We find the paint department right where we were told it was.
"Where's the tape?" he asks me.
"I don't know, Guy, you will have to ask," I say with a malicious grin.
"I see someone."

There are two ladies behind the paint counter. Again, I hang back just a few feet. He jumps, waves and says "Excuse me" until one notices him over the counter. Again, I don't catch all of it. I hear her say "I'll come around and show you" as she looks around expectantly, then sees me lurking:
"Are you with him?"
With one look she could tell that it was I who was with Guy, not the other way around. Clever lady. "Yes, I am."
"Ok, just making sure," still with a frown when I don't offer more.
She looks as though she is about to pistol-whip me with the phone and call security in a single gesture, so I own up quickly: "This is his project, and I'm letting him be in charge." She doesn't really relax until she hears Guy call me 'Daddy'.

I trundle after the both of them. There is lots of tape to choose from. To help him with his decision, I finally ask him what the tape is for:
"To put on wood," he says.
Now that it is so clear, I tell him probably duct tape is the best.
"But we already have duct tape at home."
Although I can tell it's not quite what he was looking for, I try to speed things along: "That's Ok, this can be your tape."

As we are leaving the paint department, I ask him:
"Is that it? Is that everything you need?"
"Are you sure?"
"Well... let me think... Paint. I need some paint."

We're in the paint department, he sees paint, so he needs paint. Good thing we were not in the home appliance aisle, he might have needed a new freezer. I can tell this is product placement, and I'm seriously thinking about nixing this one. If he wants a whole palette, forget it, but maybe one or two colors would be Ok:
"How many colors?"
"Two. I need two."
Hmmm. "Do you need spray paint or brush paint?"
"Brush paint."

I can do two small cans of paint. I lead him to the small paint cans, having temporarily forgotten the do-it-yourself mode while deciding if I should let the impulse shopping go on. At the paints:
"Ok, what colors?"
"Red, and blue."
"Ok, they have Colonial Red and Apple Red. You can see the colors on the labels at the top. Which do you want?"
"Apple Red. I like apples."
He didn't even glance at them. Who needs colored labels when the paints have such precise names? "Ok, Apple Red. Now for blue, I only see Deep Blue."
"Umm, no, I need black."
Uh oh, a third color. I am nixing this if it goes to three, you have to stick to your guns on these issues. Give 'em an inch... "Black?"
"What about the blue?"
"I don't need blue."
I pause while I try to decide if he can read my mind. "Ok, here's black. Do you need a brush?" I might as well get credit for getting him the full Monty, I know the brushes I have at home are rather stiff.
"Yes. I'll go ask the lady where they are. Wait here Daddy, don't move. I'll go ask."
'Atta boy...

The lady shows him the brushes, and asks him what kind. "Cheap" I interject, forgetting I'm a spectator. The brushes are cheap, so one for each color. I'm thinking what a benevolent dad I am. The lady gives Guy a paint can opener. Seeing the "And just how much is that?" look I have, she patiently explains "They're free." Guy beams with delight. She is thinking what a Scrooge of a dad I am. But, we are ready to go...
"Wood, Dad, I need wood."
Ahhh, the dynamic shopping list. We are not even in the lumber aisle this time, his buying impulses are no longer limited by what's in sight. "What for?"
"For my table."
Oh yeah. That. This kid never forgets anything. "What are you going to do with the table?"
"I'm going to paint it."
I should have seen that coming. Then something else clicks: "Is that what the tape is for, your table?"

We head over to the lumber aisle. I didn't realize how serious he was about a table this morning. Although I'm relieved this is now one project instead of two, I'm not too keen on spending the money for wood. It's really not the money, I just don't want to set a precedent that will keep haunting me. But I'm playing along for now, waiting to see what he has in mind because it's obvious he has been planning this table for some time. We look at some small plywood squares:
"Is this the right size?"
"Ummm, bigger."
"Rectangle or square?"
I can tell the plywood isn't going to match his room's current decor. "Where are you going to put this table?"
"In my tree house."
Now we're talking. A table for the tree house? That's cool. I can spend a few bucks on that. Why didn't he just say so before? "Ok, well, we better get some treated lumber instead."

We look at some railing stringers, they would make good table legs:
"You want plain ones or ones with turnings?" I'm into this now.
"With turnings."
"How many legs?" I ask just to be sure.
Thankfully it sounds like a normal table. "What size again?"
He shows me a 2-foot by 2-foot shovel stand the right size. "But without the holes on top" he adds.

We get an 8-foot board to quarter for the top. We talk about using screws to hold the table together.
"Is there anything else you need?" I ask, holding my breath.
"No, we have screws at home."
I don't ask twice this time. We get out of Home Depot for $30.08, plus some cash back. Not too bad.

We have a late lunch at McDonald's, half-hour in the PlayPlace, then head home. I change his little brother's diaper and get him in bed for a nap. Then I start dragging out tools. Meanwhile, Guy has been drawing new pictures:
"Here is the board. And the saw. This is the table I want you to make."

The drawing is simple, so the table is simple. Simple frame, simple top, simple legs. I round off everything with a router. It looks rather good I think. I'm not all that keen on the colors Guy has picked out, but what the hey. It's his table, dad, remember? Guy is anxious to begin painting:
"Ok Guy, how do you want to do this? Do you want a red top and black legs, or the colors all around?"
"No Dad, I want squares. We need to tape squares."
"Squares? What kind of squares?"
"I want a checkerboard on it. I want to play checkers on it."

I am momentarily paralyzed. THAT'S what all this has been about! That is such a cool table! Why didn't I think of that? What could be more quaint, more classic, more Norman Rockwell than a checkerboard table in a tree house? I still can't move as a flood of recognition hits me: THAT'S what this has been about the whole time! He had all of this planned from the beginning. The tape, the table, its purpose, its placement, the paint, the colors, everything. Delight, pride, gratitude, disbelief, shock, and more and more pride, all swelling and swirling together. I can't think, I can't focus. My four-year-old wasn't showing me pictures, he was showing me blueprints. He certainly was not impulse shopping, he knew exactly what he needed, every step of the way. He had been looking for the blue masking tape we had used when painting his room. I had thought he wanted the tape to hold the pieces of the table together, but he knew to use screws for that. He wanted to tape the wood to mask the squares for painting. There is not an adult who could have planned it better or more thoroughly. Now I'm fighting back tears of pride, and my heart is about to burst.

I think back over the day and see the signs now. I remember earlier bits and pieces that all make sense. I should not be surprised, this is not the first time something like this has happened. I certainly didn't think it was beyond a four-year-old's ability, but I just never saw it coming. I keep trying not to underestimate the little stinkers, but they keep sneaking up on me.

I strain to recall every conversation and scramble to recover all the pieces of paper. I want to remember this day forever. I stay up typing and scanning everything in until 7:00 a.m. because I don't want to lose a moment.

I am so grateful that I let myself follow what I thought were his whims, and I dread how easily a 'wood tape' project might have been dismissed. I am proud of the way my wife and I have raised our sons, and so very proud of the boys.

I am more content a father than any man deserves to be.

Text copyright (c) 2004 .
Drawings copyright (c) 2004 Guy Nesin, used with permission.
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