Sunday, May 01, 2005

Rain Forest Calamity

I try to volunteer for things at my son's school every month. A certain number of service hours are required, so this keeps me on a pace to fulfill my obligation. Also, I consider it wise to sign up for a stint like in the National Guard, so that way I don't get drafted into a tour of duty in the Jungles of Vietnam. So it was ironic, I guess, that somehow I ended up in the jungle anyway. The rain forest, to be exact, because the kindergarteners are doing some kind of elaborate project involving research on every single animal contained in the rain forest, including many with ridiculous names. These would include the Bearded Pig (don't know if he's married to the Bearded Sow), the Common Tree Shrew (well someone has to be the cranky rain forest animal), the Flying Dragon (non-fire breathing), the howler monkey (have a lot in common with kindergarteners), birds including the quetzel and xenops (quick! Triple word Score!), bandicoot (senior citizen bank robbers?), the binturong (tropical fashion statement), and of course the Bonobo (U-2 lead singer wearing big shoes, plastic nose and squirting lapel flower.) The problem is that they expected me to lead a small group of 5-year-olds in an ARTS AND CRAFTS PROJECT. A subject I have been under-achieving in since my own kindergarten years. I basically flunked out of bluebirds (pre-Campfire girls) due to my Arts & Crafts Disability. I have a vivid memory of these large coffee cans that we were to turn into pretty decorative things using sticky contact paper. Everyone else had beautiful creations, whereas my can ended up with wrinkles. Instead of a nice smooth line, we had topography. I tried to cover up the wrinkles with additional strips of contact paper. The can was becoming stickier and less pleasing to the eye. It was starting to pick up bits of debris from our arts and crafts table. I cannot remember now if this was to be some kind of hideous Mother's Day gift, or if I was supposed to use it as a gaily decorated container for my pen and pencil collection. I went on to equally disastrous outings as my school career continued, tragedies involving yarn, glue, fuzzy balls, buttons, pipe cleaners, construction paper...basically all the building materials of the craft world were my enemies. I still start to itch when I see glitter. When I arrived (on time) the other mothers there were just nodding at the final instructions, which were, "We want the animals for the project to look as REALISTIC as possible!" haha. Realistic. I could possibly create a realistic depiction of a plane crash in the rainforest and someone's suitcase exploding on impact. Would that qualify, I wondered? Soon I was ushered into a darkened hallway lined with tables with large plastic bins sitting on them. The bins contained crafty materials for making our animals "realistic." How realistic could they be if we weren't using actual feathers, fur and reptile scales? Well, never mind that. I had to find a way. I was assigned three kindergarteners to create three realistic-looking toucan birds. Darn! Why hadn't I brought in a box of Froot Loops? Instead we had to page through these books looking for pictures and descriptions of our assigned animal. But my descriptive material did not say how big the toucan bird was. Hmmm. I decided, arbitrarily, it was probably as big as a chicken. The reason for this is that the smaller the bird, the more refined the cutting and pasting had to be. So I wanted to give myself margin for error. That way if someone accused me of making the bird's head too big or the feet with too many toes, I could just trim the head or lop off the toes. No problem! There were several other groups in the dimly lit halls with us, working on various other animals such as flying squirrels, anacondas, and hairy spiders. I was directing my kindergarteners in the cutting of the paper to make the toucan bodies. Toucans have black bodies. I soon ran into a very large difficulty. Namely, it is impossible to cut out an animal body without drawing it first. Now my drawing skills aren't that great to begin with, but try drawing anything on BLACK paper and you will see the magnitude of the problem. I tried colored markers, colored pencils, yellow highligher, nothing worked. Finally I had a brilliant idea. Classroom chalk! This worked so well that other groups with black-bodied animals asked to borrow our chalk when we were done. I minor creative triumph! So I could now draw the birds for the children to cut out. I wasn't able to get the birds to match. One bird looked like a down and out crow. Another looked like he had eaten too much over the holidays. The third sort of looked like a missile with feet. As the cutting began two of my kindergarteners became distracted. One began interacting with other kindergarteners. The other was looking for more exciting materials for the birds. My son kept dutifully cutting. Eventually I was able to get the girls interested again when it was time to paint the birds. I helped them cut out their birds while the one began assembling paints and brushes. For some reason half the paint cups had brushes that were too big, resulting in these cups tipping over and spilling paint on the floor. Girl #1 sat in the pink paint. I went for the paper towels. By the time I returned kindergarteners from other groups were leaving brightly colored footprints all over my area. I went back for more paper towels. With much difficulty I got the girls involved in coloring the beaks of their birds. Of course everyone fought over the paint colors. I said they would all get a turn with each color eventually. Pouting ensued. Meanwhile two other classes had to pass through the hallway. Although they stepped carefully around the birds, inevitably some of them left a trail of paint and construction paper bits. At last our birds were done. Or at least done enough for drying. They sort of looked like the Partridge Family partridges as brightly colored as the Partridge Family bus. One generous parent complimented us on how "realistic" our toucans looked. haha. Well they DID have wings and beaks. I did my best to cleanse the floor, walls and kindergarteners of paint residue. If they got a poor start in their academic careers it would be my fault. Someone will be sure to notice that REAL toucans are not as big as a small dog. But I was done with the project. No one could drag me in to re-do it or add realistic looking feathers. That would be the NEXT parent's job. I was free. As the Partridge Family would say, "C'mon, get happy!"

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