There are few things I dread more than a school project.
I believe the diorama is evil and an instrument of Satan. My children’s science, history and invention fair entries have made me cry and I’m not talking tears of joy. In fact, the last place I ever want to be is frantically searching the aisles at a craft store on a Thursday night looking for chopsticks, wooden dowels or anything Martha Stewart-y to make a mobile. But there I was with my “It maybe the last minute but that doesn’t make it late” child in a race to buy supplies for a project due in less than 12 hours.
As I was crouched down digging through a bin of reduced American Girl craft kits thinking about how I could use different parts to make a decent mobile, I see a mom I know. She had all the tell-tale signs of “School Project Overkill.” Her hands were singed from excessive glue gun use and there looked to be what I think was permanent marker on her face. I gave her the “don’t you hate school projects” eye roll and she responded with two words: Invention Fair. Well, actually three but I’m being ladylike and not counting the F word. I got up and gave her a hug.
If you’re on your high horse right now doing the sanctimonious two step as you self-righteously mutter, “But school projects are for the kids to do, not the parents,” stay really still for a second so I can kick you. I’d have a better chance of seeing free-range unicorns grazing in the empty field near the 135th Street Target than a kid turning in a school project that didn’t have his or her parent’s DNA all over it.
If you want to check out different parenting styles all you need to do is a 360-degree rubbernecking at projects lining the hallways during parent/teacher conferences next week. Feast your eyes on the fourth-grade Invention Fair entries that look like the design team at Apple was brought in for consultation. Do a double take at the fifth-grade science project that required welding because who among us doesn’t keep a shielded metal arc welding kit (designer helmet optional) in our pantry and wouldn’t be averse to letting a 10-year-old use it? Stare in wonder at a second-grader’s diorama that would put an elite squad of Disney Imagineers to shame. Never mind that no 7-year-old on planet Earth has such advanced fine motor skills.
These projects represent the parenting style I like to call Hyper-Involved or Get Out of My Way, Kid, I’m Taking Over this Project. (As your kids get older, rest assured these parents still find stuff to do, like write their teenagers’ college application essays.) There’s a certain degree of hubris with this parenting style, as defined by the total lack of concern that no one EVER is going to believe a child took part in any aspect of this school project. I saw one teacher, who I shall always cherish, tell a parent, “Nice work, Mom. You got an A.” The mother in question didn’t even have the good sense to be embarrassed. She just smiled and adjusted the sleeves on her North Face.
I always wonder what the Hyper Involved Parent is trying to compensate for. Several years ago, one of my kids was assigned a project of making a mastodon tusk. One week later, I’m dropping my kids off at school on the day projects are due, so you see many children carrying in mastodon tusks. Then what to my wondering eyes should appear but a dad in a huge pickup truck with what seems to be a life-size tusk lying in the bed. He pulls in front of everyone, double parks, puts on his hazards — like that makes it OK he’s causing a traffic tieup — hops out of his truck and, with the help of two students, proceeds to hoist what I’m guessing is a 6-foot-long papier-mache tusk out of his pickup.
The dad couldn’t have looked prouder. I’m telling you he had some serious swagger going on carrying that bad boy into the school. I watch all this, primarily because I’m blocked in by his vehicle, and just shake my head. I’m thinking that tusk has to be a metaphor for a lack of size in other areas of this dad’s life. And maybe that’s what drives the Hyper Involved Parent: a need to show off, to preen, to draw attention to themselves. Even if it’s something as simple and innocent as a child’s school project.