Last Sunday, my 12-year-old son and I drove to Home Depot to buy lumber.
He had measurements in his head and a tape measure in his pocket. He said he needed three plywood boards, each 24 inches long by 8 inches wide, and also some door hinges and some hook-and-eye locks.
I'd like to report this is a father-son project, but it's not. I am not handy that way; I was just the chauffeur. This was a son-son project, and our 17-year-old was the 12-year-old's technical adviser.
For a couple of weeks, our younger son has been building a wooden trailer. He says it's to connect to his bicycle to haul his pressure washer around the neighborhood. He made several hundred dollars cleaning driveways and patios last year. To build his wagon, he used the wheels salvaged from a little red wagon, and he has made the trailer bed from plywood.
He just had 500 business cards printed up with his motto: "High-pressure cleaning, low-pressure sales." (I did not write that, but I think it works. I think he got it from one of his muses, Alexa or Siri.)
Sadly, my uninformed opinion is that his wagon won't work. The sheer weight of the pressure washer and the wagon made with 3/4-inch plywood make it unlikely that he will be able to pull the load with his bike for any distance. My sister has offered to let her two Great Danes pull it like a horse-drawn carriage. I think this is a genius marketing plan, but my son won't bite.
That said, he has worked hours and hours on his wagon. If nothing else, it has been a diversion from screen time. Even if it doesn't pan out, he will have had fun drilling and sawing. And it illustrates his commitment to independence. Last year, I drove him to a pressure-washing job site and he tried to pay me $20.
On the way to Home Depot, the conversation turned to college. I gave him an update on his college fund balance, and he extrapolated in his head how much more money he needs to pay for tuition and room and board.
"Well, if you've been saving money since I was a baby and there's six years left before I got to college, I'll probably have about 50 percent more then than I do now," he estimated.
"OK, let's say you are still $10,000 short of what you need for four years of college. How could you raise the money?" I asked.
"Well, I could make straight A's," he said.
"Yep, you could get an academic scholarship," I said. "What else?"
"Well, I could always get a part-time job," he said.
"Yes, you could do pressure-washing on the weekends," I said. "What else?"
"Well, there's always financial aid," he said. "I guess I could borrow some money from the bank."
"Yes, that's another option," I said.
I thought to myself, "Wow. That's pretty impressive analysis from a 12-year-old."
It occurred to me that learning carpentry and paying for college have some things in common. Both require math skills and understanding of scale. Both endeavors require hard work and a tolerance for trial and error. But more than anything, both require a knack for solving problems with numbers.
When we arrived at Home Depot, he found a piece of plywood that measured 2 feet by 2 feet and immediately asked one of the workers there to cut it into three equal-width pieces.
"Well, we're not really supposed to cut it that small, but I'll do it because I like your coat," said the man.
The boy smiled. When you're a 12-year-old carpenter/businessman who knows how to make eye contact and shake hands, the sky is the limit.
When we got home, he worked on the wagon awhile and then decided to detail his mother's car in the dark. To do this, he duct-taped a flashlight to his head. Later, he cleaned out the garage, just because he likes jobs that let you step back and see your work.
"I don't think we are going to have to worry about this child making a living," I texted my wife.
"Agree," she texted back.
The "work" gene is a wonderful thing.
Contact Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 433-757-6645.