Saturday, September 29, 2012

Week 5: How DIY Projects Build Character

Stick with me...this story is a bit longer than most weekly updates, but it's not just a blow-by-blow account of a DIY project.

A couple of years ago I told my husband how dearly I would like to have a paver-style patio outside our basement door. I got an estimate from a guy and quickly realized that we would have to do it ourselves. His estimate was not unreasonable, just way more than we could pay for such a job with a decent contractor, so my husband decided to do it himself...but like most DIY projects we didn't get around to it until this year. Now, however, my son is old enough and strong enough to help with such a project, so my husband agreed to pay him $3.00 / hour to help, and help, he did!

"Houston, We have a problem..."
At the beginning of the project we realized it would take a week longer than expected because we had to install a french drain due to, well, drainage issues. Then we got a couple of inches of rain, indicating further  problems, so another weekend was spent on yet another french drain. Matty was out there in the ditch, swinging a pick-axe, getting muddy, and installing the drain, taking orders without complaint from his dad. The next weekend they laid the crushed stone base and used a hand-tamper to compact it. It was all tiring, muscle-building, blister-forming work. Then during the next few days it rained again so we suspended work and the following weekend we all pitched in and laid the stone. It was on this third weekend that I discovered that my son has an uncanny knack for patterns and numbers. He and I designed a pattern for the patio, he took one good look at it, and never needed to again. He did the job of laying the stones and calling for the next, never forgetting where we were in the pattern. We finished laying all the stone, with the intention of ordering the machine-compactor the following weekend, which would then be four consecutive weekends on the patio project. How many trips to Lowe's or Home Depot that adds up to I cannot venture a guess. Glen wants me to be sure to give a shout-out to his beloved truck, which faithfully hauled sand, bricks, a heavy compactor and anything else the project required. He should pay his truck, too...

Starting to dig the last drain
Finally the day we were to finish the project came and we unloaded the compactor. All three of us watched eagerly as Glen started it up, pushed it onto the bricks, and then watched in horror as the compactor, bricks, sand and base sank deeply into a hole of mushy clay, the entire project ruined in about 30 seconds flat. We realized that about half of the patio still had drainage problems, despite the two french drains already installed. I wanted to cry so I went inside and called my "b.f.f." who sympathized perfectly with our plight and instead of crying laughed hysterically with me over the whole scenario. My poor son who had put so much hard work into the project cried frustrated tears and just wanted to give up and plant grass. I couldn't blame him.

Here is where one begins to wonder whether or not it is worth it to pursue a project like this, but by God's grace I was able to see that we were not just building a patio, we were building character in a young man. Up to this point the job had endured some set-backs, but nothing like needing to start over completely, which is essentially what they had to do. He was tired, work-sore, wanting the job to just be finished, and I understood that, but I had to remind him what it means to persevere. I found our recent study of the Wright brothers a fitting analogy. After their first successful flights at Kitty Hawk, a rogue breeze came and picked up the flyer and smashed it to bits. I'm afraid I would have given up at that point! Thankfully they didn't but Matty's response to my lecture was, "Mom, I don't need to go down in history!" (Okay, but today you need to obey your dad, and he is not giving up, so neither are you.) A few minutes later he was out there beside his dad, removing every last brick, carefully digging up the sand and base, and once again, swinging the pick-axe and installing the last drain. He did not complain again for rest of the day, and even smiled through the ordeal.
Second Try!
Not wanting to give up a fifth weekend to this project I requested my husband take some time off from work and just get the job done. I released Matty from his regular school work, and so Tuesday of this week, they worked like maniacs and got the entire job done. Matty laid the patio while Glen and Molly ran bricks for him. The actual paving part was done in just three hours. The finished product turned out even better than the first attempt!
IT'S DONE! (the bale of straw is for the garden. It won't stay there!)
Now we have only to get the trampled lawn repaired with some top-soil and grass seed. We plan to install trellis and planter boxes along the bare wall, put a copper fire pit on the corner, and perhaps a swing or a few comfy chairs for evenings with friends by a cozy fire. By next spring, the DIY channel will be coming to our house for advice!

So what did we get done this week in "school?" Not a lot. A little math, a little grammar, some science here and there, but overall, this project was so worth the time we spent. Matty learned the meaning of hard work, perseverance, and stretching himself beyond what he thought he was able. He learned about sore muscles and going to bed really, really tired, but satisfied with a job well done. He built his relationship with his dad, and they truly bonded through this. He took orders and shared his opinion, and learned a valuable skill. He earned every penny of the check we wrote for him, and he is proud of it. I now can look back at the bricks in my backyard as a milestone of growth for my son, and can always remind him that he can do what he sets his heart and mind to do, and to not give up!

I am so glad that I did not hire that contractor. This patio is priceless.


  1. Hi,

    I have a quick question about your blog, do you think you could e-mail me?


    1. Hi Brian, thanks for stopping by. I prefer you email me via the link if you have a specific question.


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