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Projects

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

My husband and I really enjoy doing projects together. Woodworking, tiling, other house projects, even art projects. We've made many fun and useful things over the years, including the tile-topped kitchen table, our bed and night tables, and so on. It allows us to create a greater whole out of our individual ideas, as well as make some really useful stuff.

Once, before we were married, my husband had moved into a new apartment and had some very bare walls. With some inexpensive standard sized poster frames, and black mat board, rice paper, and a package of Color-Aid paper left over from one of my art classes the previous semester, we created four pieces of framed art which graced our walls for years. We had such fun doing that. Cheap beer and loud music and the freedom of our youth contributed to those pieces. We still have them, I think, upstairs in a closet. I smile when I think about them, as I do when I think about each of our projects. Perhaps I should reframe them.

When we are feeling stressed as a couple, we look for ways to get a project going. We've found that the give and take of the planning and implementation reconnects us. It helps remind us why we chose one another. It reminds each of us of the other's strengths, and reminds us how to share. And if it's a sizeable project, the physical effort tires us to the point that we have no energy left to hold up barriers between ourselves. We let down our guard and really see one another anew. We share the experience and the sense of accomplishment.

As the family has grown, we have found it more and more difficult to do projects together. With the demands of the kids and their various activities, projects seem to be more tag-team efforts. We may plan a project together, but one of us looks after the children while the other of us works on it. Which rather defeats the purpose. While projects aren't the only way to spend time and bond as a couple, they really work for us. Dinners or evenings out are lovely, and we do take those opportunities, but there is just something about the effort toward the shared goal with tangible results.

A couple of years ago we each took a spring day off from work on a day all the kids were covered. We didn't have any big single project planned, but we had a heck of a lot of yard work to do, so we did it. We worked together for hours in the garden, raking and cleaning, weeding and mulching. We bought sandwiches from a tasty local shop and sat in the porch on the wicker love seat eating them, talking about ideas for new plantings and ways to improve our outdoor space. We tended one another's blisters. It was a completely exhausting and absolutely great day. And it stayed with us for weeks. Even though it was work that needed to be done — and probably would have been done in some other fashion anyway — doing it together was what mattered. Last spring my husband asked if we could do it again, and although I wanted to, I had just started a new job and had no vacation time yet. As spring came and went, I felt the loss of that day together.

While we haven't "needed" a shared project recently, I do still want one and look for projects because I miss that time together. I don't know exactly what will come next, but my ears are perked and my eyes open. We'll keep working on the kid logistics and figure it out somehow. It's too important not to.

My husband has proposed he take a day off next week when the kids are all at school and we find a project to do together. I think I will take him up on it.

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