Our second month taught us a lot about stamina and resilience in creating a sustainable blog.
Sunshine and the Scientist present: Putting Down Roots and Raking Up Leaves
continues to be a learning experience, an empathetic stomping ground, and a casual experiment.
In the month of May, we published 9 entries, 75% of April’s cache.
This wasn’t a calculated decision. The month of May got away from us, as social and occupational obligations began to add up. We had serious car trouble (another story for another day), which took Sunshine out of the writing running for nearly a week and a half. There was also a very lovely vacation weekend where barely any tech was touched.
By the Numbers
The 9 entries received a total of 114 views from 70 visitors, accessing from 10 countries. While the United States remains the center of our readership base by a factor of 10, we are gaining popularity with readers in Spain and the UK.
With 25% fewer entries, it is encouraging to have had approximately an equal drop in visitors. This is being attributed to a more deliberate social media sharing schedule, and is being interpreted favorably. After two months, there is a trend of approximately 8 visitors per entry, and this is a statistic which will be important moving forward.
Clearly, May was not as good as April in the numbers, as we missed our goals by respective landslides. But like true scientists, we learn by failing.
It appears there was a burst in followers in our first month, but a serious depreciation rate in the second. For this change, we will adjust our goals accordingly.
Comments and likes also depreciated, but this is partially attributable to the significantly decreased presence on the site overall. Many of the comments and likes in our first month were garnered from those pages we stopped in to comment, like, or subscribe to. In focusing more on social sharing, we decreased our previous WordPress Reader presence and thus our impact in our readers’ and potential readers’ view.
An article from April, There’s Something About Lori, about Sunshine’s journey of self-discovery and personal autistic awareness, remained the most popular article on the blog in May.
This was followed by What We Learned Rebuilding, an in-depth look at the lessons Sunshine and the Scientist collected while rebuilding the front porch deck, regarding construction techniques and relationship building.
The Scientist would like me to add that while Sunshine called us “novices” in the entry, he is very adept and familiar with tools and hardware, and has (re)constructed decks before. Sunshine was the true novice during the build, and please know the article was written mostly from her perspective.
The Scientist has also since begun work in a laboratory where he uses power tools and crafting materials all the time, and we cannot wait to share with you more about his new profession in a future entry.
Please, Stop Asking Kids this One Question was the third most popular entry, informed by Sunshine’s years of working with autistic children and incorporating her unusual, yet accurate, observations as an atypical, neurodiverse woman. While the Scientist finds the blog entry to be gripping and informative, Sunshine believes it was likely too lengthy for the message it hopes to communicate, which is simply: Never ask a “did you tell” question to a child when you know, and they know you know, the answer. Click the link above for anecdotal and descriptive explanations.
Less popular was the Modern Retellings series, debuting on Friday afternoons, and currently featuring the titles The Fox and the Briefcase,The Snapchat Gnat, and Friendly, Feathered Competition. The series is intent on communicating Aesop’s fables in 2-minutes-or-less, in more technologically savvy allegories. Despite its reception, the series will continue into June, because it is something we believe is vital and currently missing from our cultural discourse.
Setting Goals for June
The goals for May were simple, and somewhat qualitative:
Increase reach, reception, and enhance discourse
Publish 15 entries, plus Stats and Goals
Use feedback to enhance article content
In an effort to continue to thrive at any new commitment, attainable goals are necessary. Failing to meet a goal provides a learning opportunity, and the chance to reset and refocus with intention.
Keeping this in mind, in the month of June, we aim to:
– Publish 2 Science and nature entries, 1 Relationship-building entry, 3 Modern Retellings entries, and perhaps at least 1 update, among others, with an ideal of 10 (this month +1)
– Increase activity by seeking out further interactions through the WordPress reader
– Maintain current levels of social link sharing to maintain and promote readership
…Wait, one more thing!
