Death by a thousand paper cuts. Or really, five.

Day One: Not excited at all.

“We forgot the star,” I sighed, as I spotted the rows of carefully displayed handmade paper stars across the preschool classroom, each decorated by a different child.

Did we receive the star in the mail? The one that Thalia was supposed to decorate and bring to class on the first day, the teacher asked?


It’s been a while since I opened my mail.

She kindly handed me a spare star which Nate tucked into his breast pocket, no other parent the wiser. They were all buried, teary, behind camera lenses, wildly documenting their child’s monumental first day of preschool too.

I walked over to the wall and examined the stars covered in scribbles and squiggles and googly eyes and haphazard drops of glitter and sequins and glue, each one a beautiful example of that particular child’s three year-old heart captured at a moment in time. But one in particular stood out.

The white construction paper was covered with photocopied family photos, symmetrically arranged in amateur scrapbook fashion. There wasn’t a speck of wayward rubber cement or errant glue stick, no evidence of sticky fingers or chocolatey hands. It was nearly perfect. Then as the crowning touch, at the very points of the star, the child’s name was spelled out in perfect, teeny little red letters.

It was spectacular. It was inspired. It was a thing of glory. It was bullshit.

“That’s cheating,” I blurted out. “Totally cheating.”

I am trying so hard to understand what goes through a parent’s mind when you do a preschooler’s art project for her–You want the teacher to know you care, that you took the assignment seriously. You want your child to stand out. You want to make a terrific first impression. Yes? No?

I’m not convinced that the intent was malicious, a transparent attempt to fool the classmates into intimidation of your own child’s creative prowess. And who knows, this could be a parent I meet and spend time with and grow to love to death; then one day, after a few too many plastic cups of Chardonnay at the holiday fundraiser, I’ll lean over and say so…what were you thinking doing that star for your kid?” And she’ll say, “Yeah, I went a little too far. We were just so excited…”

Or something.

But then, maybe she’d wonder what the heck is wrong with the parents who can’t even be bothered to hand in the one stupid little assignment that the teachers asked you for before the school year began.

When Thalia and I sat down to at the coffee table last night, I told her she could do anything she wanted with her little swatch of white, five-pointed paper. She went right for a black magic marker.

I admit it would have been nice for her to show off a little. Depict her family or spell her name or draw the camel that she’s been oddly obsessed with this week. Sketch a funny face or do something cool with yarn. You know, if I even had yarn around the house.

“Do you want to trade that black marker for a color one?” I urged gently. “Maybe some crayons? Some glitter? You know, we can finger paint…”


She clasped that black marker in her fingers and scribbled a big messsy mess of a rats nest of a scribbly mess. Then she grabbed her little stamp pad and stamped some blurry, inky animals around the points of the star.

“Done!” she said. And it was.


51 thoughts on “Death by a thousand paper cuts. Or really, five.”

  1. LaLa used to only use green crayon for everything because it was her “favorite”. Now she uses a bit of everything and glitter is just an added bonus.

  2. And I’ll bet it was the BEST “big messsy mess of a rats nest of a scribbly mess” with “blurry, inky animals around the points of the star” ever seen!!!

  3. That was me scribbling off a few sentences on the “we want to get to know your child” sheet in the last 5 minutes before we had to get. out. the. damn. door. already. Ah, well, at least they know she likes the color orange and uh, has two siblings. woops. Love that 1st day of school pic!

  4. When I was in preschool my parents took me to see a shrink because all of my paintings were in black and brown. They thought I was depressed. It took a shrink for them to find out I was perfectly happy, just the slowest runner and thus by the time I got to the easels all the reds and purples were taken.Happy first day of pre-school to Thalia! And you! 🙂

  5. I’ll tell you what went through this parent’s mind yesterday as my preschooler attempted to complete her homework: “Please let’s do this right so your teacher doesn’t think that I don’t care enough to sit down and help you do it right.” And then, I got over it and let her color the entire picture with a blue crayon like she wanted. And circle every picture, not just the ones she was supposed to.She came home with a “Great Job” sticker and a sucker, just like every other kid who scribbled all over his picture. By the way, Thalia looks adorable in that picture!

  6. One of my pet peeves at Belly’s first preschool was the art projects that were 90% done by the teachers—the kids were “allowed” to do a few things to them but that was it. I may have saved one or two, but most went right into the trash—and, the thought of doing her art projects FOR her gives me the heebie jeebies—I hate crafts.

  7. Maybe the “cheater” just didn’t want to return a blank star. My DS refuses to do art projects like that. I could imagine being like, “Fine, you don’t want to do it, well then I will!” And making it into something fun for me!

  8. You know, I may knit and applique felt on onesies and even glue some ribbon to a clippie or two, but I’m totally uninspired where it comes to pre-school (or even elementary school) art projects.It’s only going to mean something to them if they do it themselves. Sounds like Thalia did an A+ job by staying true to herself.(And that photo of her? She’s gorgeous. And so grown up.)

