Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Betsy Ross and the Alpha Mom

Remember back in the day when a school book report consisted of a short summary of the book and a little blurb telling what you thought of it? Nowadays book reports require so much more. In addition to the written portion, the kids have to complete some sort of project, like a poster, or a diorama.  Those of us who have been down that road with our kids know how time consuming and stress inducing it can be. And not for the kids.

I have a third grader who is now on her third year of book reports. In first grade she came home after presenting her poster on Magic Treehouse: Dawn of the Dinosaurs and declared her project “the worst in the class.” She went on to explain, “All the other kids did really cool projects with their moms. You were supposed to do it with me!” This was news to me.

In second grade, another book report came around, and it didn’t go any better. For women’s history month, the kids were supposed to read a book about a famous woman in history. My daughter chose a book on Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables, which was an obsession in our house at the time. They could write two paragraphs, complete a diorama, or create a “Guess Who” book. She chose to do the paragraphs. The day she turned it in she came home in tears and, like the previous year, declared her project “the worst.” It turns out the son of my favorite Alpha Mom, we’ll call him Ryan, did his report on Betsy Ross. He came in dressed as Uncle Sam, and his mom brought in a homemade cake she had decorated like the American flag. A week later I saw the kids coming out of school with their graded projects. I was stunned by some of the museum-worthy posters, and the dioramas that were nothing short of architectural feats. It finally hit me. Bigger is better. Over-the-top is the standard. Total parental involvement/takeover is key.

Well, it’s third grade, and another book report is due today. This time they had to  create a gift for a character that could be put to good use in the story. The gift had to be handmade, placed in a box, and wrapped with handmade or store-bought paper that somehow relates to the story.  My daughter chose the book White House Whiteout, about three kids who try to help the President’s daughter get her kidnapped dog back. They end up getting kidnapped themselves, caught in a snowstorm, and rescued by snowmobilers. (Not Anne of Green Gables by any stretch of the imagination, but hey, at least she’s reading.) She decided on a cell phone made of Legos as her gift. It was going great, until she started thinking about the box. For me, the next few days were an exercise in dashing her dreams. First I told her it’s impossible to rig up an artificial snow machine to place inside the box. After she got over that, I had to refuse to buy the Cricut scrapbooking machine that retails for $129.00, and its snowflake cartridge for $21.00. Finally, my downtrodden daughter settled on 4” X 4” pieces of white card stock that would be folded and cut on the edges to make old-fashioned snowflakes.

She’s at school right now with her project. In my fantasies a glowing, self-assured girl comes home and says, “It went great. I’m really happy with what I turned in, and I’m even happier that I did it all by myself. ”  But I’m a realist. I’m bracing myself for a tearful description of Ryan’s project. I’m thinking it’s a box wrapped in handmade scratch-and-sniff paper. And the gift? Maybe a hand-carved music box that plays a few original compositions. Or something voice-activated, like a robot with special powers. Or better yet, a bronze sculpture of a mom who makes life less hard for the characters, and who serves them hot chocolate and sugar cookies when it’s all over.

I wonder if Betsy Ross had a mom like that.

By Tonia Peters

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