« Another reason to love Google | Main | Money for nothin' and your chicks for free »

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Adventures in home improvement

This past Friday afternoon I was out on our back porch engaged in a little home improvement: building a pergola.  Over the past week the big kids and I had stained the lumber and (mostly) cut it to size for the project.  But on Friday we finally started assembling it.

The first, and arguably most important, step of the pergola assembly required that deep holes be drilled into the stone-clad face of our house, and a long, unwieldy 2 x 6 board be bolted securely along the length of the of the porch.  This, by itself would be a daunting task to attempt with only an 11 and 13 year old handy for help.  But consider the fact that the drilling/bolting had to be done at a considerable height (almost 11 feet), we were heading into uncharted territory.

Thankfully, one of my neighbors was able to lend me a painter's ladder (the kind that opens up to an A-shape).    But it wasn't a very tall ladder (6 or 7 feet) and still required that I stand on the top step (something expressly forbidden on at least two separate warning labels on the ladder) with the drill held above my head in order to reach the place I had to drill.

However, since there was no other way to drill the holes and mount this long board... I drafted the two kids to brace the ladder tightly between them while I did my high-wire balancing act.

Everything was going just peachy as I drilled 4 of the required 5 holes into the stone.  As repositioned the ladder and began drilling the last hole I was silently patting myself on the back for coming up with such a workable solution to the accessibility problem.

Then, in rapid succession the following occurred:

  • I told the kids that I was just about done with the last hole.
  • I gave the drill a little extra push as the bit neared the desired depth in the stone.
  • There was an odd clattering sound... much like one would expect to hear when driving a Buick through a symphony orchestra's percussion section and into the the French horns.
  • I found myself sprawled on the stone surface of the porch, surrounded by the drill, electrical chord, upturned ladder and two terrified children.

I have no idea exactly how long I lay there, but I think there is an automatic restart procedure that most people go through after a fall that is not unlike the way a computer checks all of its components and sub-systems after a crash.

The first thing I did was reassure the terrified kids.  I had no business doing this, mind you, since I had no way of knowing how badly I was hurt.  But when your kids are standing over you near tears, the correct (and only) response is "I'm OK".

Once I had them momentarily mollified I started doing the inventory.  One by one I tenderly flexed my limbs and digits to see if everything worked.  Lots of dull aches and the sting of scraped skin... but none of the tell-tale electrical shock-like pain associated with broken bones. 

Once I knew I had the use of my hands, I started exploring my head and legs for blood.  A little, but not much.  Mostly scraped knuckles, elbows and knees and a rising bruise on my forearm and knee seemed to be the sum total of my injuries.  Not bad considering I'd fallen about seven feet onto solid stone amidst my entire collection of power and hand tools.

After a few minutes the kids asked sort of an obvious question:  "Why aren't you getting up, abba?"

I have to admit, I didn't have a reasonable answer for that one.  Everything worked and I was anxious to get up and 'walk it off' (as my baseball coach used to say after I'd gotten knocked down by a fastball).  But there was something oddly reassuring about remaining in a position where no further falling was possible.

Finally I allowed them to help me up to a sitting position and leaned heavily against the stone wall of the house. 

I looked from Ari to Gila and back again and asked "OK, what happened?"  No accusation intended, mind you... just a request for information.  Almost immediately the finger pointing began.

"She let go first"

"No I didn't, I only let go when I saw you let go"

"I thought abba was done"

I held up my hand for silence and did the fatherly version of the Jedi mind trick... you know, where you attempt to erase all memory of what has just been said and try to restart the conversation in a more productive direction.

"OK, maybe I wasn't clear... I'm not assigning blame here, I honestly don't remember what happened between when I started drilling the last hole and when I found myself on the ground.  Can you help me fill in the gap?"

As if by magic, my two children went from trying to throw each other under the bus to giving a remarkably detailed descriptions of what happened:

  • Apparently, when I told the kids that I was just about done with the last hole, all they heard over the noise of the drill was the word 'done' and they both loosened their grip on the ladder.
  • When I gave the drill that little extra push, the newly unsupported ladder flexed outwards allowing the bottom of the ladder to start sliding out from under my weight.
  • That odd clattering sound (remember the Buick driving through the orchestra?) I'd heard was the spirit level, tape measure, saw horse, drill and ladder all crashing into each other on their way to the ground (and making contact with the falling human).

It was actually quite amazing to see them work together to reconstruct a fairly complex sequence of events once there was no blame being assigned.  But despite this remarkable bit of forensic analysis, I still had one question:

"OK, let's assume for the sake of argument that you thought you heard me say I was done.  Didn't the sound of the drill and the fact that I was still standing on top of the ladder make you think that letting go might not have been such a good idea?"

Instantly my two forensic experts evaporated... running to bring me a cold, damp washcloth for my wounds... an ice pack for my bumps and bruises... a cold drink to revive my spirits. 

As I sat alone there on the stone flags soaking up the late-afternoon sunshine, I felt my cheeks go red as I considered the untenable position in which I'd placed the kids.  I'd deliberately ignored not only a common sense rule... but one that was printed in big red and black letters in two separate places on the ladder.  Not a very good way to indoctrinate them on the need to observe safety rules.  Not only that, but if I'd really hurt myself badly (or worse, G-d forbid), they would have been guilt-ridden for years. 

