I have recently regained the use of my arms. Two weeks of Body Pump and weight machines had rendered them into immobile, floppy hamhocks attached to my upper torso. But now they work again, and I'm tackling everything that I couldn't do with my feet. Which includes typing, and also working on my William's 5th grade science project.
Oh, yes, THANK YOU to the 5th grade teachers at our school. You know I love you guys, seriously..but why? Why a science project in January? Most of us parents are still reeling from the special circle of hell that is labeled "CULTURE BOX". For the lucky uninformed, the CULTURE BOX is a project that our angels are assigned in 4th grade.
It begins with each student choosing a specific culture to study. They interview a person who is from/has lived in said culture, gather and record pertinent information about said culture and collect artifacts from said culture.
They are all given a standard size cardboard office box, you know the kind that people are given when they're fired, to load up all their personal effects? Yeah, that size. They are instructed to take this box home and "decorate" it in such a way that represents their chosen culture.
First time parents often get the box and look at it not unlike I'm sure most people eyed the first ever microwaves or cell phones..."Great Zeus..what is this item? And how are we supposed to get it to represent our culture?". Something like that.
When Charlie was in 4th grade and got this assignment, I knew nothing. None of my older or wiser friends clued me in as to how far this particular project goes. I had no idea.
Ireland, you say? Well let's just wrap the box in green paper. And maybe we'll fashion a rainbow out of cardboard, and let's get really crazy...let's make a little pot o' gold that the rainbow leads to. Yes, it looked like a 4th grader did it. Which I thought was adequate.
Until we brought it to school.
There our little green wrapped box sat, in between ginormous works of art. Plaster of Paris monstrosities that used to be standard sized office boxes...there were sets of Babushka dolls representing Russia, giant clay pyramids repping Egypt, a huge wooden camel who boasted, in a recorded voice, that he and other camels who hailed from Adu Dhabi could travel for days without so much as swallowing their own spit.
Some of these boxes had obviously been blue printed and labored over by someone with far more dexterity and fine-motor-skills that the average fourth grader possesses. I remember looking at our little box, with it's jagged rainbow on the top, which looked for all the world like a determined yet ADD-riddled 10 year old had created, and felt bad.
I felt bad for Charlie. I remember I pulled his teacher aside and said, "Seriously? Why don't you guys tell the parents how insane this is?". She shrugged and said, "We tell them every year to let the kids handle it, to not go too far...but this is kind of like an unspoken rite of passage here. It's almost like a beauty pageant."
You can bet that I walked out of that Culture Box shitstorm with a grim determination to never, ever let another kid of mine walk into that room with anything less than a masterpiece.
And it worked. Molly was next, and since we had all the artifacts and still had the neighbor, we did Ireland again. Her box was good, but not quite yet to the level of quiet perfection that I desired.
Henry's turn. His 4th grade teacher loathed the Culture Boxes, and instead gave the kids a State Box. Just like the Culture Box, except they were to choose a state from the U.S. to study. We contacted my brother Jon, who is a bartender in Las Vegas. We lived and breathed Nevada for a solid month. Artifacts were procured, we pored over pictures and made a bazillion trips to Michael's to get the right ingredients to replicate the Hoover Dam on our box. And replicate it we did.
It was spectacular. You stood and gazed at the box and you could almost hear the roaring waters of the Colorado River, feel the mist upon your face and smell the tourists. My heart darn near burst with pride as I watched Henry stand at the front of his class and tell them the tale of Nevada.
Oh, then came William. Once again we chose the Emerald Isle, and since this was our very last Culture Box, I was determined to go out with a bang. As we toiled over what was to become my coup de grace in the battle between fourth grade parent vs. Culture Box, I kept picturing Charlie's kelly green box lost amongst the works of tired 40-somethings living vicariously through their children. I had become one of them, and even though I despised myself for taking the bait, I took it. And ran with it.
We produced a charming Irish cottage, with bumpy stuccoed walls, a sweet red front door with a tiny brass knob, shuttered windows and a breathtaking thatched roof that had Irish moss dangling here and there from the eaves.
I will never forget the kids in William's class ooohing and ahhhhing over our cottage, asking him if they could touch it. The teacher, the same one who had looked at me with pity when I helped Charlie carry our taped up, wrapping papered creation into that very same room- asked me how in the world we made the roof. Said it was gorgeous. And it was.
I still have that box, sitting here in the closet of my office. In fact, I can see the thatched roof (which was seriously one of the coolest things I've ever seen...all it took was a couple of terry cloth towels cut into a hundred thousand strips, glued, painted, shellacked) from here right now.
That box represents just how far parents go to help their kids. To me, it represents that moment in time when you stop watching them and step in to help them. I know that "they" are supposed to be doing the work, "they" are supposed to be learning from whatever project they're given, but at some point you want to jump in and help. And if help means making your kid feel like a winner for a few hours in fourth grade, so be it.
Of course, our amazing little cottage didn't even begin to compete with the Great Wall of China that another parent made...you lifted the top of the Great Wall and inside the box was a complete reproduction of Emperor Qin's Terra Cotta army.
Now that took some elbow grease.
So back to the Science project. This is a new one, implemented for the first time last year. Each 5th grader is to choose a science project, create a hypothesis and test it out a few dozen times at home.
William has chosen to test which sorbents best soak up oil. Like when there's an oil spill in the ocean, which materials would work best to contain and absorb the oil.
Except not many 5th graders I know have the ability to obtain gallons of vegetable oil on their own. Or straw, sawdust, cotton batting.
Or human hair.
Yes, I drove to a friend's beauty salon and got human hair. I walked around with a ziplock baggie full of hair for a day or two before accidentally pulling it out of my purse while in line at the grocery store.
Have you ever felt at all like a serial killer? I kind of did, at that moment. Like I had accidentally pulled out a bag of my precious mementos. Pretty sure the cashier saw my bag of human hair...she tried not to touch my hand as we exchanged cards and money. I wanted to explain to her that I have a really big science project I'm working on, and I just needed the hair to soak up some vegetable oil, but somehow I think that wouldn't have helped the situation. So I just remained silent, patting the side of my purse.
So if you don't hear from me for a few days, worry not, my fair readers. I am most likely standing in front of a newspaper-covered table, soaking up oil with hair. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Hope you're enjoying this long weekend (if you have one).
Happy Birthday, Martin.