December 6th, 2010
This all started this summer. My parents have some dimmer switches in their house, which Jacob loves. He also enjoyed turning their lights on an off rapidly to make them flash. Since we have CFLs almost exclusively, we have no dimmer switches, and we don’t permit making the lights flash. (This hurts the lifespan of CFLs much more than traditional bulbs.)
(I’ll just put a few pictures from tonight within the story so you get an idea of what it turned out to be while you read.)
So I had an idea: why not build him a box that has some switches that he can play with? And why not make it a project we can do together?
So back in, I think, July, we went to the hardware store. We bought some AC power cord, some electrical boxes, and assorted supplies. I had some other supplies on hand already, so we didn’t need to spend much. I asked Jacob today if he remembered that day, and he said, “Oh yes! And I got popcorn to eat there!” Which was, indeed, quite true.
I had some surplus plywood, so I cut out two squares, one for a front and one for a back. Then, in 10-minute increments every so often over the last few months, Jacob would say, “Dad, shall we go work on my switchbox?” And by that, he meant that I should work on the switchbox while he pretends that my tape measures are train engines or raids the corner where disused toys are stored. After 10 minutes, he’d be done. Which meant that after I gathered up my tools, remembered where I was, and got to work, I made only a few minutes’ progress each week. But that was fine.
This week, I got it all wired up. It doesn’t have its sides and back yet, but it was enough for Jacob to try it out.
To add to the excitement just that much more, I spent a few dollars at the hardware store today and bought him four light bulbs: 25W red, green, and blue bulbs, and a 7.5W miniature white one. I let him choose two of them to use in the switchbox.
So he started playing with it, and after just a few seconds, said, “Dad, I am very very very very excited about my switchbox!” And a little while later, he burst into applause, and announced, “Dad, my switchbox is so so so so so fun! It is also so so so so so silly the lightbulb is green!”
I wired up a regular light switch that is a master on/off switch. Then the dimmer switch controls the light bulb socket but not the outlet. The dimmer switch also has a pushbutton on/off circuit, so there are plenty of opportunities for discovery.
This is a “play with it only with dad’s supervision” item for now, but after supper, he insisted in bringing Terah downstairs to show her how to use it too. He happily showed off the red and green lights, how to turn them on, and how to make the red light dimmer. I suggested he also show her what happens when he pushes on the dimmer switch, which he happily did, and also explained to her what it does.
He was just amazingly excited. Every so often he’d tell me how excited or happy he was, and some fun fact about it all.
And, really, that’s what I hoped would happen. I didn’t accompany it with these words, but I hope that projects like this can serve to remind everyone that toys and gifts don’t have to cost hundreds of dollars; they can be made with a few dollars’ supplies and some surplus materials laying around the house.
But not only that, but the best parts of this project were the ones Jacob and I spent together — from the time when just the two of us went shopping at the hardware store, through all those 10-minute times where he pretended my tape measures were locomotives and the tape was their track, right to today when he got to try it out. It took a long time, but when I asked him if it was worth the wait, he said “Yes!” and clapped while jumping up and down.
And, I have to admit, as I got into the car with my $4 worth of light bulbs today, I was almost as excited as him, just to see what he would do.
That’s the best part: I got to experience Jacob’s joy right along with him. It’s a time when I really enjoy being a dad.