MY OLDEST child started preschool this year, and perhaps the biggest adjustment for me as a stay-at-home dad has been the weird homework projects. Before my son started school, my three small children and I tended to while away our days in relative tranquility.
Okay, that's a lie. There's nothing tranquil about life with preschoolers and toddlers. But we didn't have a lot of structure to our days. We just let them unfurl. Now, though, my preschooler is always bringing home notes instructing us to find 200 pennies and arrange them in the shape of Abraham Lincoln - or something like that - by Friday, please!
The most recent project was to commemorate the 100th day of school. Students were asked to decorate a piece of clothing with 100 items. "Be creative!" the note sent home urged.
They had me at "Be creative!"
There's nothing I enjoy more than a good craft project. In theory, at least. Crafting is one of those things that sounds enjoyable, but I don't ever actually do. Kind of like hiking or riding a bicycle or visiting locally owned coffee shops.
My initial plan was to sew 100 buttons on a shirt. That seemed super creative. Also, we had a plastic container full of buttons that's been loitering around our house for about three years. I know this because it always turns up at just the wrong time, enticing my 1-year-old to dump all the buttons on the floor and/or eat them while I'm cooking dinner. I don't know why I never stowed the buttons away somewhere (other than I'm super lazy), but my sloth finally paid off. When I needed them most, there the buttons were, right where I left them: On the floor in the dining room, under the overturned bar stools.
My plan seemed brilliant until I encountered two significant problems: I don't know how to sew, and we didn't have a needle or thread. I asked my wife how it was possible that we didn't have any sewing equipment.
"How do you darn your stockings?" I asked incredulously.
She didn't answer.
How about glue? Is there such a thing as fabric glue? I asked around and it turns out there is, and it all started to come together.
The younger two kids and I went to the craft store on Day 99 of school. We picked up an economy-size tube of fabric glue (because gluing junk on fabric is probably our thing now) and a small tube of silver glitter paint to jazz things up a little. We made it out of the store without the toddler shoplifting a wooden stool, but it was a close call.
That evening, we decorated the front of the shirt, following my son's design. I even let him stick on the buttons. I squeezed the glue and glitter paint into place, obviously, because there was no way I was letting him mess this up. It turned out pretty well (despite the mouths he insisted on drawing on the buttons, which were weird). We left it to dry, and I performed several flying tackles on the toddler to prevent her from devouring it. Every 15 minutes or so, she would disappear, and, after a moment, I would think, "Wait, the shirt!"
And each time, there she was, scaling the overturned chairs on her way to the shirt on the dining room table.
Luckily, the glitter paint took four hours to dry, so I got to do the back of the shirt my way, later that night. I nailed it, except for not counting the buttons before starting to attach them. I blew past 100 and had to frantically claw seven of them off and replace them with glitter paint. In my expert opinion, though, the substitution was seamless.
The next morning, I dried the artistic globs of glitter paint with a hair dryer, then almost had a heart attack when I picked up the shirt and the front and back were stuck together. Fabric glue is no joke. Somehow, all the buttons survived the subsequent stretching, pulling and silent cursing. My son was pumped to put it on and he even loved the way the buttons clattered around. Colour me shocked; I was expecting him to refuse to wear it and for me to say, "Fine. Do what you want. It's not like I spent all night on that!"
This one definitely goes down as a parenting win. Also, I have surpassed Martha Stewart status as a crafting and lifestyle guru. Next up: A primer on macramé for those of you who are worthless at crafts. It will come in handy when your child's teacher asks you to whip up a masterpiece for the end-of-school celebration.
Andrew Knott is a writer and father of three. Find him on Twitter @aknott21.