Modeling Clay and Kindness

Last week, Charlie and I had a showdown about modeling clay, which he needed me to purchase for him for a school diorama project. Right away we didn’t see eye-to-eye on the subject of dioramas. I hate dioramas. Memories of some fantastic diorama flops in my elementary school history are as clear in my mind today as they were thirty years ago. Charlie, on the other hand, loves the medium. He claims that it’s the perfect way to showcase his many artistic skills in setting a scene – painting, sculpture and drawing. We begin this particular “Charlie Story” with the project supply list.

Charlie: We need to go to that Michaels Arts and Crafts store right after snack. Today. Did you hear me?

Cassie: Ummmm….yessss. Why?

(I hate Michael’s. My few attempts to be “crafty” during my many years of motherhood, have been frequently tripped up during those initial, crucial hours of project preparation at Michael’s. Also, it’s very hot in Michael’s. The How-To-Start-a-Craft-Project-Angst combined with body sweat, hair frizz and extreme irritability…much like what I imagine a hot flash to be….add up to a deep, insurmountable dislike for Michael’s.)

Charlie: We have a project. In class. A diorama. Of penguins…for the “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” book we read.

Cassie: I hate dioramas.

Charlie: It’s in class, Mom. You don’t have to get involved. We just need to get all the supplies to bring into class tomorrow so we can start to work on it…IN CLASS.

Cassie: (all pragmatic, scanning the kitchen calendar) Today’s Tuesday. When is it due?

Charlie: We have to start working on it right away. I don’t know when it has to be finished, Friday? Maybe Monday?

Cassie: Okay, well you better find out the due date for the project. Get all that firmed up so we know what the time frame is.

Charlie: Alright. But you don’t have to manage this. We’re doing it in class, like I said.

Cassie: Who’s “we?” Who’s working on this project with you?

Charlie: Some friends of mine….the guys who wanted to do a diorama.

Cassie: You could have chosen another thing to do about “Mr. Popper’s Penguins?”

Charlie: Yes. Write a mini book, write a piece of music and create a penguin dance….Pfffft. Of course I’m going to do the art one, Mom.

Cassie: Of course.

Charlie: We just need modeling clay, cotton balls for snow and a shoe box. The teacher already has the paint we need to color the box. That’s very generous of her…to give us the paint. Just the shoe box, the cotton balls and the modeling clay. Look I wrote a list of supplies needed. (He hands me a list written in pencil. I recognize his handwriting.) How late is Michael’s open today?

Cassie: Hmmmm….I hate Michaels. Do you think there would be modeling clay at the grocery store in the aisle that has some Crayola markers and craft stuff? Or, we could go to Target. I know right where to find it at Target. We have the shoe box. There’s one in Max’s room we can use. And I have a whole bag of cotton balls I’ll give you. It would really help to know when this thing is due.

Charlie: Why can’t we go to Michael’s? That was my plan. To go to Michael’s.

Cassie: I don’t feel good about myself in that store. It makes me ill.

Charlie: Mom, you are weird. Chloe knows what she’s doing because she’s very good at crafts. She can bring me in and you can stay in the car. How about that?!

Cassie: Chloe has Symphonic Band this afternoon. She won’t be home until late and if we bring her then we have to bring Gigi because G can’t stay here alone. Max is at Lacrosse workout. I’ll do Target, but not until tomorrow. That’s my final offer.

Charlie: Fine.

Cassie: Fine. Why don’t some other members of your “diorama team” bring in the modeling clay? Call one of them up and see if they have clay. Why do you have to bring in all the supplies?

Charlie: I’m the leader of the project, Mom. I have the vision of what it should look like. I told everyone I would get the stuff.

Cassie: Charlie, when it’s a GROUP project, each person in the group should do his or her part…with the work….with the creative vision…with getting the supplies. I have four kids, a busy schedule, dogs to walk….a puppy. This is a big hassle!

Charlie: Everyone’s busy, Mom. I am the artist in the group and I know exactly what we need to get. Besides, I was being kind. I said I would bring in the supplies and so we need to get the supplies.

Cassie: (very loud sighing and muttering) Well, next time, if you are the leader of the project, you need to delegate and suggest that each person brings in some of the supplies. Okay? Did you hear me?

Charlie: Yes. I heard you.

Cassie: Since you already have the shoe box and the cotton balls, you can bring those in and work on painting the scene in the box tomorrow. It will need to dry after you’ve painted it anyway. I’m not going to Target last minute tonight. We’ll go tomorrow when I can work it into my already OVERWHELMED SCHEDULE!

Charlie: Horrible attitude you have. Horrible.

(The next day after school, we go to Target to purchase two boxes of modeling clay. We have to purchase two boxes because only a small amount of black and white colored clay (THE prime colors for penguin making) is included in each Crayola modeling clay box. We’ve had to bring Gigi along for the trip because neither Max nor Chloe is home to babysit. Having Gigi along automatically turns what could be a ten-minute excursion into one that is thirty-minutes and also necessitates a trip up the escalator to see which Barbies may be on sale.

A few days later, over the weekend, Charlie announces that we need to make a second trip to Target to purchase more modeling clay.)

Charlie: This afternoon, after all the errands, we’ll have to go back to Target.

Cassie: Why?

Charlie: (shrugging his shoulders, speaking nonchalantly) Need more clay.

Cassie: What?! I got you TWO huge boxes of clay! We practically bought the place out of modeling clay.

Charlie: That’s not true, Mom. God, you totally exaggerate.

Cassie: What happened to all the clay I bought you and your diorama team?

Charlie: I gave a lot of it away to the other kids in the class. The colors we didn’t need.

Cassie: You gave the clay away?

(Charlie does an imitation of a child begging for modeling clay.)

Cassie: We have to go back to Target again?! I suppose you feel you were being KIND to give away all the clay to your classmates who weren’t even on the diorama team?

Charlie: Yes. That’s right! It was one of the best creative classes we’ve ever had. You could even ask my teacher. Anyway, I didn’t give ALL the clay away. We had to use the black and white for ourselves…on the penguins. Then I realized we really needed some of the yellow to make the beaks and some types of penguins have a bit of reddish-orange color on their fronts. Did you know that? They aren’t always just black and white. And the kids in my class, not doing our project, had already run off with the yellow and some had mucked it up by mixing the yellow with a whole bunch of other colors and it all got brown.

Cassie: I see. So, how kind are you going to be with this next modeling clay purchase I make? Huh?

Charlie: That’s how you start to make the world a better place, Mom. If you are kind and you share your modeling clay, everyone is a lot happier. Most kids like me. Even the girls and some of the bullies. But, I’ll keep track of the yellow clay…for the beaks. I promise.

Cassie: (sighing) Okay, Charlie. I’ll buy some more modeling clay.

Charlie: (big smile) Thanks, Mom.

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