Kyle J. Steenblik

GeekDad Report: Some Assembly Required

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GeekdadThe hour after X-mas morning the assembly begins, this is approached with the enthusiastic glee of a 6 year old and my kids get excited too.  

This is, and always has been, my favorite part.  This is a ritual I can now start passing on to my kids.  Here are the ground rules

  1. No cheating the night before, no unboxing, or prep work allowed.

  2. Start with breakfast.  Daddy needs coffee or the brain will not brain properly.

  3. Smallest items first, unbox the simple toys and kits that require minimal assembly.

  4. Take stock, check all parts and required tools, and safety equipment needed.  I kid, this is a seat of your pants MacGyver style challenge.  Use what you have within reach of your living room floor.  Using the appropriate tool is a last resort.  Try not to lose parts, because that is the worst thing in the world.

Okay, those aren’t really rules there are no rules.  I take that back there is one rule.

  • NEVER allow a child to open a box or bag containing any parts, pieces, stickers, or instructions.  This will only end in tears.

Now that we have our ground rules, it’s story time.  This is the story of a K’Nex roller coaster, and a My Little Pony Royal Wedding Castle play set, and how my wife learned the joy of the X-Mas living room assembly.

Our story begins on X-Mas Eve.  Diligently filling stockings and arranging half-assed wrapped presents under tree full of geek.  We were also wrapping last minute gifts.  One of those was a My Little Pony Royal Wedding play set.  When my wife, Carleigh, decides this would be perfect to unbox and assemble rather than wrap.  The primary idea here being, we were sick of wrapping things and this was a much more appealing option.  While this does technically break a few of my rules I decided to let it slide, because of reasons I don’t need to explain, my fellow male spouses will understand.  Overall, she did a good job, except for the one mistake she made.  She forgot to affix the decals before assembly.  I can hear the groans, but really, it’s an easy mistake, and we have all been there.  It’s easy to get carried away.  It was an easy fix, I am confident she will never make that mistake again.  Once the decals were placed, and the presents were haphazardly arranged, and the mulled mead was gone and the cookies were eaten, we finally got to bed.

After a solid twenty minutes of napping, it was morning and time to open the Irish cream and start the coffee.  As the coffee began to drip, and the paper started flying the house filled with sounds that were reminiscent of something similar to joy.  Joy, or coffee brewing, I confused those two.  After several minutes of being overwhelmed the small human-like creatures, I mostly recognize as my children before 9 am tore into their gifts in earnest.  There were no major hiccups; there were a few moments when they would find an unlabeled package.  We handled those by confiscating the errant package, only to return it, unseen, to the source after a clandestine examination and labeling.  There is an art to orchestrating x-mas morning; we are learning the game well, if only the child-like creatures would play along.  Nevertheless, that is not the point of the story, just the background.

The real fun started when my son opened the K’Nex roller coaster I had picked up for him.  I would like to describe the sound he made; however, it was beyond the auditory capacity I possess to perceive.  I also suspect there was a brief moment of demonic possession.  Until it dawned on him, that he had no earthly idea what it was he was holding.  I don’t know if you have ever choked on a good Irish cream coffee and had it spill out your nose due to unexpected spasms of laughter, but it’s not a recommended experience. The scene went something like this:

A small boy, in festive flannel pajamas franticly tears the wrapping off a large package.  He pauses, the box is exposed, a colorful roller coaster and big friendly K’Nex logo is clearly visible.  The boy jumps up, holding the box, literally jumping for joy.

“WOOOOOOOOO  THIIIIISSS IIIIIISSS SOOOOOO COOOOOOL!!! WWOOOAAAAHHHGGAAHHH!!!…..WHAT IS IT?!”

If any of you are now concerned, I should tell you, everyone survived, and yes, Irish cream burns like a liquid sun when passing through your sinus.  It took some time to recover, and it was at least a few hours of insisting that we did not want to open that box until there was order restored to the living room.  In this case, that meant waiting for at least most of our guests to leave, not because we didn’t enjoy their presents, we just don’t have much space.

At last, we had enough floor space in our living room to break the seal and embark on a backbreaking construction extravaganza.  I have to admit here, I have never played with K’Nex before.  They are new in my eyes, and had flown under my radar until I was looking for construction and engineering toys for my kids.  As engineering toys, these things are impressive for their versatility, and flexibility.  They can hurt to step on, so I would avoid that.  I would also recommend practicing some piece management.  Some of the connectors can be quite small, and the multitude of colors practically guarantees losing at least one piece in the carpet.  If you have never lost a Lego in carpet of the same color, you are lucky, or a liar.

There we are, on the floor, parts and pieces carefully organized in one giant pile inside the lid of a discarded box.  An expansive book of instructions lay before me.  For a solid twenty minutes, I showed my son the pieces, and how they matched pieces in the pictures, and how they went together, things were moving along.  He understood the concept, but was having some trouble with the finer details, as I had assumed he would.  I knew this was a little above is skill level.  I have always bought up, rather than down, he will grow and he will learn.  He has learned quite a bit in fact, although, at this time, twenty minutes is about the threshold of his active interest in this task.  He moved on, and I labored on.  He checked in, demanding progress, and explanation, which I gladly provided.  From time to time he would hijack pieces and build something unrelated.  He was testing the waters, figuring out how things fit together.  I like seeing that, it means he is working things out, he has a good brain in that large head.  Even my daughter was interested in the assembly.  She likes these things too, but is far more interested in narrative than construction.  She creates stories, he creates things, I do both.  She is also interested in how things work, from a scientific level, fascinated with chemistry already.  However that is another story, and one I will tell soon.

After an hour, give or take, I have nearly completed construction, but there is a problem.  We have a missing piece.  It’s not unheard of for sets like these to have the odd piece missing.  That is what I believe happened here.  Since we have since cleaned, the house at least twice and there has been no sign of the renegade K’Nex piece.  It is also possible our dog ate it, as she is known to do.  I was not about to wait around to confirm that, because I didn’t really want to.  What I did, and I took great pains to teach my son this, was to improvise.  We had a few different pieces left over, and I used those, to substitute pieces in other spots in the construction, to come up with the required connections.  It was not a perfect solution, but, in the end, the roller coaster ran.  It actually ran for hours.  It even survived an assault by Iron Man.  It did require some reassembly after that, but the kids both took great joy in seeing how the roller coaster was repaired.  They experimented with the track.  What would minor adjustments do?  In some cases, the adjustments robbed too much momentum and it could not reach the lift chain, and other adjustments were more disastrous and would have decapitated any passengers.  It was a lot of fun.  They even enjoyed taking it apart and putting it back in the box, where it has waited for one of them to get the itch to create a miniature amusement park.

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