The most informative and most critical article we wrote this month was Tick Tock, Ticks are Hungry. Sunshine and the Scientist strongly encourage you to know the risk of ticks in your area and to take all necessary precautions. Check out your local, county, and state park websites for relevant information, and skim through the list we’ve cultivated to assert safe practices. Did you know ticks are arachnids who grow a pair of legs each year? Did you know they don’t fly or jump, but attach to bodies that brush by their outstretched, leafy perch? All that and more in the article linked above.
[TLDR: For the Quick Summary, please scroll to the Summary heading.]
Read on for the explanation.
Every parent I’ve ever met wants the best for their kid and parenting is a nonstop job. Parents work long hours, have big hearts, and push their kids to have the very best quality of life they can imagine. While working in-home with autistic kids, I always integrated family members into our sessions — they’d provide support long after I’d gone home for the night. I used my experience and training to give families the building blocks to strengthen their family ties and grow together.
The adage is true; It takes a village.
So now, it is with the best of intentions and my sincerest appreciation for our shared responsibilities that I bring something to your attention:
There is one question we need to stop asking.
I hear The Question so frequently that I honestly wonder about its ubiquity. How did we, as a culture, land on this one question as a means to an end?
It’s a simple and well-intentioned question that steps on its own toes, so to speak. It gets in its own way. Bites its own tongue. Circular reasons itself out of meaningfulness. Causes exactly what it’s attempting to prevent.
In real time, I’m powerless to stop it from being asked. The Question, this one small, well-meant colloquial adult-asks-kid scenario is so annoyingly antithetical to its purpose that I’m dedicating an entire entry to it (one that has been cut down from near-6k words.) It has the opposite effect for which it is meant. It reinforces the behavior intended to be changed.
How is the question raised?
Setting the Scene — Scenario
Jo and I are sitting at their dining room table. Jo is 10 years old, loves to play soccer, use metallic ink pens, and is intensely passionate about narrow interests. They have been diagnosed with co-morbid learning and communication delays. I visit their house several times a week, for a few hours at a time as a “tutor” and I “teach” social skills.
To this end, I use mirroring and modeling techniques, based on the iso-principle, to artificially match their energy and affect for pairing in the relationship. (Over time, I’ll use the technique less.) For now, it helps create a friendly foundation on which to build a learning environment. It also lets me briefly assess and evaluate the appropriate direction for today’s session in particular. There are many potential activities for us, but it’s Jo’s engagement that guides the choice. The session COULD be wacky and wildly energetic, replete with games, songs, and stories. Or, like today, it could be a quiet and reserved approach.
Opening Lines — The Lead Up
Jo is not making eye contact, their hands are down, and their shoulders are drooping. After knowing Jo a few months, I’ve come to expect the ebb and flow (aka dysregulation) of Jo’s emotions and I’ve consistently encouraged them to do what feels comfortable in any given moment.
Jo has unique social and communication needs. They‘re learning how to speak with people (not at them), how to empathize with others, and how to create friendships from incidental connections. They will practice with me, in routine and naturalistic ways, small skills that add up to big strides with me and then slowly generalized to others. My responsibility is to present the complexity of skills into easily manageable, repeatable, and quantifiable behaviors, then guide them to chain the skills together in useful, less mechanistic ways. I don’t expect Jo to learn all of these skills at once. For today, it’s okay if they can’t make eye contact. It’s okay if we sit quietly together for a few minutes without speaking, if they cannot return my greeting, or if they cannot respond to any question I ask. These are the most important skills I’m hoping to model, and we have all of our time together to practice them.
Even if Jo and I have achieved a richly engaging conversation in the past, I don’t anticipate or push for one. Jo is growing their understanding of back-and-forth social exchanges. In the meantime, I know through experience that there’s no sense in forcing them to interact. Over time, I’ll use reinforcement, repetition, role play, singing, game play, and other techniques, to teach this complex task which comes naturally to some, but not so to others.
