DEERFIELD, ILL. — It can wreck marriages and destroy family life, and it's more burdensome than travel soccer, football practice, or the Boy Scouts: It's the school project.
Ask a bunch of mothers how they spent their week, and they will tell you that they built the Parthenon with sugar cubes, the Pyramids from milk cartons, and Mount Olympus using Cocoa Puffs.
Consider a recent Sunday evening at my house. The kids had gone to bed, and Mom and Dad were relaxing in the living room. But suddenly, a voice cried out from upstairs.
"Mom, I forgot I need to bring a hot glue gun to school tomorrow for a project. We are making African masks in social studies. And, oh yeah, Mom, I also need pipe cleaners, a box of sugar cubes, and some wooden spoons – you know, the kind they use with those little ice cream cups."
Half-dressed, I hopped into my minivan and searched for a hardware store open late on a Sunday. Thank goodness for the 24-hour Walgreens, where aisles are filled with construction paper, glue sticks, and pipe cleaners – but, alas, no hot glue guns.
Please, oh please, dear curriculum developers, give us parents a break: Ban all make-work projects. Parents have jobs, too, you know. We do our children's homework. We serve on school boards, coach basketball, and volunteer with the Boy Scouts. Now you want us to be creative?!
"I feel like telling them that I've already been through third grade," complained one mother. "I've already built a mobile of 'Jack and the Bean Stalk.' I don't feel like doing it again."
Recently, while rummaging through my son's 20-pound backpack, I found a note from the literature teacher: "Class, please sew together a stuffed animal representing a character from the Dr. Dolittle novel we read in class. It doesn't have to be elaborate, simply use any old scraps you have around the house. And, please, whatever you do, DON'T INVOLVE YOUR PARENTS!"
Oh yeah, sure. They always say that. Who, may I ask, is going to drive to the fabric store and run the sewing machine? Who will buy the stuffing, find buttons for the eyes, and sew on the cute whiskers? Certainly not the 9-year-old boy who is busy playing a Star Wars game on the computer.
But wait, it gets worse. Beware the dreaded "group project." Three or four kids clad in old Halloween costumes might reenact the battle of Agincourt for a home video. Or if your child is studying ancient civilizations, you might need to throw together a few Babylonian ziggurats for a backdrop.
"It's a nightmare," said one desperate mother. "My daughter needs to reenact a 1920s radio show with three other kids by next week, and all the kids are too busy to get together. We're going crazy."
Of course, one responsible student usually does all the work while the others goof off and get equal credit. "You can't complain to the teacher, or the teacher will say your kid doesn't work well in a group and then assign her a failing grade," uttered the despondent mother of one very responsible student.
And it doesn't end in grammar school. When my high school daughter got the assignment to create a quilt representing the stages of her life, I finally lost control and ran around the house screaming, "What ever happened to the written word? Where are the book report assignments? When will you guys ever learn how to write?"
My husband, a Greek and Latin scholar, doesn't even know what a hot glue gun is. But wait until next year when the Boy Scouts sponsor the Pinewood Derby competition. Then we'll hear his groans, muffled by the buzz of the electric saw we don't yet own.
It's 10:30 p.m., and I'm off to McDonald's for a Big Mac. I'm not a regular there, but my son's science teacher told him he needed a carton, and it had to be the Big Mac size from McDonald's. It is for tomorrow's egg-drop competition, and I hope first prize will be a hot glue gun – awarded to my son.
• Janine Wood is a homemaker and writer.