The Reading Fair packet came home yesterday.
Hidden between a couple of t-shirt order forms and another fundraiser booklet was the folder I have been dreading for almost a year.
Don’t let the name fool you; the fair isn’t so equitable.
It’s isn’t always about reading either. We learned this the hard way last year.
See, my daughter loves to read, and I love that about her. It’s one of the things we have in common!
Because I have a gift for being caught off guard, I asked several moms what I should expect, and I read the rules twice.
They were crystal clear. The student was to do the project with minimal help from parents.
So, I handed over the supplies to the storyboard and let my daughter create it all by herself.
She did a great job. Did it look like the ones I’ve seen on Pinterest? No!
It looked like a seven-year-old had cut loose with a bit of rubber cement and a lot of imagination!
On Reading Fair day, she was ready. Sporting a western vest, cowboy hat, and boots, and a red bandana around her neck, just like the cowboy in her book, my little Leroy Knicker was ready for action.
Since we were required to supply a card table, the school allowed parents to help set up that morning.
She didn’t walk in… she strutted into the school.
Imagine our surprise when we opened the doors to the gymnasium and saw her competition.
You know that feeling you get on a roller coaster when it suddenly dips down out of nowhere, and you think you’re going to die for a second?
That’s how I felt as I looked at all the other kid’s boards. Picasso would have been impressed with some of these bad boys.
One sported foil and no less than six shades of craft paper to create the optical illusion of fire. Was it the work of David Copperfield? No, according to the category, this masterpiece was orchestrated by a first grader.
Another used upcycled cardboard to fashion a remarkably realistic witch’s castle. What made it even more impressive was that the kid was seven years old.
Oh, and how can I forget the overall winner, Moby Dick. The storyboard included an impressive small-scale reproduction of the Pequod. I have to admit I was impressed by the craftsmanship, but then I realized something VIP. What first grader is reading Herman Melville?
This was the first and second-grade division? These kids can barely read, much less accurately interpret classic American literature and depict a book character three-dimensionally! I was so shaken up I could hardly balance our poster board on the dirty old card table I had grabbed from our garage.
That’s when I noticed the tablecloths.
As in, they were ordered from Etsy 12 months in advance style numbers that perfectly coordinated with the over-the-top storyboards.
Nobody had said a word to me about ordering a flipping tablecloth!
Was I in an alternate universe?
Seeing the panic on my daughter’s face, I whispered something about our’s looking “rustic” (aka dirty) on purpose, and she nodded.
Thank God for quick thinking and cowboy books.
Still, I felt like a failure.
The rules were clear on “minimal help from adults,” yet I was looking at a minimal-help-from-kids situation.
I was surrounded by CHEATERS!!
And I was completely caught off guard–despite my best efforts.
I had asked at least half a dozen moms what to expect, and every single one of them downplayed this operation like it was no big deal!
Were they liars or saboteurs? Or had these details simply slipped their minds?
I was angry.
I wanted answers.
Hell, I wanted justice.
But nobody was talking.
When I finally figured it out, I felt dumb. See, the Reading Fair is just another place for moms to compete.
In fact, it is the mom-petition on steroids.
Think about it. Everyone knows who really does the work.
Sure, little Johnny may be gifted, but we all know he sure as hell didn’t start the fire on that storyboard. And Tommy may be the next Andy Warhol, but we all know damn well his mom built that castle.
And nobody said a word.
Sure, eyebrows were raised. Glances were exchanged, but everyone looked the other way.
That’s when I knew.
The Reading Fair is a lot like Fight Club.
What’s the first rule of Fight Club?
You do not talk about Fight Club.
The second rule of Fight Club?
You do not talk about Fight Club.
Nobody is going to call out Johnny’s mom or Tammy’s mom. Sure, the teachers may shake their heads in disapproval, they may talk about how out of control the moms have gotten, and they may even add a division to try to keep them honest, but they will not call them out.
But I will.
Attention, Crazy Moms! Step Away from your glue gun! Put away your hot knife and pay attention!
You are not in school anymore.
This is not your assignment.
You are not helping your child when you do the project for him. You are cheating.
I know you think that you are helping, but you’re not. Look at it this way, if your kid wins for the project that YOU designed, researched, painted, cut, glittered, hot knifed, and glued, do you think he feels a real sense of achievement?
The answer is no.
He can’t be proud of the victory because it isn’t his; it’s yours.
This may be hard to hear, but you’re doing more harm than good. Do you know what you are teaching your child when you do the project?
That her work isn’t good enough and she isn’t capable of doing the project by herself.
Do you know who else you are hurting? Kids that do their own work.
Can you imagine what it feels like to be an 8-year-old child that has to stand by your project?
My daughter was so proud of her work until she compared it to a room full of posters done by thirty and forty-year-old mothers.
Then she felt ashamed.
That’s not ok.
Can we please stop this madness?
Mothers, stop taking over your kid’s projects. They are for a grade. You wouldn’t take a spelling test for them, would you?
Mothers, do not give in to the temptation to start taking over your kid’s stuff because you are tired of seeing the thirty-year-olds win! You are doing the right thing by allowing your child to learn through the experience.
You are laying the foundation for a self-sufficient child.
Teachers, please, enforce the rules! I understand you are in a tough spot, but if anyone can handle a crazy mom, it’s you! Do it for all the kids who have to stand by a Pinterest mom’s project and feel embarrassed by their work in comparison.
Maybe next year, we can put all the “Moms Who Think They’re Helping” in a separate category and let them fight it out?
Now that could be interesting…
By the way, my daughter did okay at the fair last year.
She placed five out of twenty-five entries. A teacher told me that if she had a better board, she would have scored higher.
She earned the Honorable Mention ribbon displayed on her dresser with no help from me.
She is so proud of that ribbon.
So I will happily fill out the Reading Fair forms if she wants to do it again next year.
All by herself.