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I thought I was done with school projects.
You know, the kind of projects that involve cardboard and paint and glue and styrofoam and a panicked run to the hobby store the night before they are due. When my kids were younger they seemed to be inundated each year with these unique hands-on assignments.
Of course, the activities were meant to be educational and fun. But by necessity each one invariably required sharp cutting tools and a collection of stuff hiding about the house that was either not to be found or hard for my children to locate. Things like buttons. Or yarn. Or a shoe box.
Which meant that these projects always required parental involvement.
Which meant they required two construction resources which I have in short supply: creativity and patience.
I spent many late nights helping my kids design and construct elaborate displays when they were young, which I usually became aware of twelve hours before they were due. These were not my finest hours as a parent.
But in retrospect, I do have to admit these time consuming craft sessions were educational, if not always fun. For instance, my kids learned that it takes several hours for glue to dry and that poster board is not something we have lying around the house.
They learned to give me fair warning if they needed supplies from the store.
Which is how I learned that my son, who is now a senior in high school, needed a bunch of stuff for a Science and Engineering class project. He didn’t need help designing. He didn’t need help building. He didn’t even need me to go to the store.
He just needed my credit card.
What kind of project is this? I asked.
“It is the classic egg drop project,” he explained. “Where you design something to protect an egg that is hurled off a two story building. If the egg breaks, you fail. Only this project is more difficult. I have to throw six eggs and can only design something with a volume of 5 inches by 5 inches by 5 inches.”
When I looked at him blankly he said, “that is 125 cubic inches.”
“A lot less than a shoebox,” he added when my blank stare did not dissipate.
I know a few things about eggs. For starters, if you accidentally drop a dozen while taking them out of the refrigerator, they break. Or if someone throws one at your front door on Halloween it is difficult to clean up.
I also know that eggs can be fried, scrambled, and . . . hard-boiled.
“And we can’t hard-boil them or lower them with a string or throw them while they are still in the chicken,” he added, anticipating my unhelpful advice.
“Then it is impossible,” I concluded.
“No,” he said. “It is difficult.”
So, on a Saturday morning before his project was due I found him with an X-acto knife and a tape measure working patiently and methodically over a mess of cardboard boxes and string and paper clips and plastic garbage bags and rubber bands and other odds and ends scattered on the kitchen counter.
Also on the counter was a dozen eggs. Apparently our breakfast was to be sacrificed to the greater good of education.
But I was intrigued. I wanted to know what he was going to build. And I also wanted to be involved. “Do you want some help?” I asked.
“No, I got this dad.”
I suddenly felt a pain of exclusion. Like I had nothing to offer or wisdom to share. Like I
had come to a place in his life where I was more a hindrance than a help.
I probably felt that way because it was true. Where his school work is concerned, I have little help to give. And my history with scissors and cardboard is not stellar.
Still, as I proudly watched him work methodically from some blue print that was springing forth from his imagination, he let me offer construction suggestions. We traded ideas and refined others together. I found some materials in the basement he didn’t know we had; some electrical tape and an oversized sponge.
We were collaborating. And I discovered I was very happy to be his helper in whatever way he needed.
Several enjoyable hours of craft time later he hurled a small prototype assembly containing half a dozen eggs off our balcony to the driveway below. A carefully cut and folded trash bag parachute unfurled and a thin plastic egg container strategically reinforced to crumple like a car around a crash test dummy floated down and plumped on top of the large damp sponge taped to its bottom.
The eggs were all intact and my son, smiling, gave me an exuberant high five.
I thought I was done with school projects.
I’m glad I’m not.
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