Sandra Tsing Loh learns about Hawaii.
My fifth grader got assigned Hawaii as her state project. As opposed to, say, Nebraska, it’s too exciting a state to unleash on a 10 year old. At one point, Suzy was brainstorming around an aquatic board game featuring a small wading pool with the eight Hawaiian islands cut out of Styrofoam. As players advance, the water level and islands rise! The winner gets to set off a volcano made out of Coke and Mentos!
The problem is, when you’re setting out to create something so fantastic, it’s hard to actually get started. And sometimes there are… COORDINATION issues. Which is to say, after five weeks of going back and forth between her mom’s and dad’s homes—we’d both assumed the project was forming, like a volcano, at the OTHER parent’s house—
It’s now one week before it’s due, and Suzy admits she has nothing. Why? Because no one took her to Michaels.
“Michaels?” I say. “Are you kidding? We don’t have the FOCUS for Michaels!” It’s true—You really do get lost at Michaels. Suddenly, you’re asking yourself, “Yarn—can I make a volcano out of yarn? Or modeling clay? And how about bears, little jelly bean bears? What was my project on again?”
No, it’s strictly an emergency Staples run for materials we understand: foam board and Sharpies and tape that still, mysteriously, sets us back 40 dollars. Never mind that the islands are so small and tortured they look like the work of a serial killer—Eight hours later, that board game is DONE.
In the days to follow, I see Suzy grinding out pages about the state flag, state seal, and state bird, the ne ne—So, the day before it’s due, I ask: “How is Hawaii?” and she pleasantly announces: “Good—I’m almost finished with the rough draft!”
ROUGH DRAFT? Sure! She figured finishing it by 6 p.m. was fine, because, and I quote, “Mommy is a very fast typist."
I thought I should let her suffer the consequences, be late, and bomb, but by this point she had written 3000 words (Kamehameha! The hibiscus! Don Ho! Tiny Bubbles!) and hand-copying it would take 90 hours. As opposed to five hours, which is what it took Mommy!!!
Bleary-eyed in the morning, I see a Filipino dad carrying a giant board game for Texas with a neon spin wheel and electronic buzzer and a pack of lifelike longhorns stampeding out the center. “My wife is into scrap-booking!” he announces proudly. So, I feel a little less badly that I helped out.
U.S. state projects—they really do take a village. And duct tape does fix everything.