Enter Mom and the Question of the Ages
Le had greeted me at the door and shown me into the room where Jo waits. She stands in the doorway as Jo and I take our places at the table, hovering expectantly as many moms do. After a beat, she begins shifting her weight uncomfortably as she recognizes what I’ve mentioned: Jo’s disengagement.
Le’s main goal for having me here is to enhance Jo’s communication abilities and the quality of their social interactions. She wants them to make friends more easily. She is very eager to see them communicate with others the way they only seem to communicate with her. Jo CAN talk, after all, but they sometimes struggle to speak genuinely with anyone other than Le. She’s concerned about their daily interactions, especially with adolescence on the horizon. I’ve done my best to educate Le to moderate her expectations. Her relationship with them will always be unique. They are actually very typical for a neurodivergent kid. These skills can take time, and it’s time we must all be ready for.
Let’s Begin — Jo and Me (and apparently, Le)
While I stack my notebooks and pull out my metallic pens, I can sense Le’s discomfort and anticipation. Jo may sense it too. It’s not helping Jo in the slightest.
I model for Le while also seeking Jo’s engagement. I prompt Jo, softly, patiently.
How was your day, Jo?
Good, Jo continues looking at their lap.
What would you like to talk about?
I did something fun today.
Can I tell you about my fun day?
In my head, I’m figuring out the path for this session. I’m using questions to provide opportunities. I’m evaluating the day’s objectives, informed by the overall communication goal and the presenting affect. Given their reserved responses, I’m planning to move to a medium with less conversation, like a worksheet, a music intervention, or a game. It will take the spotlight pressure off.
Jo turns to see Le hovering in the corner by the door. They look up at her, avoiding my gaze completely. (They are nonverbally seeking assistance.) Seeing their head turn, in the way of most well-meaning parents, Le rushes to Jo’s aid and inadvertently asks the most nonfunctional yet somehow pervasive question.
I try and signal Le not to speak, knowing the question is coming, but without rudely cutting her off, there’s nothing I can do. I silently observe Le as she, with the best intentions, reinforces Jo’s communication strife.
The Question that Answers Itself
“Did you tell Lori about … ?” Le prompts.
It’s a common phrasing. Meaningless in this situation, yet we use it regularly. It’s an error that sets my teeth on edge. It does nothing to help the child break out of their shell or learn appropriate interactions. It doesn’t enhance the therapeutic relationship. It doesn’t model natural conversation and it doesn’t encourage social exploration. But, as I’ve said, Le’s mistake is a mistake we all make from time to time with kids. Le already knows the answer, and Jo knows she knows.
You Already Know
Whatever follows the question doesn’t matter.
Did you tell Lori about the field trip you went on yesterday?
Did you tell Grandma whathappened over the weekend?
Did you tell your friend where we went after football practice?
Did you tell your teacher about your new shoes?
Did you tell [person][event/thing/action]?
And so on.
Varying Responses with Only One Result
“Did you tell Lori about the field trip?“
Jo, like most kids, responds by sitting quietly without responding. Jo, in a difficult moment, has successfully passed the communication reins to Le, and will now have Le lead the conversation.
Jo looks self-conscious. The thing they didn’t mention is red ink on the page. Jo hasn’t said anything at all, their mom knows it, and yet, their mom has put them in a situation to either say “no” or not respond at all. The question does not open a line of dialog — it creates an end point.
To incorporate the framing of the question, I turn my body toward her saying something to the effect of, “Jo will tell me when they’re ready,” and then turn back to Jo and ask a direct, potentially related, question. Whatever I ask will be open-ended enough to allow Jo the agency of responding, as Le has already removed the agency of choosing a subject. I might ask something like:
Jo, where did you go on your field trip?
Who was on the field trip with you?
Did you take a bus with your class, or ride in a car?
Unfortunately for Jo, Le feels tired of Jo not responding, and wants to show them what to do. Before I can leave space and ask Jo a direct question, Le jumps in again:
You went to the museum, right? Tell Lori about the museum, and what your teacher said.”
