Monday, November 26, 2012

A model project

It was the middle of a Saturday afternoon when middle daughter informed me that we needed to drive, immediately, to Michael’s craft store in Vallejo.
I need to make my cell model project for biology class, she said. From the urgency in her voice, I had the idea that her biology teacher was about to drive up to our house and demand the cell model right then and there.
It’s not due for two weeks, she admitted. But I need clay, Styrofoam balls, gluesticks and paint, she insisted. And, it’s worth 100 points.
That got me. When moms hear “100-point project,” we don’t mess around.
We headed straight to Michael’s.
Back at our dining room table, our daughter unpacked her supplies and laid out each item. Next she took some clay left over from another project and carefully began cleaning the stray bits of color from each clump.
An hour later, she was still cleaning clay.
I gently suggested she proceed to actually making a cell part.
She suggested a break instead.
“One hundred points” echoed through my head every time I walked by the table surreptitiously eyeing her “progress.” Chop, chop, those vacuoles won’t make themselves, I wanted to tell her. Let’s get a move on, kid.
By the next day, she had finally begun rolling and pinching little bits of clay into various cell parts. When it took her an hour to make two lysosomes, I started to get a little bit more nervous, but I bit my tongue. There was plenty of time, I told myself.
Cell model production continued for the next week. By the final weekend, she’d made good progress, but it still wasn’t done.
That’s when I put her in cell model project lockdown.
You aren’t leaving the house until the model is finished, I told her.
Do not talk to your sister, I told her siblings. She’s on a deadline.
I tried to refrain from critiquing her work. Wasn’t her endoplasmic reticulum “rough” enough? Would the teacher really notice each microtubule was perfectly hollow or that detail on that golgi apparatus?
How long was she going to keep working on it — all night? Would she still be hot-gluing cell model parts while eating breakfast the next day?
On the morning it was due, we got up early to make sure the cell model got to school in one piece. The teacher had warned us in advance about cell project drop-off disasters. Come early, he said. Don’t rush.
I imagined cell models dropping and cracking open like eggs or rolling down the school hallways. Not happening on my watch, people.
Arriving at school, she actually let me walk her to the science classroom where she carefully deposited her project.
“It’d be nice if she got a good grade,” I thought as I drove to work. But there are so many definitions. So many cell parts to identify. So many other clever cell models. Hey, at least she finished it on time.
Later that night, she got the good news.
Her cell had won. First place. A blue ribbon. And 100 points.
I’m sure it was all those beautiful microtubules.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Smile for the camera

It’s time to take the annual Christmas card family photo. As parent of three teenage girls, normally something like this would require all kinds of planning and official notification of the portrait subjects. But I’ve figured out how to pave the way for family photo success.
It’s called a bribe.
Oh, don’t make a face. We moms have all done it. I prefer to think of it as an “incentive.”
I have a go-to spot for such photos: the local pumpkin patch. Yeah, I know, it’s been done to death. But it turns out there’s something about rusted farm machinery, hay bales and pumpkins that makes for an almost foolproof family photo setting. I’m nothing if not consistent.
But first my “incentive.”
Who wants In-n-Out burgers for dinner?, I called out one afternoon.
We’re going to take a family photo at the pumpkin patch and those who cooperate get hamburgers for dinner, I informed our three girls. They grumbled a bit, but at least all three of them got into the car.
Heading over to the patch, I reviewed the requirements for the hamburgers.
I need smiles, I told them. And everyone needs to look at the camera. No crazy eyes, I told one daughter who has a habit of going all googly-eyed when photographed.
Can we get pumpkins?, they asked.
Sheesh, my inner Grinch thought. Weren’t the hamburgers enough for them? And weren’t they a little old to be carving pumpkins?
But I didn’t want to lose the subjects before we even arrived at the patch. This deal could fall apart faster than you could say “Great Pumpkin.”
Fine, I said, but no pumpkin picking until after we take the photo.
At the patch, I herded them toward my favorite old tractor. Come on girls, I said. Don’t get distracted by the baby cows and pigs!, I called out as I stomped past. Photo first!
Everyone grab a pumpkin as a prop, I ordered when we got to the tractor. I knew I had to move fast. All it would take was someone spotting a spider or finding a scratchy bit of hay in a shoe, and all bets were off.
Look here, I said, trying to sound cheerful and commanding at the same time.
Looklooklooklooklook! Smile! Girls! Over here!
The sun is in my eyes, said one.
I’m not standing next to her, said another.
Can I have two hamburgers?, asked another.
I would have said yes to hamburgers for breakfast, lunch and dinner at that moment. The perfect family photo was in my sights.
Sure, I said brightly. Just look over here! Look at the camera!
And it happened. Three smiles. At the same time.
Click, click, click.
I think I got it, but let’s get a few more just in case, I said.
I looked at them again.
One daughter was now openly scowling. Another looked like she was going to drop her pumpkin on her sister’s foot. The third informed me she was now blind from the sun.
All right, we’re done, I said, and they scattered into the patch to pick out pumpkins to bring home.
I looked at my camera. If I got just one good one, I’d even throw in some french fries.