Life mulligans

March 16, 2018

Kindergarten, man. Keeps me on my toes.

With St. Patty’s day around the corner, the project du jour for my son’s kindergarten class is building a leprechaun trap. All over the country kids are being assigned this project. Maybe that seems cute to you, possibly even fun. But I beg to differ, my friend.

First let’s get my weird hang-ups out of the way. I’m not even comfortable lying to my son about Santa Claus. I’ve had to bow out of the tooth fairy conversations at home and leave my wife hanging… something sneaks into your room at night and leaves something under your pillow? That sounds scary as shit, I can’t support that. I suppose I can handle the Easter bunny a little better because at least bunnies are cute and harmless. And there’s chocolate involved. But now we have to introduce the concept of these little green creatures scurrying around town complaining how “They’re always after me Lucky Charms”?

Layer on top of that my son’s quirks… exceptionally gifted, ultra-sensitive… If we trap one will he die? How come I’ve never seen one? Are they real? “Well, they’re these mythical creatures…” So if they’re mythical then they’re not real? Answer one question and it leads to the next, and pretty soon you’re trapped in a web of lies of your own making.

Parents have to sign permission slips for everything under the sun that might pose a risk to their child. Want your kid to put on special glasses to watch the solar eclipse while he’s at school? Sign here. But introducing a new fake holiday-inspired creature into an already packed lineup? I am powerless to intervene.

But setting all that aside, this project introduces the classic dilemma parents face with school projects.

How much should we help him?

My wife and I entered this situation on the same page. This one’s all him. I mean our house is constantly filled with cardboard+packaging tape monstrosities… there was the “safe,” the “vending machine,” the 300 different “marble races,” so if this one isn’t right smack in the middle of his wheelhouse, I don’t know what is. You got this bro!

Except after round #1, things weren’t looking so promising:

And worse yet, as other kids began bringing their leprechaun traps into school before the due date, the bar was set at a whole different level. They were Elaborate. Exquisite. Beautiful. Certainly nothing most kindergarteners could do by themselves.

I won’t rant. I really won’t. Okay maybe just a little bit. COME ON PEOPLE! Must we start doing school projects on behalf of our kids at such an early age?? Can’t we at least try to get things started off on the right foot??

So the new dilemma was born. Do we stick to our original best intentions of having him learn to do his work as independently as possible, especially when he’s perfectly capable of coming up with something? Or when round #2 was coming in not much better than round #1, do we forego our idealistic intentions to avoid a situation where he’s embarrassed about his project relative to the other kids and/or risk having his teachers think he wasn’t taking it seriously (or worse yet that his parents weren’t)… just a family full of lazy asses phoning it in?

At first we did what great parents do. We went tiger mom and tiger dad on his ass. (Sort of.) Try again! Try harder! But we weren’t acknowledging his efforts and were making him feel bad about the work he was doing. He started giving up. Pretty soon things headed south. Son was crying. Mom was upset. Dad was stressed. Plan A wasn’t working.

Dad to the rescue! I intervened. Plan B was to help him as little as possible, allowing him to have all the ideas and just helping him on execution where his ideas outstripped his kindergartener capabilities.

But I, in my infinite wisdom and patience, skipped right past Plan B and initiated Plan C. I had March Madness to watch.

I am almost embarrassed to admit it, but it turns out this is mostly my work:

Don’t get me wrong, I subcontracted some of the work. Penny lane was all him. Tin foil siding and shingles on the roof, mostly him.


Parenting guilt is a real thing. Sometimes, as hard as you try not to, you’re impatient, you snap at your kid, you hurt their feelings in some way, and even if you were pretty damn good 99 other times, you dwell on that one time you weren’t at your best and you beat yourself up for it.

But lately I’ve been feeling pretty different about those moments. Because the awesome thing is you get to try again. Kids give you tens of thousands of at-bats to become a better person. Hell, forget the kids, life gives you the at-bats. I’m about to go to work and I’ll probably get dozens over the next several hours. You get them driving to work. You get them in the line at the grocery store. You get them everywhere.

Life gives us mulligans.

Over and over we get to try again. Even on the big stuff. For example I haven’t listened to my heart enough and the consequence is I’ve let others define my career path more than I’ve let my own heart do the talking. But even there, it’s not too late. I get another mulligan. I’ve been granted so many second chances I don’t feel I deserve. It’s one of the compassionate things about life itself. Usually, we get a chance to make it right.

Even if I don’t get a chance to fix something directly, it’s still an opportunity for me to grow as a person in kindness, empathy, wisdom and understanding and apply that to my next at-bat.

So, Leprechauns everywhere, beware of next year’s trap if there’s a mulligan to be granted. Perhaps the trap won’t look like much, but to me it’ll be the best damned trap a first grader ever built with his own two hands.