First, the back story:
It’s been nearly two years since that fateful week. I had a big event at which I was speaking, plus I needed to decorate (and by “decorate” I mean I needed to out-Martha-Stewart Martha Stewart) two tables for that same event. This event, which happens every year on the weekend after Mother’s Day is something you begin planning for around June the previous year.
So when Madeline came home a few weeks prior to my event with a paper from her teacher talking about “Dinosaur Day” scheduled for the day before mine I was a little worried. That was until I saw that it said the kids were to make a models of the Dinosaurs they’d been studying from supplies found around home (even mentions macaroni!) and how they weren’t going to be graded at all. Amen! Not graded? Macaroni?! All of that was music to my ears, especially because the model was due the Monday before my big event.
Now, this was the very first “big school project” we’d ever undertaken. I wanted Madeline to really do it completely on her own with minimal interference from me, just like any other parent would do. I was there to help her brainstorm ways to make a model of a T-Rex and, after some talk, we settled on what would be an unfortunate choice – play doh.
[I can hear the groans from those of you wiser than I. Where were you two years ago?]
I did help her make a huge batch of green play doh (we wanted this guy to be big) and we talked about making a framework to help him stand up strong.
She made what I thought was a great looking model on her own that stood a good 12″ tall. We were pleased as we jumped into the van to head out for a family event out-of-state the weekend before her model was due.
When we returned that Sunday night, her model had completely slumped and crumbled. It was a mess.
With stores closed, bedtime approaching, and a model due the following morning, we turned to what we had on hand – a small amount of green and brown clay left over from a Christmas project we had done.
Madeline’s T-Rex was cute, but tiny. Super tiny. Two inches tall tiny. Still, we were proud of it when she got on the bus and headed to school. She had pulled off her first school project. I was looking forward to seeing the little guy again on Friday for the “Dinosaur Day” – when parents were invited in to see all of the models. My mind turned off from the dinosaur project and went full force into my event five days away.
What happened over the next three days will stay with me as a Mother forever. How I didn’t see the signs or put the pieces together I can only blame on myself.
It started Monday night when we were reading together. I noticed that Madeline’s shrugged once or twice for no apparent reason while we were just sitting and reading.
Hmm, I thought. What was that about? Who knows. Let me focus on making the most adorable map place mats for my table….
Tuesday, she mentions that some classmates brought their models in to school in shoeboxes. Shrug. Shrug.
“Don’t worry, Madeline. The note said models could be done with anything around the house. Now, what do you think of these origami bowls I made for Saturday?”
Wednesday, Madeline’s shrugging becomes REALLY noticeable. So much so that I emailed her teacher to see if she notices anything. She promised to keep an eye out.
Madeline mentions that her teacher put her model waaaay up on the top shelf at school. “Why is that, sweetie?” Shrug. Shrug. “I don’t know, Mom.” Shrug. Shrug. Shrug. “Hmm, well, maybe she wants to keep him safe. What do you think about this as the centerpiece of the table for Saturday?”
Thursday came and Madeline can barely get through two minutes without shrugging. I call the doctor who tells me that it isn’t uncommon for kids in the second grade to get ticks. “It can be anything – shrugging, head movements, leg movements. It usually gets less severe by the time they’re teenagers. Just don’t make a big deal out of it or she’ll feel self-conscious.” All I could think about was that she’d be picked on by kids at school. Or she’d shrug so much that she’d have the worlds strongest trapezius muscles ever.
Friday came and I was worried about Madeline and my big event. I got some final items from the store that I needed for my tables before scooting over to the school to see the Dinosaur models.
When I walked into the school and realized that Dinosaur Day was not the macaroni model convention but a full-on, these-models-could-be-in-the-Smithsonian-Museum type event with parents, grandparents, fifth cousins twice removed coming in to see it, I instantly had tears in my eyes.
I knew exactly what Madeline was trying to say when she said shoe boxes. Nearly everyone had a diorama.
I knew why her teacher had put her model on the top shelf. Madeline was completely embarrassed.
I knew why that poor little girl was shrugging her way through the week. My inattentiveness and the build up to this event had basically given her a stress tick.
I also knew that I would need to start saving for the counseling she’d need in the future to deal with her horrible mother that sent her to school with a schlub of a model.
I cried as I walked up to her teacher. I asked her why didn’t she tell me that the other kids had done so much more. “Don’t worry. It’s not graded.” (Yeah, not academically graded, I thought. But you better believe it was graded in the brain of every kid who saw her model.)
Nearly 98% of the kids had big parental help on their projects, with about 20% having massive assistance (I’m talking college-credit worthy dioramas). I made it a point to visit the three or four other kids whose parents were as ill-informed about this event as I was and who had models like Madeline’s. I am sure they were getting stress ticks, too.
I gave Madeline a huge hug that day and made a promise – any time, EVER, that she needs my attention or needs me to stop what I am doing to help her, all she needs to say is, “Dinosaur Day.”
[Now that Zoe’s friends are in the second grade in that district, I gave all of the parents the low down on what Dinosaur Day is really like so their kids don’t get scarred for life.]
Flash Forward to a few weeks ago when Zoe brought home her first big school project – building a model of an animal that is to be used in a “learning bubble.” Zoe picked the orca whale as her animal to research and model. She gave me the instruction that her teacher told the class to think about scale for their models with the idea that a bear would be “this big” (arms held about 16″ apart).
OK, I thought, here we go….let’s clear off the calendar and make sure we don’t blow this kid’s psyche.
Now, I want to be clear. As much as I want to fully bling out their school projects so Dinosaur Day doesn’t happen again, the projects are their responsibility. I will talk to them about it, give them ideas on ways to jazz stuff up, buy stuff if I can find it cheaply (like the faux stone paint spray I got for $1.50 for the castle project), and help them as they construct their projects. Trust me, do I have to bite my tongue and sit on my hands sometimes but I try to not overstep my bounds.
That being said, I was thinking nonstop about how to construct an orca whale. We had initially thought paper mache until her teacher mentioned making a stuffed whale. Like a lightening bolt out of the sky, that was a brilliant plan. I knew Zoe could pull it off with her skills and dexterity. We headed to the store that weekend to buy some fleece (easy, forgiving, and soft!) and buttons. Then it was time to get busy.
Thankfully, I had a Shamu from a trip to Sea World in 7th grade, which would act as our inspiration and pattern model.
We measured his different pieces, then I did the math to scale him up to the size Zoe had wanted the finished whale to be. She helped measure out the pattern, cut it, and then cut the fabric.
Now, there’s one thing you need to know about Zoe. That kid can pick things up in a flash. I talked her through using a sewing machine, showed her how to work it by sewing the white patches that are near the eyes onto the black fleece and then let her take control. Granted, I was there to manipulate the fabric, but she was the one with the foot on the pedal. (Incidentally, I may need to up my car insurance when she learns to drive based on how fast she was making that needle go.)
By the end of the first day working on the whale, it was really coming together.
We talked about how the tail would be attached and, because it would require a sleeve-like stitch, I did that part for her. Then Zoe was back in charge doing the stuffing.
We used a whole giant bag of stuffing, plus half of another smaller bag and the remnants of stuffing left over from another project on the whale. She (the whale is a her, thank you very much. We’re still determining a name.) was getting big. Really big.
A whip stitch later….
and the pitfalls of the Dinosaur Day and the first school project had been adverted.
Best of all, not a shrug in site – only smiles.
Thank God, because I still have dreams of being chased by a 2″ tall dinosaur.