Dear Snarky – Am I a Bad Mom for Not Doing My Kid’s School Project?

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Dear Snarky,

My son is in the 3rd grade and this is his first year to participate in the school Science Fair. I’ve helped him decided what he wants to do, bought the supplies and the display board and have offered what I would call gentle guidance. The rest I am leaving up to him.

I thought this was okay until at a Cub Scout meeting I hear other mothers talking and it seems like they are doing their kids ENTIRE project. Am I wrong not to do more?

Signed, First Time Science Fair Mom

Dear First Timer,

Put down the glue gun and slowly step away from the note cards and the color markers. You are 100% correct in not micro managing every aspect of your son’s Science Fair entry. It’s the rare parent these days that can resist the urge to not completely take over every school project. You name it – book reports, the diorama (hate it), the Invention Competition to the pinnacle of parental participation – the Science Fair – have become parent showcases. 

Most of these projects have the tell-tale signs that a 40-year-old did some if not all of the work. Sure, I’ve been guilty of telling my kids when they were younger to take their chocolate milk and go watch “Sponge Bob Square Pants” while mommy just fixes one or two things on their display board. But, it’s wrong and brace yourself because when you walk into the Science Fair your son’s project board and experiment will look like, well, like an 8-year-old did it and 90 % of the other exhibits will look like a cross between a rocket scientist and the design team at Apple.

That’s a nice way of saying your son’s will stink but in a good way because he did his own work and you let him – making you both big winners.  Also, I think it says a lot about the character of the school if the winners are picked based on the work a child did not the parents. So no worries First Timer, you’ve got this! Get your Mom swagger on and be proud you’re raising a child to do his own work and think for himself.

Warning: Science Fairs Maybe Hazardous to Your Health

cae1a3e3b84e43bc1316245af2a26433Who knew that by agreeing to judge an elementary school Science Fair I would be putting myself in harm’s way? I think back now to just one day ago when I was an innocent, naive to the cruel, harsh ways of the world and how as a trusting, kind-hearted person I was eagerly looking forward to helping my neighbor, an elementary school assistant principal, by being a judge at her school’s Science Fair.  I even thought it sounded like fun.

Although I did question my neighbor if I had the necessary educational and work background to qualify as a judge. She assured me that I would be “perfect, just perfect.” They already had two retired college science teachers, a local high-tech wizard, and a woman who writes science textbooks.  So, what was I there for, I thought, to collectively lower the group’s I.Q.?  Oh no, I was told my area of expertise would be in the “Did a kid really do this?” category. Excellent, I had plenty of experience in that department. With a total of eight Science Fairs and Invention Conventions under my belt I could definitely serve as the “how much of this did a parent do” translator.

Yesterday, I arrived at the elementary school ready to spend an intellectual day looking over the fourth and fifth grade students science projects. I even brought my lunch.  (I had no problem in giving up my day to volunteer, but I wasn’t woman enough to make the ultimate sacrifice of eating the school’s cafeteria food). It was an action packed morning. The kids were excited hauling their project boards into the gym and setting up their experiments. Most of the them had at least one parent helping get everything rigged up.  After the teachers shooed the parents out of the gym (Well it started as a polite “parents please exit the gym” announcement and turned into a “parents if you don’t leave the gym your child’s experiment will be disqualified from medal consideration) and the kids went back to class we began evaluating the projects.

Our morning was spent looking at each experiment, rating their project board and their “spirit of scientific inquiry and creativity.” During lunch we compared notes and did a preliminary ranking.  There were many experiments that I had serious doubts a 9 or 10-year-old thought of, could do or even understand the data. But, I reserved my judgement until we had a chance to talk with the budding scientists. That happened in the afternoon when, in teams of two, we visited with each child and asked them questions about their experiment. This is where things got interesting.

There were some really impressive experiments. At least a dozen were “borrowed” from the “Amazing Science Fair” website that I know so very well. Then you had your classic Science Fair projects – volcano, potato batteries, plant growth with and without fertilizer, you know, the ones you and I did in school.  It was the incredible ones that had me concerned.  The retired college science professors were enthralled with one fifth grader’s experiment that, are you ready for this, “ examined the use of peptide nucleic acid in combination with DNA to create unique double-crossover structures to serve as scaffolding upon which to create molecular size electronic circuits.”  Yes, it sounds amazing, even if I don’t know the hell it means, but truly did a 10 year old do this? I know fifth grade geniuses walk among us, but this had all the tell-tale signs of “mommy and/or daddy did this for me.”