As I lie here at 4:00AM Sunday morning feeling the sore stiffness of the bumps and bruises that will be with me for some time to come, I need to come up with a plan for the rest of this pergola construction so that the kids will take some valuable lessons with them to future projects of their own.

First and foremost is going to be a review of the importance of following written warnings on equipment.  We'll figure the rest out as we go along.  I'm thinking that having their dad serve as a handy cautionary tale will help them retain the lessons.


Posted by David Bogner on July 15, 2007 | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Adventures in home improvement:


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

So you're saying this wouldn't have been the best shabbat to walk over to the Zayit?

Posted by: Dave (Balashon) | Jul 15, 2007 12:14:42 PM

Oy! Refuah Shleima and thank G-d it wasn't worse....your kids must be a wreck!

Now you know what those stickers are there for!

Posted by: Safranit | Jul 15, 2007 12:23:06 PM

Sort of makes this purim banner from here a little self fulfilling?

Glad it wasn't too serious.

(And your klita is complete now that ignore warning signs/labels...which isn't necessarily a good thing)

Posted by: Jameel at the Muqata | Jul 15, 2007 1:00:05 PM

Yikes. Glad you're okay.

If this is what happens when you make a serious attempt at home improvement, imagine what could, g-d forbid, happen if you got on a motorcycle.

Dave (Balashon)- haha. Walk over to Zayit from chez treppenwitz. In the summer heat. You're one funny man. I almost considered doing that in, oh, February!

Posted by: tnspr569 | Jul 15, 2007 2:31:16 PM

We should work together. Next time you need someone to help you fall off a ladder, just ask. In return I could use someone to help me cross-thread the spark plug on the lawn mower.

Posted by: Bob | Jul 15, 2007 2:55:30 PM

The simple fact that you thought you could pull this off brings to mind the unforgettable picture of Charlie Brown, just positive that Lucy wouldn't pull the ball away this time.

And, now, I believe the words you're looking for are: "Good Grief!"

Posted by: dfb1968 | Jul 15, 2007 3:58:22 PM

I think it's in our genetic makeup to just do somthing without really thinking it through. Check out my last post for reference.

Posted by: val | Jul 15, 2007 5:17:47 PM


And its gotta be the worst feeling for kids to see their father down.

Posted by: Shevy | Jul 15, 2007 6:00:56 PM

Glad to hear that you are ok. This story serves as a good lesson as to why you need to videotape these tender moments. Your loyal readers would be happy to watch the video and help edit it so that it could be used as a learning tool. ;)

Posted by: Jack | Jul 15, 2007 6:59:06 PM

First, I'm so happy you are okay! As I was reading, I could feel the dread well up within me. Ugh.

Second, just so you don't feel alone in this, I have done essentially the same thing (without the aid of my kids) when pruning my grapevines that cover our pergola that is over nine feet tall. Also, the ground is uneven under me so the ladder wobbles even! Can we just say that sometimes we just have to get the project done and we push ourselves just a teeny-weeny bit beyond what is acceptable? Is that so bad?

May your bruises and scrapes heal quickly.

Posted by: Maya | Jul 15, 2007 7:15:29 PM

I'm glad you're OK! Accidents will happen, but safety-first is a good way to go. I grew up on a farm, and my dad was a safety freak because carelessness on a farm actually could - and did - kill people.

But the good thing is this will give your kids a good story to tell for years to come :)

Posted by: Steve Bogner | Jul 15, 2007 10:07:52 PM

Dave (Balashon)... No, not the best (although the weather was fantastic, no?)

Safranit... and here I thought they were to give me better traction. :-)

Jameel at the Muqata... Yeah. Almost makes you believe in prophecy. :-)

tnspr569... Hey, it's not that far. We do it all the time.

Bob... Ouch. :-)

dfb1968... Nobody expects to be the cautionary tale. :-)

val... I'm unlucky... you're just clumsy. :-)

Shevy... Yeah, It's going to be a while before I live this one down.

Jack... Oh yeah, because with friends like you...

Maya... For the record, the second evening after the fall seems to have been the most painful... but today is certainly the big day for the pretty colors of the bruises. :-)

Steve Bogner... It's not like I was riding the tractor side-saddle or something. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jul 16, 2007 1:20:44 PM

Think of it this way - your kids have now learned, in a way that lecturing would never have allowed them to internalize - that standing on top of the ladder is a bad idea. That, and if I ever need a spotter in the future, my guess is that they'll be very attentive ones!

Posted by: Camron | Jul 16, 2007 4:14:42 PM

o dear david.
i am glad you are ok.
but think of the wonderful lesson you have taught your children.
i don't suppose they will ignore the warning stickers on their own ladders.
and can't you just see them retelling the tale to their children while undertaking their own home improvment projects.

Posted by: weese | Jul 16, 2007 5:06:06 PM

See the tale about how fathers teach their sons carpentry, above.

Trep: hope your slide-hand is intact; I'm glad you didn't skewer yourself on the drill.

I've had a few accidents. Sometimes, it is just a relief to lie there for awhile, and realize you are not out of your body.


Posted by: wrymouth | Jul 18, 2007 2:34:25 AM

I'm glad you were fine from the fall, but I think it's a valuable lesson for the kids. I have a self preserving fear of ladders myself and I do everything in my power to avoid getting on one.

Posted by: sealcoating 06488 | Jan 4, 2011 11:02:50 PM

Post a comment

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In