In tenth grade geometry, I was forced to make 3-D shapes out of cardboard, and decorate them like Christmas ornaments. A few weeks passed before I followed up with my teacher to see what grade I got on the assignment. She looked it up, and said, “You got a C.”
People, I did not make Cs. I was a nerd, and I knew that wasn’t a cool thing to be at 15, but the consolation of being a nerd, is that you did not make Cs. If you did, then what the hell were you? I fought to keep from crying at the shock of it all, before she delivered the real kick in the teeth. “You’re not very good with your hands, are you?” she giggled as if this was some joke we shared.
I can laugh about it now, but I can still get mad about it, too. I didn’t get a C because my math was wrong. My math was good. I was an excellent math student, able to bisect an angle with the best of them. The problem was that I showed a lack of artistic vision while decorating a dodecahedron made out of a Rice Krispies box to look like a reindeer. Could I have done better? Probably. But I didn’t think that part was important, and, frankly, I probably didn’t find that part interesting. I’ve tried crafting, but I don’t have the right kind of patience for it. I can do crosswords or puzzles, but I’ve given up on cross stitching, making my own clothing, and oil painting. I’m on the bubble about knitting. I’d like to try it again, but if I make a few scarves that will probably be enough for me. So, imagine my reaction when I was told that we would be decorating ornaments for the library’s Christmas tree this year.
Look, I picked one, resolving to suck it up and do it. And then, I put it off until the last possible minute. The thing is, it’s not a big deal that I was asked to do this. I’m not getting a grade, and I don’t think I’m going to get fired if this doesn’t turn out as well as others’. Then again, I really, really didn’t want to do it. I don’t find it fun. It doesn’t really relate to my job duties. It reminds me that I’m still pissed about the ornament project from high school (Yes, 15 years later. Never let it be said I can’t hold a grudge.) I decided to just coat the whole thing in hot glue and cover it in fabric, using some ribbons to cover up the messy edges. My mom let me borrow her glue gun, and even offered to help. I covered one side in glue and then trimmed around the tree shape I’d chosen. After she’d watched me (and supportively said things like, “You need to leave more fabric” and “You need to get up into the corners more.”), she shook her head. “You’re not very good with your hands, are you?” she teased. Somehow it’s funny when she does it. Mean, but funny.
Mom tacked down the edges with a different kind of glue, saturating the fabric. We took a break to let it dry a bit, and I went into the living room to watch some TV with my dad. Ten minutes later, I could hear what sounded like scissors cutting into fabric, and I realized Mom had started without me. I’ll admit that I thought that sounded like a pretty nice arrangement. I waited, but she didn’t call me to help her. I could just let her do it. But then I thought about the women who come in to the library sometimes and ask us to help them as they do their kid’s homework. I can tell from comments they make or the way they answer my questions that they are working on their child’s assignment, and it really bothers me. In terms of my current job and public service, it’s a grey area at best, and if they ask for help, I feel obligated to give some type of aid. But as a former teacher, I want to just yell: “Stop it! You’re not doing the kid any favors!” Sometimes they try to form some kind of camaraderie with me by rolling their eyes and more or less saying, “Can you believe this ridiculous assignment?” And I always wish I could say, “Well, then maybe you shouldn’t do it.” And while the ornament isn’t the same as an 8th grade history paper, it isn’t my mom’s idea of a good time either. I didn’t feel right letting her do it for me.
I joined her. It was a group effort, but I did my part, at least. The fabric became darker as we soaked it liberally with glue, but at least the cloth more or less stayed put, and so did the ribbon. It didn’t turn out as well as I had envisioned. Part of my problem with crafts, is that I have some perfectionist tendencies, and if I can’t do something well, I’d rather not do it at all. If you get within a foot of my ornament the glue boogers become pretty hard to miss, and there are a few flaps of fabric that stick up like little cowlicks, but done is done. I mean, sure, one of the ladies on staff is an artist (she teaches classes and everything), so she turned in an ornament with the freaking Madonna and Child on one side and a manger scene on the other. It’s something she’s good at, and I think if there were a holiday where we all gathered together around festive displays of graph paper and factored equations all day (and don’t think my mother wouldn’t be in favor of just such a celebration), I think I could really shine.