Whose School Project Is It Anyway?

I can add this to the list of things I swore I'd never do: I did my kid's school project.
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A close-up of paper, glue, colored pencils, scissors, and a ruler
A close-up of paper, glue, colored pencils, scissors, and a ruler

It started just like any other afternoon. My son came bounding through the front door at the end of the school day and unloaded his binder and books all over the kitchen counter. "What homework do you have?" I asked. "Not much," he casually replied. But then he followed up with the words that strike fear in the hearts of all mothers of students: "Oh yeah, I have a big project due next week."

"What kind of project?" I asked while sort of holding my breath and quietly starting to panic. I am the least crafty person alive and school projects usually start with me standing, helpless, in the scrapbooking aisle at Michaels and wanting to cry. Yes, I am aware that school projects belong to the students, but we all know that's not how it goes down. I can add this to the list of things I swore I'd never do: I did my kid's school project.

The project was for science class and each child was tasked with creating a three-dimensional model of one of the periodic elements. As soon as I heard "science" and "three-dimensional," I started to sweat. Not only did the model have to be chemically accurate, but it had to be suspended in mid-air. That's right, suspended in mid-air. I informed the family that we would all be living in chemistry hell until this beast was complete.

This time would be different, I told myself. I would not take over like I had done with past projects. This was his assignment and he could handle it. Actually, he never asked for my help, but my inner control freak took over and I just couldn't help myself. Being both non-crafty and a control freak is a bad combination.

Over the years, I have "helped" with all kinds of projects. We have turned out colonial-era newspapers that were dyed with hot tea, crumpled and burned around the edges; an anatomically correct insect model and habitat for the infamous Bug Fair; a car made from a mousetrap that had to travel at least seven yards to avoid receiving an F; and of course, the dreaded annual Valentine's Day box. Teachers should be required to complete whatever projects they assign. I guarantee things would instantly become much simpler.

Everyone knows that school projects end up in the hands of the parents, so teachers should eliminate the middleman and just send the assignment directly to Mom. And I don't need two weeks' notice to stress and overthink the assignment; a text about 24 hours in advance of the deadline will suffice. I work well under pressure.

The next morning I set out to find the supplies to create the best nitrogen model the world had ever seen. As I crossed the threshold into Michaels, I took deep breaths and thought calm and happy thoughts, but it was no use. I felt a wave of PTSD caused by the horrifying memories of past school projects and class party craft kits. Terrifying images of glitter, pipe cleaners and patterned felt raged through my head, as I wandered around looking for someone to help me.

I made my way past a few overachieving mommies who were nearly salivating over the cornucopia of creative options available in this place. Finally, I stumbled upon an employee who probably wished he had avoided making eye contact. "Excuse me. Where are the little thingies that look kinda like this (insert contorted hand gestures toward a confused employee)?" I felt like I was caught in a game of charades gone horribly wrong.

He led me to the aisle with the styrofoam balls and asked which element I was working on. Clearly I was not the first mom he encountered. He must have felt sorry for me, because he offered up some inside scoop on other moms' plans, in case I wanted to outdo them. Michaels employees are well aware that school projects are a contest among parents.

Teachers must know that children are not capable of creating the ridiculous projects they assign, so I have to assume they torture parents on purpose. Whose bright idea was it to ask first graders to use a hot glue gun? I envision a group of them sitting around a table in the teachers' lounge, comparing notes and cackling with delight at the terror they wield.

I brought the supplies home and handed them over to my son. After all, this was his project. I offered to help him and he declined. Then, I hovered over him and made some assembly suggestions that were met with eye rolls. When I couldn't stand it any longer, I picked up a couple of styrofoam balls and tried to take over. He sat back, wondering if he should be frightened by my overzealousness or if he should quietly exit stage left and have the work done for him.

It's not that I doubt my children's abilities, but I have been to plenty of school events where 99.8 percent of the creations were definitely not made by 10-year-olds. There's always one poor kid whose mom didn't get the memo that this was actually a parent project. The poor thing looks completely heartbroken when he compares his amateur project to the other masterpieces.

The nitrogen project was a success, and amazingly I only helped a little bit. The older my kids get, the better they are at warding off my unsolicited assistance. But when the grade came in, I was slightly devastated and completely annoyed. All that work for a 97? What happened to the other three points? I am tempted to ask the teacher where I fell short.

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