The giveaways were:  A theme way too complicated for a child even one gifted with an extra-large hippocampus. A Project board that had no sign of ever being touched by a child’s hands. There were no glue drips, no smearing, no uneven paper placement or scissor cuts that were just a teeny bit off. The experiment itself would require equipment that you’d find in a research hospital, not the toolbox of a crap that most families have in their garage. It looked like the work of an anal retentive 40-year-old with a Ph.D. Not a 10-year-old in an One Direction t-shirt.

When asking the child to explain the experiment she, God bless her, had memorized her entire project board written report, but she could in no way answer any questions that weren’t “board” related. So, I started asking things like, how did you think up your experiment? What did you like best about it?  What was most fun? That question broke her. She confessed that, “none of it was fun” because her mom “did all of it” and once she got warmed up she began to express her moral outrage that her mom “wouldn’t even let me glue anything!”

After our afternoon visits with the kids we went to the school library and began tabulating our results. I and the high-tech guru were in agreement that the “Lego kid” take first place. A fourth grade boy had done an experiment that focused on the quality of Lego’s versus the generic version. The boy had gotten the idea after his mother kept on insisting that it wasn’t worth the money to buy Lego’s when the off brand was “just as good.” Lego kid had done a series of tests/experiments that would have done Consumer Reports proud. I liked it because you could tell the kid knew his Lego’s, was passionate about the experiment and had, through science, definitely proven that Lego has no equal.

We eventually, after an official ruling (we had to bring in the asst. principal who once again stressed the prime directive that the experiments had to be, without a doubt, the work of a child) got the two college prof’s on our side, the lone holdout was a the text-book writer. She was all about pure science and it seemed to me she had an unhealthy dislike of Legos and kids and not necessarily in that order.

Fortunately, it didn’t have to be unanimous to decide first place. Lego Kid was declared the winner. After 30 more minutes we had nailed down second thru sixth place, picked most creative, most environmental, most unusual etc, etc. Every kid got a ribbon and they were the super fancy kind like people receive at horse shows. I don’t blame the school for going the “ribbon for all route.” It’s a private Christian elementary school where parents pay about $1,000 a month in tuition. For that kind of coin I’m sure the parents demand and receive a ribbon rich environment.

At 7 p.m. that evening all the kids and their parents came back up to school to see what ribbon they had won, check out the other experiments and wait for the official award ceremony at 8 where 1st – 6th place were announced.  These kids would proceed on to the city Science Fair.   All the judges were there for the awards ceremony. I was circulating through the crowd enjoying listening to the kids talk about their experiments, but as I approached the peptide nucleic acid girl I sensed danger. The girl’s mother was crowing about her child’s experiment (while her daughter played with her iPhone) to anyone who was within a 50 foot hearing radius.

The poor kid who had been deprived of doing anything on her project had won a ribbon for “Most Intriguing.”  Based on that the mom was in high spirits. I guess she thought Intriguing was code for first place. I very quickly by passed the mother and went to the other side of the gym.  At 8 p.m. sharp the awards ceremony began. The principal sang the praises of the kids, the parents and the exceptional staff and then introduced the judges. One by one the awards were called out.

I had my eye on the Peptide Mom. Yikes you could tell the closer we got to first place the mom would get more and more excited. She thought she had it in the bag. When first place was announced and it was the Lego Kid the crowd clapped and the Lego Kid went wild. It was beyond obvious that he and his parents were stunned. Lego Kid was definitely, not one of the usual suspects, that win the science fair, the spelling and geography bees and the mathlympics which I think made his victory every sweeter. After Lego Kid accepted his medal the Tech Guru and I went and congratulated him, but as were talking I sensed a disturbance in the force.

The Peptide Mom is heading straight towards us with was the assistant principal in tow and she looks super pissed.  She does a rude, pushy “pardon me” to the Lego Kid’s parents and demands to speak to us about our judging criteria. “Okay,” I say. “Why don’t we move over to the corner over there.”  I didn’t want her sore loser attitude to take away from the Lego Kid’s moment.

