It looks good, right? The ZZZzzing Youngest thinks so.

It looks good, right? The ZZZzzing Youngest thinks so.

You have kids, and when they come out they're pretty helpless. You have to do everything for them. But eventually, they need to learn to do things for themselves.

I was always keen on competence. As my kids grew, I encouraged them to develop their abilities. Mostly by not helping them when I thought they could do something for themselves. And what do you know, it's starting to pay off.

For the last few months I'd been looking for ideas to replace Youngest's bed (she's 7, and was still sleeping in her toddler bed - not Mom of the Year material). Her room is reasonably big, but she's an artist and a compulsive crafter and her space is constantly cluttered with all kinds of bits and pieces of random stuff, none of which can be thrown out because she "might need it."

We eventually decided to get her a loft bed, so she could have space underneath to store her collection of whatever it is she's hoarding, as well as a table to work on. We shopped around and eventually settled on a model from Ikea that had the features she wanted, wasn't crazy expensive, and not too high for the size and scale of her room. We had an opportunity to go get it this week and we took it.

Problem: husband unit wasn't around to help. He's been at the lake for the last week. So I thought, OK, maybe Eldest can help. She turns 11 this month, she's a well-trained athlete, she's strong and resourceful. Why not?

The boxes were big and very heavy. We managed to fit them into the car (yay, SUVs!) and drive home. She helped me get them inside the house, and upstairs to the working area. She was also instrumental in putting the bed together. (It's a well-known rule of Ikea furniture that you must have three hands to assemble anything.)

It took us nearly four hours. There was ample sweating, some swearing, a few very tense moments - but in the end we did it. And when it came time to enjoy a celebratory beer, I poured her some in a tiny glass because she had earned it.

I told her - and I meant it - that I could not have done it without her help, and she should feel very proud of herself.

It was an excellent lesson in the power of hard work and of not giving up when the stupid metal piece won't fit in the space shown in the diagram. Like many first-borns (and, ahem, somewhat kinda like her mother), she's a perfectionist and really doesn't like tasks that don't make her feel competent, such as long divisions. We've been having all kinds of talks lately about the importance of working through difficult problems because staying inside your comfort zone only feels good temporarily. The real-life experience of loft-bed building was a very tangible illustration of all the things I've been lecturing her about, and seeing me struggle through the difficult bits eventually to succeed was the best way to teach her I meant what I said.

We took some time off homeschooling to get that job done yesterday. But sometimes, the best learning comes once you put the books away and your sister's bed together.