School Project Management
Raising three daughters has come with many delights, challenges, prayers and moments standing in that certain aisle at Target trying to figure out the differences between “ultra,” “Infinity FlexFoam,” “overnight,” “sport,” “wings,” “Radiant,” and “Just ask your wife, you goober.”
One ordeal that all parents are destined to endure at some point is the dreaded school project — specifically designed by educators to exact revenge upon parents who actually believe that their child is “a joy to teach.”
When our daughters first started school, I made an arrangement with my wife that I would assist with all of the projects if she would handle anything related to the evils of mathematics. After helping with enough school projects to qualify for a concealed glue gun license, I’ve found that what should be an opportunity for some father-daughter bonding usually ends up with someone getting their feelings hurt and crying — and it’s not always me.
Another challenge I face is trying to determine how much “help” to offer on a school project versus how much to risk having one of my daughters injure herself or, more importantly, the sheetrock.
One of the first school projects I remember our girls being assigned was the infamous leaf collection, which often involved committing third-degree trespassing and assault upon innocent foliage. Inevitably, the final specimen that we needed to complete the project required that I jump around in the dark like a drunk baboon trying to reach the perfect bundle of loblolly pine needles —because my eldest and most expensive daughter insisted that the ones all over the ground weren’t “pretty anymore.”
Another foray into school projects involved creating a shoebox diorama of a scene from E.B. White’s traumatic children’s novel “Charlotte’s Web.” This project required that we artistically design Wilbur’s barnyard from a shoebox once containing a pair of Gianni Bini pumps that never quite fit me right. As my daughters and I worked, we powered through tears brought on by molten strands of hot glue and that chapter where the beloved Charlotte dies after becoming the only arachnid in history we didn’t want to squash with a flip-flop.
I also remember helping my eldest and middle daughters bake and decorate cakes meant to represent cross sections of human skin for science class. Yes, that’s right, skin cakes — fully furnished with a pale-pink epidermis frosting, melted Tootsie Roll hair shafts, Sour Punch Straw sweat glands, and subcutaneous tissue made from Hickory Farms Mini Meltaway Mints. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time getting excited about sweat glands for dessert, which is probably why I only had four servings.
Most recently, my youngest daughter was tasked with assembling a three-dimensional model of a phosphorus atom. Prior to helping with this project, I didn’t know much about phosphorus — other than I’ve eaten lots of it, according to the Honey Nut Cheerios box.
Apparently, though, making a model of phosphorus requires at least $50, about five trips to Michael’s and one full weekend down the tubes. The trick was finding a way to assemble three outer rings that would hold the electron thingies without teaching my daughter any new curse words. The teacher’s instructions recommended using household objects, but my daughter just rolled her eyes when I suggested an old toilet seat.
We eventually figured it out, and the model was so “phosphorusy” that the teacher asked to keep it as an example. (I wonder if she has received my bill yet.)
Despite all of the hot glue injuries, spray paint fumes, and general arts and crafts trauma, I still think I got the better end of the deal I made with my wife all those years ago. And I’ll bet if you ask any of our girls, they’ll tell you that through it all, I’ve been “a joy to teach.”