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Our Own Maker Moment

James Warren June 27, 2017
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Tools are things we use to create or fix other things like furniture, toys, cars and buildings. In the process, we often use these tools to build or repair our relationships with each other as well.

I remember the time my son and I worked on a science fair project that was, um, shall we say somewhat last minute, not quite thought out, and grandiose in its design to say the least. He wanted to build a better toilet bowl cleaner.

I remember asking him to sketch out a design on paper and make a list of what we needed. Still, we wound up making two trips to Lowe’s. As we shopped for a random assortment of items, at least one other parent and a store clerk said knowingly, “science fair project.” The guy who cut our lumber looked at the handwritten specs and shook his head but then said, “should be interesting.”

We further cut the 2×6’s down to size in the dining room. (Not sure why we weren’t outside – maybe it was too cold or already too dark.) We drilled holes for screws and eyelets. We attached a hinge and a pulley system. Yes, a pulley system for the toilet bowl cleaner.

After some frustration, what took shape eventually was a rather complex, extremely heavy, and technically functional “automatic” toilet bowl cleaner. Because he didn’t like cleaning the toilet.

The concepts of pros and cons, of comparing the features and benefits of various products might not have sunk in yet. That thing had little practical value in my opinion. But it’s emotional and intellectual value was significant. My son was extremely proud of himself (which at that time in his life was a feeling he needed to feel). He had completed his first true product design exercise. And he had learned that today’s toilet bowl cleaners sell because they meet a need and work pretty well as is. (They’re light, cheap and help you keep your distance.) But most importantly, by the end of the project, he and I were chuckling and back-patting each other. And that was a feeling we both needed to feel. Now, as he charts his course and figures out how to blend what are now more developed  skillsets in visual art, design and math, with a keen interest in making things, I think back to making the toilet bowl cleaner. Maybe that’s where the spark came from (humble beginnings, they say).

Tools, indeed.

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