School Days

Having school-age children introduces parents to a million challenges. From last-minute book reports to misplaced geometry homework, we are destined to become casualties of the class curriculum sooner or later. Another one of those hazards is the dreaded science fair. Science teachers are basically well-intentioned adults. They truly believe that science-fair projects will arouse the dormant curiosity of our television generation and produce wonderful, brain-enlarged children, eager to discover the creations that will better mankind. What really happens, though, is that about a zillion students are suddenly turned loose to grow mold in unsuspecting urban refrigerators, activate live volcanoes in darkened basements, and secretly perform undercover experiments on how many weeks one can wear the same pair of socks before they petrify. *Science Fair Rules* Science-fair season always begins with the annual note home to parents that stays crumpled in the bottom of the student's backpack. This note, which the student shows to the parents the night before the project is due, includes such important rules as these: *Rule 1.* Teachers, mentors, parents, etc., may advise but MUST NOT build or make any part of the exhibit. Most parents are not troubled with this rule because most children are professional airheads who forget to tell parents they have a science-fair project due anyway. Children specialize in the seventeen-second "AHHH! My science fair project is due today!" panic attack during breakfast while the school bus is honking in front of their house. *Rule 2.* Exhibits must be confined to a table or floor space not bigger than 36 inches wide by 30 inches deep. Maximum height is eight feet above the floor. This rule doesn't affect me as a parent because the only thing my child has ever made higher than eight feet is a pile of dirty clothes, and this odoriferous mountain would certainly break Rule 3. *Rule 3.* Anything that could be hazardous to public display is prohibited. I rest my case. *Rule 4.* Dangerous chemicals, open flames, explosives, and live, poisonous animals MUST NOT be exhibited. Parents really appreciate this rule. *Rule 5.* Exhibits will be evaluated on work done by students, not on value of accessory equipment. Criteria for judgment will be based on creative ability, scientific thought, thoroughness, skill, clarity, and visual appearance. This rule truly endears science teachers to parents. Students who have to do their own work, have to do their own work. That leaves parents enough time to have their heads examined. Science-fair projects may create quite a stir on the home front, but where would our little "Albert Einstein in the making" be without them? Probably forced into beauty college until he learned how to comb his hair. *The Holidays* Here's another challenge of school days: School-age children quickly become professional holiday observers. Their parents, on the other hand, usually forget to wear green on St. Patrick's Day and would forget about Presidents' Day entirely if it weren't for the school-age set. Moms and dads tend to grow less enthusiastic as each holiday whizzes by. For instance, I'm a regular maternal Halloween dropout. I've been watching those other, truly dedicated Halloween mothers, and frankly, I just don't measure up. While they're busy recharging their video camera batteries to film the school costume parade, I'm still snoozing in bed trying to recharge my own batteries. While more noble parents are creating artistic displays with dried cornstalks, pumpkins, and scarecrows, I'm still trying to find the box marked Halloween decorations. I've never been any good at creative suggestions for costumes either. When my children ask, "Mom, what should I be for Halloween?" my answer usually goes along the lines of, "Put a raisin in your belly button and go as a cookie." My home is not totally devoid of creative scariness, however. The other night I opened the front door and found a skeleton rising from a yard or two of mud on my doorstep, holding a note that read, "I'd rise from the dead to go to Masquerade with you." This younger generation is a little more creative than their parents. When we asked someone to a high-school dance twenty years ago, our potential date just stood there with his face hanging out after we stopped him in the hall. "You wanna go to the dance with me?" "Um, I guess so." Maybe the world won't fall apart if we all do Halloween--or any other holiday for that matter--our way. My father used to tip over outhouses and rebuild them on top of the wrong owner's house. But the person I most admire is my sister-in-law, Melanie. One hot July afternoon when she was about three years old, she found herself completely out of candy. Melanie got dressed up, grabbed a brown bag, and went trick-or-treating. Her neighbors were a bit surprised but filled her bag all the same. Now, that's what I call a creative way to celebrate Halloween. *Thirteen Years* The school years are packed with plenty of challenges to keep us on our toes, but before we know it, they will be nothing more than distant memories. Children usually attend public schools for about thirteen years . . . thirteen years that someday will seem like roughly thirteen minutes. Each year, each holiday, each birthday seems to zip by a bit faster until we see our children, the greatest gift God ever gave us, racing out the door to go on a mission, head for college, or get married. Suddenly we realize, sometimes too late, that we have had our children in our home for only a short time. I'll never forget the day my oldest daughter proudly announced that she was old enough to walk to school alone. "I can do it myself!" she insisted. I didn't want to undermine her confidence by discouraging her, so I agreed. We walked together to the end of the block hand in hand, and then . . . she let go. I felt my heart sink to my toes. I knew that holding her back when she felt ready would harm her more than help her. So, cheerfully waving, I called after her, "Wow! You're so grown-up. I love you." My daughter turned, waved, and blew me a kiss. As she walked the several blocks to school, I followed close behind, dodging behind bushes so she wouldn't know I was following her. I watched her carefully following all our rules and safely navigating her way to the school grounds, across the grass, and in the front door. When I turned and reluctantly dragged myself home that day, I couldn't stop the tears. Then a gentle realization came to me. Maybe my heavenly parents were really peeking from behind the bushes to see if I made it home that day, my heart aching. Even though I was unaware, maybe they also were close, just out of sight, so I could let go . . . and do it myself.
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