In every case that I’ve seen using the “Did you tell…” framing followed by an additional piece of information, every kid, just like Jo, repeats back whatever was said and falls silent again. Jo:
We went to a museum.
This isn’t a natural conversation, and Jo doesn’t even have a starring role in it. I can ask whatever I want now, Jo will likely only shrug or look back to Le. Over time, Jo and Le have adapted this likely unconscious routine, where Jo has difficulty initiating, Le fills in the blanks, and Jo parrots back a response enough to appease me, or any adult Jo is expected to talk to.
An Easy Mistake with Lasting Consequences
In an effort to persuade Jo to begin talking, Le is fabricatinga situation for them to rely on another person to start talking.
In this instance, Le is not teaching them to speak. She is speaking for Jo in a somewhat condescending way. Perhaps Jo doesn’t want to discuss the field trip with me, or perhaps there’s something else on their mind. Maybe they were waiting on a better time to bring it up, or maybe they just didn’t want to talk at all. Le has removed Jo’s agency, likely in response to their own discomfort with our mutual silence.
It’s completely well-intentioned. It’s also detrimental. Le may be the person who saves her friends from awkward conversations at cocktail parties, but her child is also relying heavily on her to do so every day.
If you’re not sure why “Did you tell [person] about [thing]?” is bad, here are 4 glaring issues I’ve seen in practice.
1. “You KNOW I didn’t”
“Did you tell…?” No, and you know it! Le knows Jo has not told me this story, she’s been standing there the whole time! In no way does this resemble a natural, conversational style. Issue 1: Modeling Unnatural Interaction
2. Insinuating “You should/could have mentioned…”
“Did you tell…?” In natural conversational style, the way most of us would respond to being asked this question would be to say “No I didn’t tell…” followed by actually telling or giving a reason why we haven’t told yet.
Jo doesn’t have a natural conversational style; it’s why they’re working with me. By asking this, Le is expecting Jo to have mastered this part of dialog we take for granted, insinuating they should have mentioned the thing, and holding Jo to a test they can likely at this stage only fail. Issue 2: Setting the Bar Too High While Simultaneously Acknowledging It’s Unreached
3. “Don’t put me on the spot!”
The self-awareness required to answer the question correctly is almost always accompanied by feelings of shyness, discomfort, or poor self-esteem. Le put Jo on the spot to discuss something they picked, and does so repeatedly on a regular basis. After this interaction with me, Jo typically lashes out in anger, at agreed upon boundaries or at themselves.
“Did you tell…?”
“Man, why didn’t I think of telling them about that?” or “I didn’t want to mention that — but now I guess we have to talk about it.”
Issue 3: Creating Feelings of Inadequacy or Poor Self-Esteem
4. “What do I do now?”
“Did you tell…?” is a prompt that reinforces the dependent relationship, and the more it’s used, the more deeply it’s entrenched in their interactions. Jo will wait to be prompted by Le to speak, and will rely on Le for the appropriate topic in any given moment. What will Jo do when Le is not around? Perhaps, lead the conversation alone, but in my experience, if this is a routine occurrence, Jo will clam up or wait to be directed when Le is not around. And who will Jo take prompts from? Potentially, anyone. Issue 4: Conditioning Unwanted Behavior
Show, Don’t Tell
Every adult who interacts with Jo has a responsibility to model natural conversation, so that Jo is able to begin to implement what they learn in our sessions. If Le feels like she must jump in, she can say to me, “Jo went on a field trip today. Maybe they’ll tell you about that when they’re ready.”
Jo’s responsibility is to communicate to the best of their ability, whatever that may be today. They do not need to make me feel comfortable, to act outside of their nature perform for me. They may or may not be aware that communication is even expected, which is completely and totally okay.
It’s my responsibility to show and not tell how I start conversations, what topics are good jumping-off points, and the mechanisms by which our language is figurative, inferential, casual, and anticipatory.
