Earlier this school year, my daughter’s teacher sent an email asking for a volunteer to teach art class one day a month. After briefly thinking it over, I decided I can surely handle one day a month for a measly hour, and told her I would be happy to help. No sweat, right?
I scoured Pinterest for a few age-appropriate ideas. Next, I invaded Michael’s Crafts to get the necessary items to complete the oh-so-adorable projects my 19 little charges would skillfully assemble, their cherubic faces shining up at me in artistic bliss.
I was eager to complete our first project—a cute little fall tree with ink thumbprint leaves. It went better than I expected, and the trees looked as delightful as you might imagine a forest of sweet little 1st grade thumbprint trees would look.
Feeling a bit more confident, I chose a Thanksgiving-themed paper mosaic for our next project. The kids glued and assembled with ease, even practicing their writing skills and assisting with cleanup afterward.
Oh, Overconfidence. You sneaky little weasel. You get me every time. Having forgotten that surety in life, I said to myself in my post-mosaic glow: “Wow! This is going so well. Maybe we’re ready for something a little more complicated!” No. No, you fool.
That brings us to this morning.
Pinterest, which is in constant cahoots with Overconfidence, derailing women everywhere, whispered “Why don’t you try this cute little sponge-painted masking tape snowflake, complete with glitter and a Christmas-themed name plate on a matted construction paper frame?” Sure. Why not? We glued little scraps of paper last time and that went fine.
I arrived at school early this morning, carefully setting out baggy T-shirts for each child to wear over their uniform. I gave each child their own palette of paint and their own sponges. I even clipped clothespins to the sponges so they wouldn’t get any paint on their sweet little fingers. I placed newspaper on each table, and thought “Perfect. Mess contained.” I mentally congratulated myself on covering all my bases.
You guys—I HAVE A 1ST GRADER OF MY OWN. How on earth did I let Pinterest talk me into this? I know better. Paint plus children ALWAYS equals “WHAT HAVE I DONE?!?” at some point.
Fast forward to 20 minutes into class, as the kids are busily sponging their masking tape snowflakes. So far so good. Then the hands begin to shoot up in the air. Since my daughter’s last name is not the same as my re-married name, there is much confusion about what to call me (Mrs. Brown or Mrs. Stout). It goes something like this:
“Mrs. St….ork? I have paint on my elbows.”
“Mrs. Str…ong? I have to use the bathroom.”
“Mrs. Brot? There’s paint in my shoe.”
“Mrs. Stouuuuu…? What do I call you again? Strobe? Stubb? I have to use the bathroom.”
“Mrs. Mom? I dropped my plate of paint.”
“Mrs. Bort? I have to use the bathroom.”
“Mrs. Storbt? There’s paint in my nose.”
At this point, everyone is done painting and it’s time to clean up. It looks like a blue paint grenade went off. I send the kids to the bathroom two boys and two girls at a time. Or…so I think. The crowd suddenly seems very thin. I count heads as quickly as I can. It is remarkably hard to count to 18 (one child was absent) when you are panicking. Try it sometime.
Hearing the unmistakable whoops (in an otherwise quiet school) of MORE than two little boys shrieking in the restroom, I realize I have to go restore order. But…can I go in the boys’ bathroom? Can I do that? Is that going to get me put on some kind of registry? Panic! Panic! The only other male I know for sure who is nearby is the school administrator, and I am not willing to concede defeat yet, so I will not ask him. I will not. Just then, a little boy returns, informing me that another of my little painters has somehow accidentally painted his forehead and the bathroom mirror blue, using only the residual paint from his hands. I am briefly impressed by the skill a feat like that requires. Briefly.
Feeling a little dizzy, I seat the rest of the kids at a clean table with the second part of the art project to occupy them, and poke my head around the corner to the restroom, using my best stern teacher voice. It worked! Oh, man! IT WORKED! The boys, including the one with the bright blue forehead and hopelessly blue palms, file back to the table and meekly sit down.
Smugly enjoying my little victory, I turn back to the art table.
Oh. Hello, Overconfidence…
One of the little girls tells me that a drain is clogged in the girls’ bathroom and “it’s starting to get serious.” Get serious? What does that even mean? Envisioning a mixture of blue paint, waste water and soggy paper towels flooding out into the quiet halls, I briefly consider sending someone to get the teacher. But, I just can’t. Their teacher is simply amazing. Both of my kids have had her now, and I have watched her with awe. Her students adore her, but they also toe the line and adhere to the tight ship that she so skillfully runs. Imagining how I would tell her that I am responsible for painting a child blue and flooding the girls’ bathroom, I decide to just power through the last ten minutes of class and hope for the best. I can run fast, and there are other Christian schools in Indianapolis. The kids will get over it.
God looked down on me in that moment and cringed in sympathy, shaking His head and sending the most good natured of guardian angels to go unclog the drain. I ask the children to sit down at the table and fold their hands. They obediently comply, smiling sweetly at me, unaware of how tragically inept I feel at that moment. I remember then why I volunteered in the first place and feel the panic fade. Just then, their teacher walks in to find 18 quiet children, patiently waiting to go back to their classroom. It was like I knew what I was doing for one brief, shining moment.
I tell the kids how much I appreciate their enthusiasm for our art projects and how beautifully they completed their paintings (because they honestly did—I am so proud of them!), and then tell them that just because I am not their homeroom teacher, that each and every one of her rules still apply during art, so please (PLEASE!) don’t go to the restroom without telling me where you are going. They all readily promise and sincerely thank me. They are all so sweet. Even the blue ones.
As I scrubbed blue paint off of the floor and the walls and the tables and the chairs and the sinks and the toilets and myself this morning, I made a mental note that Pinterest is a vindictive liar, and never to trust it again.
If you are a teacher and you are reading this, please know that you have my awestruck, eternal respect. That includes, you, Mom. (You had to teach me!) I do not know how you do it all day long, five days a week, teachers. Seriously…how do you do it? Can you help me get through an hour without turning someone into a Smurf? Please?
I thank God for the wonderful teachers and administrators and staff who selflessly give their time, emotions, resources, and whole hearts to my kids and kids everywhere. Hats off to all of you!
Oh, look. There’s paint on my hat…