  9. My son would have picked the orange marker, scribbled a one-inch scrawl and called it done.Although if there is glitter, he does like that.

  10. Like they say, it’s the process that counts, not the end result. And it sounds like Thalia had fun with her black pen and stamp process. And I’m thrilled that Thalia was so happy about her first day of school.

  11. I can’t help but think that perhaps the parents and that child all sat down together and picked out their favorite photos and the child told the parent where they wanted each photo to be placed and it was all a fun, if not overly organized, family activity. Ya never know. Maybe that child will turn out to be a talented photographer or champion scrapbooker…does that exist? I want to be a champion scrapbooker.

  12. Gorgeous picture!I try to get Q-ster to scribble a bit on thank-you notes that I write for him. Sometimes, he’s happy to squiggle some bright colors. Other times, he draws a single line of crayon.“How about a little more color?” I ask.“No, that’s enough,” he replies.And there ya go. If that’s not enough, I’d have to fake some scribbles myself, and I’m just not up to that.

  13. Mine has been using black marker lately, too, or finding a pen on the table. Right now she’s all into spelling stuff, so writing things is big. Her star would have been REAL purty… Hey, I think it’s important to let them be what they are, so good for you for letting her do her thing.

  14. Some gal pals of mine have daughters that go to the same preschool. They were “stressing” over a “ME” book they had to do for the girls. Homework at 4? No thanks.Her star sounds perfect!LOVE Petunia faces story…

  15. Totally awesome…the star and the pic. She’s adorable. Consider it abstract art in the beginning and you can get ALL kinds of meaning out of it. Lots of fun. Just never take a guess at animals because you can hurt some feelings like that. Just say, “No, YOU tell ME what it is.” You can’t go wrong that way…hehe.

  16. That was perfect! My daughter had to draw a picture for the 1st day of preschool, and some of those pictures were so obviously done by their parents it was ridiculous. Let the kid figure out their own creativity. At 36 I think I have finally figured out I have none. So be proud of the black rats nest, at least she did it herself!

  17. I love this story. I am keeping my hopes up for the weirdo-parent and a Chardonnay-soaked evening some day soon.

  18. Truth is, that at this age (and I might argue at any age when it comes to learning), the experience and process are way more important than the finished product.So… it’s great to know that mom is able to glue, cut, and follow directions. I wish I had that much time and energy — however, I’d spend it on way more important things. Like having sex.

  19. the only thing worse than the parents who do their children’s homework are teachers who do MY children’s art projects. ps. she’s adorable!

  20. This brings to mind the circumstances surrounding my daughter’s first book report (an excellent “recipe card” style concept, all done in her own hand). She was supposed to use materials she had at home. One of the other kids turned in a 3-D hanging spider-web mobile. It was a triumph of 1)expensive art supplies, 2)gluegunning, and 3)cheating.Breathe deeply, cause it gets much, much worse from here.

  21. I’m starting to feel relieved about Big Guy’s mini-Goth phase and hoping he won’t wind up with rings sprouting from every orifice after all.He was into black big-time from three to four. Colored everything black. Had to use black ribbon on Christmas and birthday gifts. Wished his hair were black, but I had to draw the line somewhere.He’s now mainly moved onto green, though he’s still obsessed with my Sharpie. I think that’s because it’s off limits.His first-week-in-kindergarten project: Decorate a gingerbread boy cutout to look like him. He did the jeans blue and the hair blond, but everything else was green. It was a glorious train wreck! I’ll admit I felt twinges of inadequacy, though, when Organized Mom’s kid turned hers in two days early, decked out in a cloth dress with sequins.And thanks for the reminder to check my mail. Haven’t done that for three days.

  22. It was done, and it was perfect.My daughter is so not into art right now. I take out the finger paints and she lines the cups up in a line. Of course she’s only 15mths so we have time to inspire creativity! 😉

  23. He heee – that photo is just too cute 🙂It does take a determined teacher to make parents stop doing their children’s projects, though. After last years 2nd grade “make a toy at home” project we saw incredible race cars, perfectly sewn ragdolls, electric circuited rockets with working lights. I mean come on! (my then 7 year old son made a robot-ish creature out of a cereal box, water bottles and randomly placed aluminum foil, very cool in my opinion)My son came home crying the day everyone brought their projects to school, and I told him that I thought his efforts were great and it was obvious other childrens parents did the project for them. He totally blamed me for not having a “great” toy. I felt terrible. But in the directions for the project, it specifically said NOT to help our children, that this should be something easy enough for them to make.When the grades were given out the next week, only my son got a perfect 5 out of 5 – and the other parents just went bananas. So the teacher has to make a point. And the parents have to learn.Also, he loves that robot-ish thing. He adds something to it every once in a while and is very proud of it. I just hope that he got the message as well, but they really do not understand “grades” that much at this age. We’ll see how this years year-end project goes – I hear it’s something about “make your own house” and I wouldn’t be surprised if some children came home with real model homes.