Recapping the Question Not to Ask
When asking “Did you tell [person] about [thing]?” you are inadvertently and with the best of intentions:
Modeling an Unnatural Communication Style
Setting an Unnecessary, yet Unintended, High Expectation
Putting a Spotlight on an Uncomfortable Moment
Conditioning Dependence in Social Settings
An Addendum for Minimally Verbal Children
“Minimally Verbal”, or occasionally “Nonverbal”, is the descriptive term therapists use for those who use functional language minimally (if at all).
The Question is Still Problematic
For the minimally verbal, “Did you tell [person] about [thing]?” is potentially even more detrimental. For functionally verbal children like Jo, the question is problematic for all the reasons listed above. For minimally verbal children with difficulties processing or understanding language, the question reinforces the wrong idea. In this instance, following
Did you tell Lori we went to the park?
will frequently be answered with either an incorrect answer or an echo.
Did you tell Lori we went to the park? “Yes.” No, you didn’t. Tell Lori we went to the park.
Did you tell Lori we went to the park? “the Park.”
The responses are not functional. The child doesn’t understand what is being asked. In most cases, parents then respond positively —
“The park.” “Yes! That’s right! We went to the park!”
Functionally, the child sees a happy parent and hears praise. The child will now be conditioned to respond the same way following each “Did you” question.
Did you eat lunch? “Yes. Eat lunch.”
Did you eat gorilla for lunch? “Yes.”
Did the lunch person help you with your lunchbox? “Lunchbox.”
Did you know you forgot your lunch? “Yes.” But did they know?
It is truly amazing to watch as minimally verbal children begin to process language with more specific intervention. For some, with exposure to more concise and deliberate language patterns, start they begin to parse through sentence structure and notice jokes, inference, etc. Did you eat gorilla for lunch? “Yes………Noooooo….” Their faces light up with an inkling of confidence and a dawning of understanding. Not everyone will get to this point of understanding, however.
If you believe a minimally verbal child is either repeating the last word or responding yes or no without truly understanding to a Did you question, remove the prompt from your vocabulary until the child has more of an understanding of Yes/No, Present/Past, and until “You did, You didn’t” is more readily understood.
Other Suggestions for Avoiding the “Did You” Question
Give the therapist or teacher a head’s up. Prior to the session, email/call/text, out of the child’s earshot, and give the details about the child’s day. A good therapist will hear that a child was excited to buy new shoes and will guide the conversation naturally in that direction to allow the child the opportunity for success — if they want to, are able to, and feel comfortable doing so.
Write it down with your child! For children with communication deficits, a small bullet journal of potential conversation topics can go a long way. Each night, have the child think back to what was notable about the day — trips, events, funny moments, fights, whatever they might want to talk about. Write a small reminder for each, or draw a small picture, and then get in the habit of having that book available during the session and beyond. The act of reflecting on a regular basis will help the child to understand what is expected when someone asks “What did you do today?” or “What do you want to talk about?”
If you feel you must prompt, then change up the question. Give a gentle verbal reminder that does not begin with “Did you tell…” There are a lot of ways to do this. Use names and speak plainly so it is clear who is talking to who and ask questions that lead in a specific, but open direction, rather than yes/no.
Lori, yesterday Jo and I went shopping.
Jo, Lori wants to hear about your new shoes.
Lori, you have GOT to hear about this. Jo, tell Lori about our trip to the mall.
Jo, it looks like Lori is wearing new sneakers — you and Lori have that in common. What can you ask her about her sneakers?
These prompts aren’t ideal because they still create boundaries to Jo developing their own natural conversational style, but these prompts are infinitely better than the defeating “did you” prompt.
4. Simply, let it go. That’s right. Just let it go. Let the therapist work. Let the child make progress. Let the moment proceed all on its own. Let everyone sit in what is perceived to be an uncomfortable silence. What made your child excited yesterday, may currently not have the same effect. It was a special moment for the two of you, but not necessarily something to talk about. Perhaps once the session is over, the child will point out that special thing, or wait for the therapist to notice.
