Monday, November 24, 2008

My Son's School Project

When I was a kid, I entered countless grocery store coloring contests, and colored my pictures with great skill and patience, my eye always on first-place prize.

In school, when assigned history day or science fair projects, I worked with the same ability and diligence for weeks -- sometimes months -- putting together amazing works of historic account and scientific ingenuity that were sure to earn me top honors.

The only thing that stood between first place and me: the parents of the kids in the competitions.

At 6 years old, I was quite an artistic force with my Crayola crayons. But I just couldn’t compete with some of the parents who had backgrounds in fine art and commercial illustration. Nor could my middle school history day movies that I produced on my home video camera compete with the “work of the kid” whose father worked for the local news station.

It just wasn’t fair. Why did I have to do all my own work myself?

My 5-year-old son is a kindergartener this year, and he’s being asked to create projects that will, no doubt, compete with the “work of his classmates.” Last month, my son’s teacher asked the class to create posters about themselves, with pictures of them with their family, pets, etc. Before my son could get started, I sat him down for a little heart-to-heart.

“You’re very talented,” I told my son. “You’re creative. You’re artistic. You’re inventive. But that doesn’t matter . . . because I’m going to do your project for you.”

I wasn’t about to let my 5-year-old lose to a 35-year-old.

I got started right away. I commissioned the artist who painted those popular 9-11 memorial posters back in '01 to create a moving piece of art that would capture the essence of my son. My wife thought I was crazy.

“You spent how much for just one picture?” she asked. She was right to be outraged. If I was going to spend that much money on the project, my son needed much more to show.

So I decided to produce a film as a companion piece to the poster, a three-part biopic dramatizing my son’s early years. Lucky for me the Screen Actors Guild hadn’t gone on strike, as they were threatening to do all summer. I was able to cast George Clooney to play me, Charlize Theron to play my wife, and Nancy Cartwright (the voice of Bart Simpson) to voice the animated version of my son.

While shooting the big action sequence of my wife and me as we raced to the hospital for our son’s birth, my wife pointed out that we didn’t have a ’68 Mustang Fastback GT390.

“We didn’t race recklessly through the streets of San Francisco either,” I said, “but we have to embellish our story a bit for this to be cinematic. Besides, we need good action sequences or all the money I laid out for the THX surround sound system for the final presentation will go to waste.”

It was when the school turned down my proposal to present a firework extravaganza as part of my son’s poster project that my wife and son finally sat me down and asked if I thought I was going a little overboard.

“Overboard?” I asked. “It’s not like I’ve got the Grave Digger monster truck crushing playground equipment at school. Although that’d be a good alternative to the firework display.”

I immediately called Dennis Anderson’s people over at Grave Digger Racing. My wife disconnected the phone before I could speak and, in a matter of minutes, masterfully talked me out doing my son’s project.

Now I’m stuck with a film in production, I've got UPS out front with a truckload of George Lucas’s THX audio equipment, I’ve got fireworks from all over the world brimming in my garage, and I’m the owner of a worthless half-painted masterpiece.

But my son is proud to present his class with his very own hand-drawn poster, and he’s happy whether it’s the best poster in class or the worst.

-October 2008

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