  24. First, I can’t believe you had “homework” before the first day of school. We went and paid our tuition and turned in all those forms the day before mine started (did give the down payment three months before). I would so be you… want to use some color, glue? Mine was all about the pencils and his is the one colored only in pencil in 1st grade now. And zeynep – can’t believe not only allthe parents who helped a wee bit too much, but complained about your kid’s grade, scary.

  25. I know this is a bit off topic but I’m so glad to know I’m not the only one putting off the mail, mainly because I pay the bills online anyway. But man, this pile next to my computer is starting to look awfully menacing… Death by a thousand envelopes?(Happy belated b-day, my fellow September virgin 😉

  26. I agree with you – totally cheating! Both being designers, it was torture for Rigel and I to keep our hands out of our kids projects, but we did. Okay, except for maybe that one time.(I’m sure Thalia’s was the best.)

  27. I would have been all grumpy and salty about the parent doing the star for a kid too. Seriously! Some parents are crazy! I know people that did their kids high school homework for them. I generally run in the other direction when I see them coming..

  28. My son loves art and always gravites to the black marker or crayon. What is with that? I have paper Easter eggs decorated with black squiggles. I guess they’re oddly appropriate.

  29. Ooooookay……..My little girl had to decorate something like that to take to school. Can you believe that I made copies of it and made her re-do it 5 times? 5 TIMES! Then I decorated it myself and showed it to her, and said “Here, decorate yours” …. Oh I applaude you for having the sence to let the small child do it on her own!

  30. Just giving people the benefit of the doubt: maybe those parents misunderstood the idea behind the project and thought all the parents would be doing the stars? Or, as someone said, they sat down with their kids and had fun doing it together?I hated art projects with a passion when I was little, because nothing ever came out the way it wanted to, and I’d push them off forever and/or just refuse to do them. I LOVED doing artsy projects with my mom (the former art major), because we worked on it together, but it came out looking the way I wanted it to.I’ve probably revealed more about my OCD/anal-retentiveness than I intended to with this little story…

  31. Love your blog! I found out about it in Parents mag. So great. I can’t believe your preschooler has homework! Hilarious though. 🙂 Way to go, parental restraint is the hardest part of letting our little ones grow.

  32. My child who is perfectly respectable, responsible, good student as a well adjusted senior in high school once told his entire fourth grade class that “Lincoln emaciated the slaves!” It only gets more funner as they get more older!

  33. Before I had kids I was an artist. Seriously. I got paid for it. I had such high high hopes for Noah when I was pregnant. He would inherit my artistic genes.Except he didn’t. He hates anything to do with art and even when he has to color something for school, he just scribbles on it.Why did they have an assignment before school even started anyway? What’s up with that?

  34. I have a 5th grader and he had a big project due recently. Half the class brought things that were very obviously the creations of their parents’ hands and I made my son do his own. It wasn’t as cool, as fabulous or as perfect, but it was HIS and he worked hard on it and the A+ he got on it was a very proud moment. When you do it for them, you take away their opportunity at pride in their work. Son’s teacher made a huge deal out of his project and how hard he’d worked on it, and I hope next time the kids tell their parents that they want to do it themselves.

  35. kudos to you for being one of the parents who let their child take their own initiative.kudos to you for being the parent who sees the other kind of parent.when i was teaching first grade, i actually had a parent to Timothy’s homework for him. The homework assignment: practice writing his name! it was to help him w/ his fine motor skills. ummmmmmmm????let it be said Timothy was actually going to an occupational therapist. He needed this practice.

  36. I had the worst looking salt map in second grade. In fact, I couldn’t even figure out what a salt map was supposed to be exactly. I remember looking at some of my friends topographical maps and thinking how was this possible.It’s so sad, it doesn’t even occur to parents what they are doing to the other children, let alone their own kids when they do their homework for them. It’s type A gone amuck.

  37. At kindergarten orientation the kids were supposed to color a picture and add their name while the adults chatted. Then the kids were supposed to put their new name plates on their cubbies. One kid scribbled a great looking mess, but didn’t put his name. I watched as his mom scurried over and wrote his name on it for him, in FAKE scrawly kid letters, as if he had written it himself.

  38. I was so happy to read this. My daughter does this too. And as a control freak I have to heartily resist the urge to hide certain colored markers or make too many suggestions. I just keep telling myself that if she does it like this its part of learning to love who she is how she is. Plus it ends up great anyway!

  39. Aw, heck. Imagine my reaction when I picked up my 5yo Thing 1 from his first day of Sunday school last week and found his paper cross decorated with a “killer robot”.

  40. Oh I had to laugh so hard at this one….When my now 11 year old was being “tested” for a private pre-school here they asked him to draw a giraffe. He was obsessed with camels (and knew the two different names–dromedary and something else I forget) so he drew a camel. Well, he did not get in!!!! When I asked why, they said…well we asked him to draw a giraffe and he drew this camel. I explained how he was currently obsessed with camels. they just looked at me. That was not the place for us. A tangent i know but it made me remember the feelings of preschool.

Comments are closed.