If there’s no way to prompt the therapist privately or prompt your child in an open-ended manner, ask yourself — how necessary is my intervention in this moment? Can I let this go? Typically, yes, yes you can.
Prompting a child with the question “Did you tell [person] about [thing]?” is not a functional conversation starter.
It may actually be creating a major problem in the child’s developing communication skills.
By asking the question “Did you tell [person] about [thing]?” you may be:
Modeling an Unnatural Communication Style
Setting an Unnecessary, yet Unintended, High Expectation
Putting a Spotlight on an Uncomfortable Moment
Conditioning Dependence in Social Settings
4. Instead, replace “Did you tell [person] about [thing]?” try:
Contact the people the child is going to be talking to ahead of time, so they know what to ask about directly.
Help the child keep a bulleted or pictorial reflection journal as a conversational assistant.
Use a gentle, different verbal reminder, and be open to the child’s answer even if it isn’t on your intended topic.
Let the topic go.
No promises, but…
Jo is a special kid. They’re gifted in their own way. Sometimes they’re quiet, sometimes very engaging. You may not even know what they are capable of. If you let them develop without prodding, you’ll be amazed at the potential they have. Trust me when I tell you, it will be worth the wait when you hear him learn new skills, gain confidence, and begin to engage others with ease.
I would love to hear your comments, questions, additions, or anecdotes.
Leave a line below or share this post with someone who may benefit.
The entranceway to our house was crumbling and unsafe. The deck had been built over a decade before, using unsealed non-decking lumber over a small concrete porch. With zero maintenance and miles of footsteps, it been left to break down under nature’s force. We’d patched the stairs a few times, but we also knew that any of the surface boards could give way. Rot and water damage was a real concern. Large cracks and crevices were causing bends in formerly straight boards. There was too much give. Bounce where there shouldn’t be. We might accidently hurt someone. We needed to act.
After a few months’ conversation, weeks of planning, and 2 days of hard work, we rebuilt the entry deck leading into the house. The foundation was strong, but the entire frame and surface needed to be replaced. It was one of our first major projects together as an engaged couple and we learned a lot about how to work together and how to approach a team project. With the finished deck in sight (we’ll need to seal and stain in a few weeks), we consider the project a huge success.
While reflecting on the job afterward, we realized we had each learned things that would make future projects easier to approach and things we wanted to share with our readers. We are Sunshine and the Scientist, after all, and we have scientific and growth minded ways of looking at everything, especially in reflection. Please note, neither of us is a licensed carpenter and we only know as much as we’ve read, seen, or experienced. Consult an expert with actual construction concerns.
Here are the biggest takeaways…
About Construction for Novices
Mind all dimensions of wood when choosing lumber for purchase. Standard sizing varies based on wood type and year of manufacture. Length, width, and depth are all important considerations.
It is an unprecedently expensive time to buy lumber. The global pandemic caused lumber manufacturing to cease, alongside many other industries. The housing market, is currently booming – new construction is peaking with such low loan interest rates and many homes are being refurbished in a sellers’ market. Home renovations are peaking as well. It would seem with available time, homeowners spending time at home have decided to make all the upgrades they’ve been dreaming of. All this is to say, lumber is in demand. It is available at a premium, but it is and has been flying off the shelf. The idea of a “perfect” board is likely unlikely, so if you’re buying lumber for decking, you may need to make some concessions regarding perfect finishings.
Write out everything you’ll need to complete the project to cut down on shopping time and minimize forgetful moments. We found ourselves in the home store many times during this project, likely two times too many times. We had the drill – but did we have the drill bit? Did the drill bit match the screws we were planning to use? Would this bit handle all of the screws we needed, or should we have back up? Would we want an extra post for support? What kind of braces would the posts require? Did the framing need to be replaced, or just the surface boards? How many paintbrushes for the stain? How many containers of stain? These are all questions we could have asked ahead of time and answered with relative ease.