As we’re moving to the corner I make eye contact with my neighbor, the assistant principal, and she looks worried. As soon as we were out of ear shot of the Lego Kid I ask The Peptide Mom what exactly does she want to know?  “What I want,” she hisses, “is for you first to tell me what your qualifications are to judge a Science Fair?”

“Well,” I respond, “I was asked by the assistant principal.  I didn’t actually apply for the job.”

“No, no,” she chokes out, “I want to know your curriculum vitae?”

I look at my neighbor and give her the “help me now  I did this as a favor to you” look and you know what I get back n-o-t-h-i-n-g.  Holy crap, I think my neighbor is afraid of the Peptide Mom and then I see the Tech Guru whose new name now is the Dickless Wonder leaving the Science Fair. When the Peptide Mom was hissing at me he took off.

“Look,” I tell the Peptide Mom in a super rah, rah got spirit, let’s hear it, voice, “I’m sorry your child’s evening didn’t go as you planned, but everyone was a winner here tonight. It was a great day for science.”

Apparently, that was not the right thing to say because ladies and gentlemen put your tray tables in the upright position and brace for impact – the shit has hit the fan. She started booing me. Yeah, that’s right booing me as in boo, boo to my face. “Um, okay,” I say, “I’m going now.”

As I turn around, so she’s now booing my back, Peptide Mom runs in front of me and growls, “You wouldn’t know science if  it  f****ed you up the ass.”  My first response to this was to take my purse and cover my backside. Then after I was sure I was protected from an unlawful rear entry search and seizure I allowed myself to get supremely offended.

Why supremely offended instead of just middle of the road horrified?  Here’s why –  remember how I told you the Science Fair was at a Christian School, and at this Christian school their motto is “Learning to Live Like Jesus” and it’s plastered all over their walls, their stationary, their t-shirts, the gym.  While, I’m no biblical scholar, (although I did take 2 semesters of religion in college), I strongly believe that no where in the New Testament did Jesus say, the f’ing the ass thing.

I also believe that this where the assistant principal ( and now former friend) should have kicked the mom, in desperate need of meds or shock therapy, out of the school.  Of course, that didn’t happen because justice was not served – the Peptide Mom kept stalking me.  I couldn’t shake her.  It was time for me to practice my evasive maneuvers by fibbing – big time.  I told her, in the dulcet tones I save for when I’m dealing with the mentally fragile,  to give me just a few minutes and I would see what I could do to perhaps have the results reconsider.

After placating her with that ruse I fled the school out of a side door that set off an alarm.  The whole alarm ringing thing so not my problem.  I was focused only on making it to the safety of my car so I could  haul home.  I’m close enough to my car to hit the unlock sensor and as I’m about to open the door The Peptide Mom catches up to me. “Why are you leaving?” she asks, “Did you get the results changed?”

“Oh, I did better than that,” I say, “I got you just what you wanted.”

“What, what,” she chants excitedly.”  I then grab my ribbon I got for judging  (It was a big blue ribbon with a gold center that said judge.  Sparkly, yet still classy, I thought when I got it that morning.) and say, “This is for you!”

“Why do I get a ribbon?” she asks.

“Well,” I chirp, and by now I have my car door open and I’m sliding into my seat, “Isn’t it what you wanted all along – a ribbon just for you and all your hard work? It’s your special ribbon for Best Parent Participation. You earned it for doing your child’s entire Science Fair project. That’s why she didn’t win, because she didn’t do the experiment or the project board – you did. Congratulations, you’ve now won Worst Parent of the Year!”

I then quickly close my door, throw my car in drive, hit the accelerator, run over a curb (which really ticked me off because I just had my car aligned at Discount Tire) and pray she doesn’t follow me as I drive home.  Good God, who knew a judging a Science Fair could be hazardous to your health.  There really needs to be warning signs posted.

cover_1.3-2*Attention Snarky Friends, I have a brand new book out. It’s the second in the Snarky in the Suburbs series – Snarky in the Suburbs Trouble In Texas. You can buy it for your Kindle or in paperback on Amazon.  It’s also available for the Nook or you can get it for your Kobo reader. Click on a link and give it a test read.  I hope you like it! 🙂