Once upon a time, about 25 years ago, I had to make a covered wagon for a history project. My dad took me shopping for a model kit and miniatures, and I set to work. And by “I,” I mean that my dad let me hold the glue while he did all the work until he said I was holding the glue wrong and made me leave. This was not my choice—I wanted to make the wagon myself—but he was quite certain I would do something wrong so he wouldn’t let me touch it. I remember feeling a little weird about turning it in with my name on it; it really should have said “Curt,” and Mr. T-Bury would’ve given Dad the A.
Times have changed. I was in high school when I made that history project, and now my daughter is in fourth grade making a covered wagon. Is it just in Oregon that kids gets this assignment? If so, I’d rather be schooled in California where we could make dioramas of the Donner Party feasting on their friends.
(By the way, did you hear the latest on the Donner Party? Researchers don’t think they ate each other after all. Such a disappointment, that news.)
Katie brought home her assignment details a couple weeks ago, and although I looked online for a model kit right away, I didn’t order anything because I planned to buy something locally. Little did I know that covered wagon model kits aren’t easy to find anymore—not shoebox size, anyway. There’s an itty-bitty dumb one that just about every hobby shop has, but it’s about 4x6x2 and the tag might as well say “for wiener kids only,” it’s so lame.
The project is due on the 30th, and knowing this could take some time, I wasn’t going to wait until the last minute. I spent most of Friday making phone calls and driving around Portland looking for covered wagon kits. I eventually gave up, so the four of us spent yesterday making phone calls and driving around Portland looking for covered wagon supplies. It was the least fun we’ve all had together in a long time. At one point Katie said, “Why do Jack and I have to be here too?” and I thought Vic might reach back and strangle her right there in the car. I would not have stopped him.
This morning Victor, Katie and I sat around the kitchen table with all our parts and pieces and glue guns and balsa wood and dowels and other covered wagon supplies and got started. Katie lasted a few minutes before she quietly moved over to the family room to watch TV. Within an hour she was in the neighbor’s backyard, playing on the swings. Vic and I asked WHERE THE HELL IS KATIE? just a couple times and then decided the project was easier without her.
We are not the kinds of parents who do our kids’ homework, and we are not the kinds who insist on “helping” the way my dad “helped” me by temporarily allowing me to hold the glue for him. But we also aren’t about to let our accident-prone kid use a saw or a hot glue gun, or get an F because her project is a total shit-pile of balsa wood and muslin. Is this really a suitable assignment for a fourth-grader? Are those sneaky teachers just testing the parents?
The covered wagons are always displayed in the library, and it’s been very obvious to me in years’ past which kids had a lot of parental “input.” Some wagons definitely looked like they were made from model kits or with the help of a skilled carpenter; the ones at the other end of the spectrum were mostly cardboard and staples. Those are the ones that other parents point at while laughing derisively. Well, the bad parents do. I’ve seen them. I’ve been them.
Katie told us she’d already made a first aid kit for her wagon, and when she showed it to me, I saw it was a tiny piece of paper on which she’d drawn a red plus sign. I knew then that she’d need as much help with the contents as she needed with the wagon itself. Grrr. She is amazed at the ideas I’ve come up with for different ways of representing typical wagon train supplies. I’m all, HEY KID, I’VE DONE THIS BEFORE.
(Well, I kinda have.)
I know, I know… somebody’s getting back at me for not really doing my own covered wagon homework 25 years ago. And my dad is probably watching me from on high (or low), still cursing at me to just give him the glue, go away, and let him do it all by his own damn self.