I just failed preschool art

Today was parent visitation day at C’s preschool. All the mommies (and one daddy!) filed into the classroom and sat around the colorful carpet in a nice circle, modeling proper behavior for their offspring. Attendance was taken, songs were sung, stories were read. The children all waved cheerily at their parents, excited to have their favorite people there to applaud them.

Then the teachers called us all to the tables. The mommies tried to fit their behinds into the small blue chairs, and the kids twittered that they thought the chairs might break. After some shuffling, the children sat and the mommies kneeled. Black construction paper and scissors were distributed, along with paper Dixie cups filled with glue and white paper bags. Our task was to cut around the white chalked lines on the paper to make penguins. Then to fold said penguin, cut a slit diagonally to make a beak, and hook the penguin over the paper bag so it looked like the penguin was peering over the top of it. Nothing to it, I thought. I like penguins. I can make a penguin.

C started off with the scissors like a pro, and I applauded myself for the purchase of the safety scissors this fall. Then he tried to follow the curve of the penguin’s belly and it all fell apart. The poor penguin ended up with a gaping stomach wound. As I quickly tried to steer him back to the white chalked lines, the lead teacher leaned over my shoulder and whispered helpfully “I think you need to practice more with scissors at home. Of course it’s harder for lefties, but still…in order to do well next year he’ll need to be a good cutter.” Great. My son will flunk pre-K because I forgot to practice cutting with him.

Due to our inadvertent major surgery on the poor penguin’s intestines, we were the last pair to finish cutting. I quickly glanced around to assess what I was supposed to do next. Right, cutting the slit for the beak. I looked at the folded black blob and tried to figure out which direction I was supposed to be cutting to make the slit look like the beak. Up, or down. Up or down. I finally took the plunge and cut down. We unfolded the penguin and inspected the beak. Nope, wrong choice. I tried to determine if there was anyway to rectify the situation, but everyone else had already moved onto gluing, and the pressure was on. I finally decided to just keep plowing ahead and pretend like it was all going to work out in the end. I’m a mommy, I can fix just about anything. It would be fine.

C began looking suspiciously from his project to those of the other kids. “Here sweetie, glue!” I cried to distract. He happily smeared the thick white glue onto the blue poem and I instructed him to affix it to the back of the bag. I mean, that makes sense, right? You want to be able to see the penguin, not the poem. The teacher making the rounds to hand out praise and gluing expertise paused and looked at our penguin. “I think I cut the beak the wrong way,” I mumbled while looking anywhere but the teacher. “We always tell the kids that it is THEIR project, and however it turns out is just fine…” she replied with a look of pity on her face. “But let’s see if we can move the poem to the front here like the other penguins so it doesn’t ruin the picture…”

By this point I could just see the notes being taken in C’s permanent record. “Lovely child, very outgoing. But mom has no aptitude for art. It is clear why he is so starved for attention during arts and crafts. Assign mom to napkins for the class party.” I swore we were going to redeem ourselves when it came to gluing the feet on. The feet were pre-cut. Clearly feet went on the bottom of the bag. And no one has ever criticized my gluing technique. This part was a shoe in.

I handed C the brush of glue and he spread it on with large, gloppy strokes. In his defense, he then tried to affix the feet onto the back of the bag, not the front. But I insisted that they went in front so you can see them. Wrong again. Apparently they got glued in back so when you stood the bag up the feet would peek out from underneath. Obviously C has more experience with where feet should be placed than I.

As I was frantically trying to undo the gluey mess that was nowhere close to resembling the other penguins being proudly photographed, his teacher approached once again. “Mrs. J-E, would you like to read the children who have already finished a story? I’ll just help C finish up.” she said with the cheerful voice reserved for those children who clearly were never going to get it. Head hung low, I gave my best dramatic reading of Paintbox Penguins while the teachers helped C make his penguin to look somewhat presentable.

As the mommies were dismissed and the kids started their normal day, C came up and patted my arm. “It’s OK Mommy, not everyone is good at art. You do books really well.” While his words perked me up a bit, it was fairly clear to me that I had just flunked preschool art with an amazing lack of style. If they had only provided a set of written instructions, I swear I could have passed with at least a C.

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