Handing over the saw

Ellie makes the cut.

  • Palm Coast Observer
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The reminders were getting more and more urgent.

“I need a board for my art class,” said my 13-year-old daughter, Ellie. “It should be about this big.” With her hands, she mimed a shape that looked like a paperback book.

For the third time, I mumbled something like, “Yeah.” My eyes remained on my phone. 

Worried that I wasn’t taking her emergency seriously enough, she added: “We’re making our sculptures in class — tomorrow.”

I trudged to the corner of the garage known as the Museum of Unfinished Projects, and I found the perfect artifact: a white half-shelf. Like a humble subject hoping for the princess’s approval, I entered the family room and held up my offering, knowing that rejection would mean death, or worse — a late-night trip to Lowe’s.

“It’s a little big,” she said.

“Perfect for a big sculpture.”

She was motionless, in regal silence.

“Or,” I relented, “we could cut it.”

I retrieved a handsaw and two clamps from the garage and set them up on a table in the kitchen. I knew I could saw the board in about 60 seconds, and I was about to do it, but then I looked at Ellie on the couch, and suddenly I saw her not as a princess but as a young girl who had never used a handsaw, a girl who would one day be a woman, likely a mother, someone who was capable of all I could ever do and more. 

If I were to cut this board, it would be done quickly, and I could move on with my life, but would I be robbing her of the small satisfaction that would come from cutting her own board for her own project? I knew the difference I had felt in the past when I knew my parents had helped me with a middle-school project, and how I felt when I accomplished it on my own, no matter how jagged the edges.

To my surprise, Ellie didn’t protest when I handed her the saw. I demonstrated briefly, and then she took over.

The teeth caught as she scraped the saw against the wood. She tried again, concentrating. Minutes passed. 

From the other room, my wife, Hailey, said, “Looks like it’s Ellie’s turn to be in your column.”

Ellie looked at me and said, “Seriously?”

“Maybe,” I said. “Never know.”

Again, the teeth caught. But she eventually got the hang of it. The motion became smoother, and she learned to hunch over the board for better leverage. Finally: success. She held up the fruits of her labor and said, in her teenagerly ironic monotone: “Ta da. A board.”

It wasn’t a landmark accomplishment in her life; maybe she’ll forget all about it. But despite her attempts to stay cool, I could see a smile creep across her face as she then sanded the edges of the board and envisioned her sculpture resting on top of it.

As a way to confirm her permission for me to write about this episode for my column, she added: “Probably the most notable thing I’ll do all week.”


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