[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published July 10, 2023] ©2023
Now that all the local high schools have graduated, I can safely tell the saga of a friend’s teenage daughter who has a serious future in spin. In fact, if I were a political organization, I’d be signing her up now.
I happened to be visiting her mother when the daughter arrived home in a panic at five o’clock after a sports practice to announce that a project she thought was due in “a few months” was in fact due the next day. The assignment was to make either a diorama or a flat board depiction of “my ideal life.” But daughter also had a “super important” history test the next day. Please, Mom, she says, can you help me? Both parties were clear what “help” meant.
Let me interject here that there is not a mom in America who has not been put in this position in some form or another, even if it’s the 10 p.m. announcement that three dozen cookies are required for the school bake sale the next day. Fortunately, my friend was a pro at school projects, to the envy (and abject jealousy) of all her friends, including me. The Plaster of Paris topography map of central Asia was to scale, the science fair board sparkled in glitter paper wonder, the Christmas diorama sported a battery-operated fireplace and a yuletide sound track, and the oral report on Colonial America was delivered via two hand-made museum-quality puppets of George and Martha Washington. Fortuitously, my friend had a virtual warehouse of her kids’ former projects carefully stored in the garage. A local gallery should do a retrospective.
Surveying the arsenal of possibilities, she asked her daughter a question that in my mind should be immortalized: “So, do you care what your ideal life looks like?” And daughter says “nope.” Mom pulls out a board that one of her sons did in the second grade, exact topic no longer obvious. But it had a bunch of Styrofoam igloos glued to a board with a lot of white snow around them.
Hard to imagine that a La Jolla born-and-bred child’s ideal life would include living in an igloo and eating whale blubber with no Burger Lounge in sight. Daughter has to admit that the accompanying paragraph – yes! they did actually have to create prose! - was going to be a tough sell.
So she suggested that Mom could maybe scrape off the snow in one corner and add some sand for a beach. She ponders this a bit more and adds brightly, “I could say that I like contrasts! My ideal life is about contrasts!” As I said, the young lady definitely has a future in politics.
While daughter went upstairs to wax one paragraph’s worth of poetic about contrasts, Mom dutifully set about making little palm trees out of pipe cleaners and green construction paper to stick into the sand to make it look appropriately beachy. Et voilà! Or not.
Just in time, Mom notices that in large block letters on the bottom of the board is the name of her older son and the notation “Grade 2.” Mom set a land speed record to get a can of black spray paint at Meanley’s in the ten minutes before they closed.
I like to think that any teacher worth her salt would have been a tad suspicious about the remarkable coincidence of the “second grade” ID on the bottom in combination with the igloos. But then, this was a teacher who assigned dioramas as a term project for a high school Advanced English class.
The mere thought of this makes me crazy.
My sons had some terrific and inspiring English teachers along the way, but also a few who pretty much abdicated the position. Rory’s eighth grade English teacher never corrected spelling or grammar on assignments, maintaining the important thing was to “get your message across.” One day I looked at a paper Rory was about to hand in and observed, “Unfortunately, the message here is that you’re illiterate.”
I tried to convey to both of my kids that poor grammar, spelling and punctuation totally distract from the message, never mind undermine your credibility. Unfortunately, by the end of the year, the teacher was allowing – nay, encouraging - students to do a video or art project in lieu of writing.
Ironically, the project my friend and her daughter ended up doing would have made an excellent assignment: Take a previous project and give it an entirely different conclusion. Anymore, we live in a world of spin. Never too early to develop the skill.
By the way: grade on the igloo project? B+. One of the highest grades in the class. The teacher also gave her an excellent recommendation for college. Where, I’m hoping, the diorama and flat board projects are in the daughter’s academic past. But if not, there’s a garage at home just waiting for her.