Use the right tool for the job. Do the research ahead of time and invest in a good set of tools – or rent them from the store – or borrow them. Watch online videos, buy a methods book, or talk to an expert for advice. Don’t be like me and insist that a reciprocating saw can do the job of a table saw, only to mutilate a piece of wood and your ego in the process. Spend what’s needed on the right materials too – the right blades, the right fasteners, the right drill bits, and the right kind of wood. Having extra nails and drill bits might seem silly, but it feels sillier to have to return to the store for a $10 item in the middle of the work process.
Know the dimension of your vehicle when you’re planning to transport wood, and bring a red flag for safety and moving blankets for the car’s interior. Most places that sell lumber will also have twine available, but always ask for help in securing wood in or on the vehicle if there is any question of safety.
Budget 50% more time than anticipated if you’re novice, and split the project into manageable pieces so as not to leave something critical unfinished. Life gets in the way, even if you’re working at the top speed. Something will get measured incorrectly. A board will be slightly warped. A screw will refuse to yield. The weather will play you. Lunch is a consideration. Shopping time at the store might take a lot longer than you expect. Unless you’ve built a few decks, plan to be building for longer than you plan to be building.
Measure twice, cut once. This is just great advice from my dad that always comes in handy. Mark the wood up with a pencil- which side is up, which end goes left, where the warp is. Use a T-Square, a level, and measuring tape. Write anticipated dimensions on a piece of paper and then confirm those dimensions as the project comes together, because 1/4 inch can throw off the entire project. The table saw blade itself is thick, so determine what side of the line you’re cutting on ahead of time. The home improvement stores will also cut the wood for you if you ask them to -but it can take some time. If you need special angle cuts, however, I’d definitely recommend enlisting professional help.
A pencil and paper beats a phone for blueprints and measurements. It may be old school, but it’s a classic for a reason. It’s much safer to have paper and pencil on the work table than a phone that needs to be kept away from tools, sawdust, and errant falling pieces of construction material, and that requires a hand to stay unlocked. That piece of paper can be modified quickly or dropped accidently without too much worry. It also won’t start buzzing or beeping when you’re using dangerous power tools, draw your attention in the wrong direction at an unsafe moment, or be a hassle if it gets left on the roof of the car.
The finished project is more than just a task complete. There was such unexpected joy and hope in seeing the finished work, the feeling of having upgraded something, and the confidence of having completed something. Every day, we use this new deck to enter our home and feel so bolstered that we can do anything. We’re proud to see it. Even the neighbors are talking! In the weeks since we’ve completed it, we’ve also begun to fix the landscaping, done handiwork around the house, and made plans for other projects to complete together and on our own. Doing one thing naturally leads to wanting to do another if you keep the right frame of mind.
A strong background is physics and mathematics is more than helpful. I’m not strong in physics or algebra, so I deferred all my planning dismay to the Scientist, who can calculate weight dispersal accommodation or create formulas for memorizing quantities like second nature. Consult an expert or use recommendations if you’re uncomfortable reinventing the wheel or if you aren’t partnered up with a science-minded person.
Once you start demolishing, the rest is easy. Like with every project, getting started can be the hardest part. If there’s considerable demo to do (like in our case), once you get moving on it, you’re much more motivated to keep going.
Assign roles ahead of time. Who will hold the board and who will operate the saw? Who is more comfortable cleaning up, organizing tools and materials, while the other does more solo parts of the task? Don’t wait to decide on each board who will be hammering each nail.
Clean up as you go. There will be points when only one person can really be working at at a time on any task, so be the person whose proactive, sweeping up, stacking and tying things neatly. I even got some weeding in while the Scientist was measuring braces.
