Tuesday, September 20, 2016

(DIM) Do-It-Myself

Last week, Cael came home with the instructions for his very first official school project.  He was tasked with making a "habitat diorama" for an animal of his choice.  The students could use a shoebox or something similar as the framework for their environment, and it should include anything the chosen animal needs to survive.

Cael's choice?  A bald eagle.

That's my patriotic boy.

The only problem is that Cael, while pretty artistically gifted, is also somewhat artistically unmotivated.  I asked him what ideas he had.

"I don't know."

I asked him what an eagle would need to survive.

"I don't know."

I asked him if he wanted a smoothie or grilled beef tongue for his afternoon snack.

"I don't know."

Yeah, I thought he wasn't listening.

Once he had done his research and was able to focus on his project, he made some legitimate suggestions.  He wanted to put a nest in a tree where his eagle would roost.  He wanted a lake or river with fish for his bird to eat.  He wanted grass and mountains, because "mountains rock".  (I see what he did there.)  And lastly, he wanted to paint the entire box so that you couldn't see any cardboard anywhere.

Immediately, I could see the end result.  Not his, but mine-- the project I would have made if I were in his place and had chosen something obscure like the Jesus Lizard.  I'd create a shoebox Amazon rainforest with fourteen different textured plants from my yard, and utilize a discreetly placed spray bottle to mimic the ever present moisture of the canopy.  Then, a complex patchwork of strings and pulleys would guide my lizard over the surface of my poured acrylic "water" as he danced across the surface.

Photo credit here.

But I guess an eagle is okay, too.  And I may have a problem with perfectionism.

Every time we discussed the project, and later when we actually began to assemble it, I had to remind myself to refrain from imposing my ideas and taking over.

This is Cael's project.
This is not my project.
This is Cael's project.

This became my mantra.  And I swear, I did my best to stay out of it.  But after he'd drawn his fresh water fish and finished painting, (by himself, for the record) the time came to create and erect a tree structure.  He liked the idea of the branch being off the ground but lacked the strength or coordination to punch through the box, so I had to take on the task.

In order to affix the grass, rocks, etc., we would have to use the hot glue gun, and I have learned from extensive experience with our log cabin project that my leaky glue gun should require licensure and come equipped with burn cream and a injury waiver, so I would have to do that part, too.  I had Cael lay out the landscaping where he would like, and I glued everything down before starting in on the river.

And here's where I couldn't help myself.

He did a great job painting the river.  But wouldn't the river be even cooler if we covered it with solidified hot glue so that it would look glossy and wet?  He agreed.  And wouldn't the glue river look even more realistic if it tumbled down a rocky waterfall?  He was excited.  And wouldn't the real pièce de résistance be a cobblestone bridge at the edge of the shoebox where there was already a domed cutout?  He was... annoyed.

"No, Mom.  And eagle doesn't need a bridge!"  

I don't need a log cabin assembled with twigs from my backyard, either, but people without rampant perfectionism don't always know what's best for them, DO THEY?

I respected his wishes, however, and handed over the rocks and paint so that Cael could build the waterfall.  I coated it in dropping hot glue, and called it good.

This is Cael's project.  
This is not my project. 
This is Cael's project.

When it was done and I stepped back to look at it, I felt a twinge of regret.  The entire project was his inspiration, and while he did do much of the work, the habitat diorama in front of me didn't look like it was crafted by an eight year-old.

It looked like it was crafted by a glue-gun-wielding stay-at-home-mom who'd had too much coffee that day.  But Cael loves it, and what was done was done.

As we enter this phase of my kids' schooling, I'm going to have to learn to take a step back and let the boys be 100% responsible for their own work.  And if that is the only lesson learned from this project, it should be considered a success.

But you know that next time there will be a bridge...

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