I needed a glue gun. This is the first bit of truth I discovered as I tried to help my six-year-old son tackle his summer reading project.
The reading part was done. We’d worked our way through a book where a bear misplaces his hat, finds it’s been stolen, and then eats the thief (seemed about right).
Now we had to make a hat, dreamed up by son’s imagination, using recycled materials from around the house.
Forget that I recycle with such efficiency, there aren’t any materials left around the house un-recycled.
Forget that my crafting skills were a bit rusty. I needed to focus on the fact that my son wanted rocket blasters attached to the back of his hat (obviously) and his teacher had specified the creation needed to be “wearable.”
“I need to run really, really fast in my hat! In fact, my hat should make me go even faster!” Thompson smiled, eyes bright with anticipation. And pressure.
Clearly, I needed a glue gun.
I gathered two red Solo cups, some tin foil for flames, a padded envelop that we could cut in half for the base, sparkles, construction paper, and (yes!) I found my old glue gun in the back of the pantry.
As we began to work, stapling and gluing and glittering, I struggled to let him make a mess of the hat. To glue things on backward, in a way I knew he wouldn’t like later. The hat was supposed to be his project, after all.
Still, I didn’t want his hat to suffer the fate of my first grade tambourine.
Back then, I was tasked with making a musical instrument, with materials that I’d found around the house. It’s a story I related in my memoir, "Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter" (out in paperback this week.)
I’d forgotten about the assignment until the last minute. All I could find were two white plastic plates and a few bells I’d cut off a tired holiday decoration. I fastened them to the plates with pipe cleaner and used a bit of glue and glitter to dress up the effort. The end result wasn’t dazzling, but it made a good jingle and sparkled. Overall, I thought I wasn’t half bad.
When my mother brought the tambourine home from Back to School Night, she’d tossed my work at my feet with disdain.
“Did you actually turn this in?” she’d asked. The answer seemed obvious based on where she’d gotten it.
“You can’t turn in crap like this. This is truly horrible,” she’d scolded.
I didn’t think it was so bad in the beginning, but now through my mother’s eyes, and compared to the mom-made marvels a few friends had turned in, I saw the truth. My tambourine fell flat next to the enormous brass colored papier-mâché tuba another classmate had created.
And clearly my teacher agreed. She’s scribbled her own “S-“on the plate, indicating that my effort constituted below satisfactory work.
I was shamed to the core. As was my mother, who would never be outdone again.
Our next assignment was to replicate the Santa Barbara Mission. Mother super-glued three shoeboxes to a cardboard foundation, covered them with perfectly fanned frosting stucco, and lined up macaroni with military precision to form a tiled roof. She finished the display off with Play-Doh figurines, sponge trees, and hand-carved crosses. All while I was at school.
It was absolute perfection. And the new standard. Whether at home with my mother’s “help,” or in class on every test, nothing less than an A was acceptable.
For me, the unending demands and expectations yielded both migraines and a 4.0 GPA. But for my older sister, who could never live up to my mother’s ideals, the pressure took a dangerous toll, making her feel worthless and ultimately invisible.
Now it is through this lens of experience that I look at my son’s rocket blaster hat. And wonder: just how much do I help, and how hard do I push?
So many readers of "Diary of Stage Mother’s Daughter" have written that I wouldn’t be who I am, where I am, without my mother’s drive. I absolutely agree. But my sister’s story might have ended differently without all the unrelenting ambition too. Tragically, we’ll never know.
Can I really help him run faster? Or will my effort backfire? Now that I’m the mom, I realize just how much is at stake.