These events have many names, from ‘You Make It Day’ to ‘Night of a Thousand Projects.’
I remember one such night in my own kids’ lives. It had as its theme ‘Our Friends the Animals’, and for it my fourth grader painted the inside of a shoebox green for the African savanna, then drew a picture of a lion and glued it onto the cardboard. Done!
I remember another poor kid who used balloons to make a giant dolphin, which somehow got away from him, floated clear up to the ceiling, and spent the night bobbing aimlessly around the classroom. Another still carved a shark out of a blue sponge and set it to float in a tank full of Goldfish. Of course the crackers began instantly to first bloat and then disintegrate, so that by evening’s end she was sitting beside a tank of solid orange sludge in which her porous beast rested, leaning over on one flank.
But no school projects are more memorable to you than your own. I think of the one my best friend and I cooked up in Eighth Grade when, for Ancient History class, we decided to build an actual sphinx.
Mr. Sweeney had given us all a choice: We could either write a paper or make something. So hey, we figured: A session with two bags of potato chips and a six-pack of Pepsi and we’d wrap it up fast and score ourselves an A.
A day-and-a-half before it was due, we bought a 20-pound sack of plaster of Paris, added water and started molding.
In four hours we had a set of haunches and two melting paws. Then we ran out of plaster.
But the next day we were back at it, fresh sack at the ready. This time we got some shoulders going, as well as a little pin head that looked so good we didn’t want to mess with it by trying to enlarge it.
That’s when we noticed the real problem: our sphinx was failing to harden. After each successive go-round, we would find its hips widening, its shoulders slipping down onto its belly, its small head getting smaller by the minute.
So … We got our grownups to drive us back to the store to buy still more materials.
We punched the whole thing down and started again, cutting back on the water, throwing dry plaster by the handful right onto the mound.
This time, the thing kept its shape, and by 8:00 the next morning it had finally dried. We nudged it onto a plywood platform and added some ‘scenery’: a bag of kitty litter for sand and a small plastic palm tree with a monkey in its branches – and never mind that the monkey was wearing a plastic T-shirt and clutching a plastic cocktail.
It was way too heavy for us to lift so our folks had to work together to lug it in to school.
Mr. Sweeney took one look and smiled sadly like many a middle school teacher before him. He ended up giving us each a B-minus.
Ah well. We thought we could fool them all and still get the easy A. But it looks like the punching-down part is easy; it’s the building-up a good thing from scratch that takes the talent.