We’re making poster boards of our favorite insects, Declan and I. It’s my first second grade project.

I tell him I’m not going to do it for him, I’m going to make my own.

“You can’t make one! Parents can’t do their own!” He chose praying mantises. I want to do butterflies. I bought five poster boards. That gives us one each to mess up and the loser gets two.

School is not a competition. Everyone should do his or her best. It’s just that I’m going to do…better. A posterboard is a big deal. The world will see if I know my butterflies. I can’t mess up.

I’ve started collecting pictures of monarchs. He’s mad. “Parents…can’t…do…the…PROJECT!” I tell him he’s right–parents can’t do kids‘ projects. That’s why I’m doing my own. Mine’s going to be better than all the other parents’ projects. I’m determined.

This isn’t going to be easy. I’m used to doing things online. Screenshot. Paste. Done! I haven’t used a real live glue stick in so long the ones in my classroom dried up. One day, I got nostalgic and brought out glitter. I remembered why people hate real art supplies. They’re a mess. Note to self: never…use…glitter…again!

Gluing butterfly facts in straight lines without the little man inside the computer–that’s a challenge. My information’s ready, though–digitally curated from research I’ve done in the past for something else. Although musicians like John Fogarty have been sued for plagiarizing themselves, it’s not cheating to reuse your own material–as long as you cite yourself.

How cool is it to put your name in your own “Work’s Cited” next to the experts? That’s the thing–anyone can be an expert these days. All the world’s information is right there on Google. Just use it! In my day, we had to get a ride to the actual library.

I gave a project in my class last week. Someone said, “I already did that project in eighth grade, can I turn it in again?”

Instead of showing the kid the magic of “cite yourself,” I changed the theme on the spot, ruining his hopes of an easy grade. Teachers are jerks like that.

It’s not kids’ fault teachers never communicate about projects. If a teacher’s farther than two doors down, I never see that person–unless he or she’s on the path to the bathroom or the front door. It’s the unwritten rule of teacher geography.

We’re too busy locked in our rooms tabulating data or trying not to misplace any kids to say, “Hey, what are you teaching this year?”

We could coordinate or reinforce each other’s lessons. Instead, we jump to give our projects first so we look like the smart one and the other teacher looks like a copy cat. I wished I’d assigned my project Monday so the kids would think the Spanish teacher stole my project instead of the other way around.

No matter, problem solved. I changed that assignment on the fly like an improv actor. Victory!

“Everyone should take an improv class,” a real actor once told me. It’s true. Improv often saves my life.

But now back to the butterflies. I assemble my pictures. I decide to use pictures I’ve taken myself. Once, I gave a photo credit to someone who stole it from someone else. I got an angry cease and desist letter. It’s always best to create one’s own art. I don’t want a cease and desist letter from Declan’s teacher. I want a sticker. I want to be the best parent project in the school.

I carefully collect my information and put it in a file. I’ll print, cut and glue later. I’ll type all my headings and make sure they’re straight. I don’t want my project to look second-grady. I’m a professional–I have standards. I’m trying to teach Declan to beat the standards. I circle the “exceeds” column of the rubric.

Declan is getting angrier by the minute. He wants to do his project, not mine. He starts looking for praying mantises. “You CAN’T do a project, Mom!”

Truth is, I think he’s jealous of my talent and afraid my project will be better.

I take a break from butterflies to search for his insect. We watch an episode of Monster Bug Wars he researched on his own. He tells me all about every single bug. Then, we find praying mantis pictures, so he can print, cut and glue, too.

We’re having fun. He knows more about bugs than me. I’ll have to step up my game.

I have a nearly eight-year old boy researching things he’s passionate about. This is the key to life. It’s what I’m trying to show him–to always have passion, and to be able to learn on the fly. That’s the secret to success–not a grade on a report card or an evaluation by a boss, although there’ll be plenty of each to discourage him along the way.

If he can transcend these things and know passion, learning, and a bit of hard work is where it’s at, he will go far.  That’s the lesson I’m hoping to teach, not that I can finish a second grade project.

In the end, he’s the bug expert.

I’m trying hard to keep up.

That’s how parenting–and good, solid teaching–should be.

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