Doing Their Own Work

IMG_3660Doing Their Own Work

I was always curious about the projects I see other kids bringing to school.  It’s abundantly clear, sometimes, that the work those kids bring – particularly the long-term projects – isn’t their own.  Not really.

Understand, I’ve read all the parenting articles and seen the information about the so-called “helicopter parents,” people who pop in and raise a fuss and want their kids to have straight A’s so they get into Harvard, even if their kid is just now entering kindergarten.  I have never quite been that way.  I help when it’s needed, so did my parents when it was time.

There was a project once, when I was a kid, where I had to make a diorama about the arctic station Ahmundson/Scott.  I made my mother go, right before closing, to the grocery store to buy sugar cubes and cotton balls so I could make the snowy base come to life in a shoe box.  I don’t know that it was particularly great but my mother bought the materials and helped me glue.  It was still my design.

So when my kids decided to do projects after their mother passed away I wasn’t one to do the work for them.  It’s funny, because I saw so many projects walking into school . . . first at one school, then another . . . where it looked like an Intel engineer had contracted with someone from MOMA to create a perfectly detailed scale model of something.

We had some successes . . . there was the first school year after losing their mother where we made an apple tree and a UFO.  That was a difficult project and they needed help with spray paint and glue.  But the design was theirs and they put all the pieces together.  Were they perfect?  Well . . . no.  The thing about that, though, is the fact that they were really proud of those projects.  My son still has his UFO hanging above his bed.  It’s something he smiles about when he looks at it.

So this weekend marked the final phases of putting together their science fair projects.  There were some terse words from me at certain points.  One son decided to see why marshmallows puff up when they are heated and what ones puff more . . . and he absolutely had to have so-called “organic” or homemade ones.  Like my mother with that Ahmundson/Scott project I spent three hours toodling around the city looking for them – health food stores; Trader Joe’s; Nugget Markets; GNC – and ultimately this was three hours I’ll never get back.


These are those marshmallows.  The terse words came from the lost time and the fact that the recipe I found was by the Food Network’s Alton Brown.  Don’t get me wrong . . . he’s a good chef.  However, he also seems to have been a chemist in a former career since everything was in scientific measurements I had to try and translate into cups and teaspoons.  That…and the query every five minutes of “are they ready yet?”

But the projects of the “Best Paper Airplane Design” and “Marshmallow Expansion” actually came together.  The boards were decorated and put together.  I’ll be honest . . . one son was meticulous, background bordered; the other cut out in almost Dali-esque designs.

Still . . . the work was theirs.  I know, when the materials are handed off, there will be some absolutely perfect projects.  Some will be kids who are just that meticulous.  Others will be projects obviously created and made by their parents.

It is an interesting prospect to me because the other day I was on the website of the National PTA.  On it they have a full section about how they have a “father-outreach.”  The intention, I know, is noble.  There are certainly a lot of fathers who are not as involved as they should be.  But it bothers me . . . because I know a lot of dads who are totally involved.  I don’t tend to be one of those people offended when I think my sphere of influence is being picked at . . . but I can’t help but feel that it would be better served trying to have “parent outreach.”  Sure, fathers need to be involved.  My Dad was.  My Mom was.

Was my Dad at every bake sale and classroom project?  No.  Neither can I be, I am one parent in a single parent household.  I work and have to work.  But I also attend the events, take my son to counseling sessions and watch student plays.  I drive around for three hours looking for marshmallows and then get covered head to toe in powdered sugar making homemade ones.

No . . . I don’t agree with the National PTA.  Focusing on “Father Outreach” in an effort to get more Dads speaks of a basic belief that Dads are wired not to be involved.  I’m certainly not.  I had good examples, too, so I get that you’re only as good as how you’re raised.  That’s their whole point, I am sure . . . but it takes all the household’s parents to be effective.

Regardless . . . we had homemade marshmallow, which meant homemade S’mores.  Not bad for leftovers from a school project.  I certainly couldn’t eat my old diorama after I turned it in.

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