May 22, 2014 in Adventures in Parenting

On the eve of our elementary school’s first ever International Night, the students are immersed in learning about their heritages. My fifth grade son’s class is not only steeped in the study of the birth of the United States of America, but they had to do individual projects about their own heritage as well, culminating in a Heritage Luncheon, where every student brought in a dish (made by their parents and grandparents, of course) to share from one of their countries of origin. It was a fabulous melting pot of cultures and food, and I took away two recipes that I will start making in my own home.

So when my second grader brought home their class’s instructions for a heritage project of their own to be displayed on International Night, I was all for it…until I read the instructions. My son was to dress a doll—a 6-inch tall clothespin—in clothing representative of one of their countries of origin, and the clothes had to be handmade.

I re-read the instructions, especially the line that said that parents should let their kids do their own work. I looked at the 6-inch tall clothespin. It was small and skinny, and it would be a challenge trying to manipulate fabric in sizes small enough to fit this piece of wood. Then I looked at my eight-year-old’s hands. They were small too, and still had much to learn about fine motor skills and manual dexterity. My son’s face was eager, but in the depths of his dark brown eyes lurked a perfectionist, and if this doll didn’t turn out according to the vision he had in his head, many, many tears would be shed. In that moment, I realized that even though I was a grown adult, for the next week I would have my hands full with second grade homework.

Don’t get me wrong: my son did the lion’s share of the work. He chose and cut the fabric and ribbon from the bin of fabric scraps I brought in from the garage. He sewed the tiny pair of pants and the even tinier jacket himself while I held the fabric taut for him. He spray painted a small hat after I spent 10 minutes digging around in the garage for a can of purple spray paint and setting up a work station on the driveway. I may have peeled away the lining on a piece of double-sided tape, but he was the one who pressed on the ribbon accents on the jacket and pants. In the end, his Spanish Bullfighter looked amazing!

I have seen some of his classmates’ dolls, and they look amazing too. But I guarantee that those kids had their parents’ help, and it’s not because we are all controlling parents who demand perfection in our kids (although some of us are). It’s because this project was just slightly beyond their capability at this age. But no matter: my son loved the project and he was happy with the results, and come International Night when all these second grade dolls are lined up on display in a celebration of world cultures, it is all going to be worth it.