School Days and Preschool Days, Too:
A treasury of anecdotes culled from my work and play as a preschool worker and an elementary school after- school activities supervisor



     Yesterday I met my match. Morning preschool circle was about to end when the head teacher announced "Children, I didn't have time to set it up before, but we have an art project today. Mr. Max will lead it."
      Surprised to be called on with no advance notice and no clue what the project was, but with ample confidence—heck, it's just preschool, I thought—I stood up and chose 5 enthusiastic, hand-waving boys and girls. We all moved to the art table as the teacher brought out two clear, plastic bags, the largest one containing a number of variously colored and sized cotton balls.
      Maybe half of the cotton balls were yellowish gold, it turned out. Others were pink, white, or grey. The teacher explained to me that we were going to make baby chickens and bunnies for Easter.      By now hands were eagerly reaching toward me from all around the table, as five voices simultaneously exclaimed, "I want one!" I tried to survey what was to be done, as the teacher brought cut-off paper cups, containing paste, to the table. Next, she brought plastic applicators and lay them beside the cups.
      I hurriedly asked each child, "Do you want to make a chicken or a bunny." hoping they'd all say "chicken". The chickens looked a lot easier to make. Three children opted for bunnies, though, and there was nothing I could do about it.
      Just as I was about to begin my demonstration, I heard a nearby voice almost singing, "Mitter Max, my shoe came off." Before me stood a two year-old whose habitual mood is a delightful state resembling mild intoxication. She held up the proof of her statement.
      "Excuse me, kids," I told my eager artists. Hoisting my supplicant on my lap, I pulled her shoe on and quickly zipped it up.      Free again to focus on our project, I lay the necessary elements in front of each child and started the demonstration. I swabbed a little glue on top of a yellow body to which someone had previously added little orange cardboard feet. Then I placed atop it a small yellow head sporting an open beak made of the same orange cardboard.
      I pressed the two balls of cotton together. Of course, as soon as I let go, the head tumbled right off.
      "Ahem," I said, clearing my throat and forcing a smile. "You may need to use a little more paste."
      I tried a huge swab this time, pressed the head down harder and held it longer. Pop. Back down went the uncooperative chicken head. I braced myself for a long morning. Finally, I got the head to stay on top and turned to instruct the bunny-makers in attaching little pink ears to their white cotton heads.
      "My head won't stay on!" A frowning chicken-sculptors was already holding up two yellow balls. In front of the child next to her too I saw a pitiful, decapitated-looking yellow head lying beside a little chicken body, white paste liberally adorning the neck area on both parts.
      "What about our bunnies?" one of the now impatient bunny-choosers asked. Ignoring that question for a moment, I applied another enormous swab of glue to the neck of the baby chicken and brought it back down on the body. Releasing my grip, I saw before us a real, baby chick shape—for a minute. Then, the reluctant head toppled off yet again.
      "Keep working with it," I told the child. "Hold it on, with a lot of glue. I need to get these bunny-makers started."
      Already aware that whatever manual dexterity and craft skills I possess were not really enough to make a go of this project, I began stalling for time. I only had to act like I knew what I was doing for about another half an hour. Hopefully, the empty basket on the table would contain a few drying bunnies and chicks by then.      I saw no guarantee of that, however. I pasted a couple rabbit ears on a head. They, too, quickly fell back onto the table.
      "The secret really is to use a lot of glue," I said to the half-believing children, some of whom were beginning to lose interest.      "I'm finished!" a voice called out as I tried to help someone glue his bunny ears. I looked across the table, and saw a baby chicken actually holding together.
      "Now all we need to do is draw in the eyes," I smilingly told the little girl, handing her a marker. It's not easy to penetrate through cottony fluff with a fine-point felt pen and leave a mark. Together, we did it, though. The chicken went into the basket to dry. I felt like a trout fisherman who'd just put the morning's first catch in the creel.      "I'm finished!" I heard now from a bunny person. I turned to look, and saw a white, furry-looking mass, with a white head and no ears.
      "How about the ears?" I asked.
      "I'm finished."
      "Isn't your bunny going to have ears?"
      Someone else needed my help. The first child left her bunny and ambled across the room to do a puzzle. I didn't care. I was in purgatory, and glancing up at the wall clock, saw that I only had ten minutes more of it to endure.
      By clean-up time we somehow had two chickens and three bunnies in the basket, though one bunny was the one with no ears. So what, I thought. We'll call it a guinea pig.
      I felt some satisfaction at having persevered. A bit of chagrin came up, though, when I discovered that the teacher who had planned the project had made a whole bunch of bunny heads with ears pre-assembled like the chicken beaks. I somehow hadn't noticed. I'm sure Picasso had bad days, too.

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