Dustin We Hardly Knew Ye

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A friend of mine once said, “When contemplating whether or not to have another baby, ask yourself instead if you can handle building another mission.”

Inevitably, all school projects, at least to some degree fall on the shoulders of the parents.   Even for those of us who value a child’s independent process over a perfectly polished parent-executed product, there is no such thing as a child doing one of these big assignments alone.

School projects = homework for parents.

I have found myself at Pep Boys scouring the aisles with my son for the right kind of spring for his earthquake proof structure and at Joann Fabrics with my daughter contemplating the best fabric for her rainforest animal presentation.  We have been on a quest for the best material to insulate an egg that would be dropped from the roof of the school.

Other school projects have sent us to the grocery to buy ingredients for homemade fortune cookies, Home Depot for spray paint, or hiking through the Back Bay to find the right plants to make the roof of a miniature thatched cottage.

A sizeable college fund for my kids could have been growing for many years now, had it not been for the small fortune I have spent just at Michael’s – the Mecca for all school projects.

Finishing the project is one thing, transporting it to school is a different matter entirely.  A replica of an Aztec house, food in a hot crock pot representing the country of our ancestors, and visual-aid poster boards require leaving the house earlier and restructuring how the kids and backpacks will fit in the car.

One year our son did his state report on Minnesota. In an e-mail to his teacher, I asked if it would be OK for his visual aid if he brought an ice block and chainsaw to demonstrate ice fishing.  She didn’t know I was completely joking and responded it would be OK as long as no one would get hurt.

The fact that a chainsaw didn’t raise any red flags for the teacher makes me wonder, have our kid’s school projects crossed some imaginary line?

Just this week I was outside in the front yard when my neighbor Jennifer and her 3-year-old daughter, Jade, approached me.  Jennifer, looking worried, held a composition book.

She explained that it was Jade’s turn to take “Dustin” the stuffed dog home with her, along with the shared journal in which each child chronicled their adventures with Dustin.

I know this assignment.

Aside from the pressure to show Dustin a great time, and then write about his fabulous time with the preschooler, there is the added responsibility of being in charge of one more being. Even if it is stuffed, that is just a lot to ask.

The short version of the story is that, on their watch, Dustin was lost forever.

Jade and the stuffed dog frolicked together at the park adjacent to the baseball field where her brother had practice. Jade put Dustin on the stairs close by. But when she went back for him, he was gone.

They searched the whole baseball field and asked the field maintenance department if they had seen anyone with Dustin.

With much sadness and many tears they left the field without the class’s beloved stuffed animal.

In desperation, Jennifer went to Build-A-Bear to replace Dustin, and I am sure, as a mother of three, she had nothing better to do with that hour of her life. Once there she learned that exact dog is no longer made. They bought the new version – lighter colored ears and new pink tongue.  Luckily they still had the same outfit.

Jennifer asked what I thought she should write in the class Journal – how to break the news to the fellow preschoolers.

I believed there is an argument for letting sleeping dogs lie, so to speak. She could write something like, “…and that is the end of Dustin. But he’s happier not being schlepped around from house to house like a misplaced canine anyway. So looking at the bright side, his absence saves many mothers in the class a headache and it frees up some minutes of the day to extend our snack time.

Instead she wrote that Dustin was in God’s hands and with a child who needed him more.

Jennifer, you’ve  earned an A+, a gold star, and extra credit on this assignment.

And a big smiley face, too.




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