Last night my wife and I built a kitchen playset for our daughter. I called it the Petite Pink Bitchin’ Kitchen. It’s a hearty thing made of pressed plywood and cancer warnings — the kind of cancer you can only get in California. I think. It’ll off-gas.
With little pots and plastic burners, its the same busted kitchen you see in church playrooms and tot lots, except this one is shiny and unscuffed. It is worthy and perfect, a pink ode to childhood and Christmas joy converged. It is also “some assembly required” — the weight of the word some unknowable and frightening.
I had a vision of me building the kitchen, while the wife wrapped the kids’ presents with neat corners and ribbon, Christmas spirit flowing. I wanted to do it myself, to flex my dad skills, just like how I fixed the toilet guts myself with a five dollar part from the hardware store. Look out world, toilets, and pink plywood kitchens.
I sorted the fifty-five flimsy pieces into loose piles and opened the instruction manual. The wife asked if I was going to put on Christmas music. I answered gruffly, no. I needed full concentration and silence. She shrugged. I grimaced. The diagrams in the booklet seemed purposely vague, as though this manual were meant to be more of a dare than instructional.
I stared into the abyss of seventy-two hours before Christmas morning, eighteen shoddy diagrams, and sixty screws of varying size. I flipped to the picture on the front again and studied it, as if I might figure it out from the picture, like playing a song by heart, like fluently speaking French.
I did not want to admit defeat, but I had to. The Christmas spirit flowing through me was dissipating into fumes. “No one can build this thing,” I proclaimed, admitting defeat on behalf of humanity.
“I can do it!” my wife chirped up.
I felt irritated. I handed her the manual. This thing was written in ancient tongues. She would never figure it out. But then she did, instantly, within a few moments of looking over the diagram.
We stayed up until one AM, working on it together. She pretended to need me for the screw tightening, which I dutifully did. I discovered I loved her again, which was not a forgotten or lost sentiment, but only one often shuffled aside in the tornado of parenting.
“What would be even be doing right now if we didn’t have kids?” she asked, the answer enticing but also sad, because then we wouldn’t be building this perfect pink totem, sparkling and new, in time for Christmas morning.