If you can’t, scrap it. We initially hoped to also put in a pergola so that we could have a shaded entrance. (The south-facing deck is exposed to the sun for most of the day.) On the day of the build, before the last supply run, we spent 40 minutes attempting to engineer the plans to save as much as we could on lumber and still end up with a great finished piece. In the end, my vision of a cheaply built pergola did not meet the Scientist’s standards for safety, so we agreed to scrap it. Much better to have a pergola built well a month from now than to rush and have one we don’t really love now.
About Working Together
Every couple should embark on one major household project or plan an event before committing to marriage. We strongly feel this. We’ve all had couple friends that got married before realizing they couldn’t work together. Strong lines of division or criticism were drawn. Ultimatums were given. Soon, the couples were spending most of their time in separate rooms of the house, scoffing about the other’s ineptitudes. The way the partnership aids or hinders a project is indicative of what your joint future might hold. Your project could be construction-related, craft-related, redecorating, party or even vacation planning. Build a thing. Create a thing. Bond over the successes and failures. Revel in the blossoming partnership. Adjust your mentality when things don’t work out as smoothly as you dream, go back and try again.
Communicate your communication needs on a smaller scale. The project gave us a window into how we communicate. I tend to be verbose and will chatter indecisively about options and possibilities, without committing to any one idea in particular. The Scientist is more quiet and direct, taking in all of the information before making a definitive choice. Initially, this led to strife – I’d recommend 10 things, and the Scientist would mull over all of these ideas, while I tapped my toe waiting impatiently for him to choose or weigh in. The Scientist would then feel pressured, stressed, and overwhelmed about choosing between many potentially viable options. Once we realized this, we adapted. I would list my ideas in a more concise and orderly way and ask him to consider the options. He would ask for reasonable time to consider these ideas and then weigh in. I would also limit my ponderings to the task at hand, rather than try talking about a task six steps away. These are strategies we’ve already been incorporating into our daily lives, like when deciding on dinner or what movie to watch.
Choose a leader to spearhead every project. We had every intention of working together as equals with no one in charge. Neither wanted to feel condescending or steamrolled. We consider ourselves partners in every sense. Even with the utmost respect, at the outset, we found difficulties with this. We had trouble getting started, with neither wanting to initiate the other into action if the time wasn’t JUST right. When we disagreed on the type of lumber, on the best way to demo, on the type of screws we should use, on how much refurbishment was actually needed, we felt deadlocked with no one to make the final call. We could do this, we could do that, so we did nothing. Then we discussed this issue. We realized we have very different skillsets and abilities. The Scientist has completed more construction-type projects than I have and, despite my ego and comfort with power tools, I took the assistant position. Once we determined that the Scientist would lead the project, we both felt better about lending ideas, making decisions, and moving the project forward. He declared the start date and time. He would ask my opinion and I would reason through my ideas, waffling occasionally, and he would use my opinions to make his final decision, direct our roles, and voice his expectations. He became the ultimate construction tie-breaker, and will likely remain so for the rest of our days. (In contrast, I lead and tie-break when we cook together. I am the chef and he is the sous-chef, as I have much more kitchen experience, with the exception of baked goods. I never feel badly asking him to help me prepare something or in adjusting his ideas for spicing, and I communicate my reasons openly and peacefully, knowing I have the reins.)
And Other Little Things
Use an old bread bag for gathering up old nails and small scraps so they don’t rip through the garbage or your shoes.
Know when you’ve had your last tetanus booster.
Use gloves, masks, and goggles, even if you don’t think you need them.
A 40-year-old hammer is not the best way to remove 10-year-old nails. The nails win every time.
Be advised, sweeping out an area full of cat dander and loose fur may inadvertently send an eviction notice.
Take a chocolate (soy or otherwise) milk break while you’re working – sweet and light sustenance I highly recommend.
Whoever isn’t leading the project can also be in charge of documenting the project with pictures. When there wasn’t much for me to do, I enjoyed getting action shots of the Scientist at work.
A small upgrade to the exterior goes a long way – every time you leave the house and return, you’re met with something to be proud of all over again.