a list for friday: steps in helping Nina with her Houdini project

2:04 pm.

“Jen, do you have a ruler?”

2:17 pm: Completes one-third of the poster; realizes she hasn’t left enough space for the entire timeline of Houdini’s life.

2:20 pm: Starts over on posterboard #2.

2:23 pm: Tries to use a ruler and black marker to draw a straight line. Fails. Tries to make the line thicker to disguise errors. Smudges black marker from her fingers onto the poster.

2:37 pm: Trip to the store for more posterboard.

3:01 pm: Draws line with ruler and black marker on sheet #1. Smudges.

3: 06 pm: Draws line with ruler and black marker on sheet #2. Smudges.

3:13 pm: Draws line with ruler and black marker on sheet #3. Smudges. Despair.

“Jen, I don’t know what to do. I’m just going to keep smudging and I can’t help it because the marker is on my fingers. And my line isn’t straight.”

Stares at me hoping I’ll come up with a magic solution.

“Why don’t you try again on the other side?”

“It’s not shiny.”

“Does the poster have to be on the shiny side?”


“Your teacher said that?”

“No. But it won’t look good if it’s not on the shiny side.”

Continues looking at me.

“What is a way I can help you, Nina?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why don’t you try it in colored pencil? That won’t be as bright but it won’t smudge.”

“We don’t have colored pencils.”

“Yes, we do.”

“No, we don’t.”

“Yes, we do. You used them last week.”

“Oh, right. Okay.”

3:24 pm: “Do you want me to sketch the line so it’s straight and then you can color over it?”

“Yes. But Jen, this is the last piece of posterboard.”

“I know.”

“It’s the last one!”

“I know. It will be fine.”

3:28 pm: Project outward calm while silently praying. Success.

“Jen, I don’t think we have a black colored pencil.”

“Okay, well, make the line another color.”

“But it needs to be black.”

“Did the teacher say it needs to be black?”

Pause. Deja vu.


“How about dark gray?”



“Do you have a pencil sharpener?”

3:34 pm: Colors line and begins writing the events of Houdini’s life. All is calm, all is bright.

3:47 pm: “Jen, what are the colors of the rainbow in order?”

I teach her the Roy G Biv acronym.

“Okay, that’s seven, but I need ten colors because I have ten events on the timeline.”

Refuse the urge to scream, “THEN CHOOSE MORE COLORS.”

“Well, you’ll need to choose three more colors then.”

“But which ones?”

“Nina, just choose three that fit somewhere in the spectrum.”

3:53 pm: A pink, an orange, and a yellow-green are chosen. Events are written.

4:01pm: “Jen, how should I write this life event? He flew three times in Australia and became the first successful Australian avatar.”

“Do you mean aviator?”

“Yes, that.”

“Okay, well, I don’t think you want to say it that way because Houdini was American, not Australian.”


“If you say someone was the first Australian whatever it means the first person from Australia to do that whatever. He wasn’t from Australia.”

“But he was in Australia when he did it.”

4:07 pm: Decide I no longer care.

“Jen, how do you spell business? How do you spell vanishing? How do you spell elephant?”

4:16 pm: Three minutes of quiet as she completes the timeline, then begins rummaging through her desk drawer for the Houdini pictures we printed from my computer last week.

“Jen, I can only find one of my pictures. I don’t know where the other two are.”

“Last I saw them was right after we printed them and you cut them out. Did you search for them?”

“Yes.” Opens desk drawer and flips through papers half-heartedly.

“Nina, I don’t know what happened to them. I handed them to you and after that they were your responsibility.”

“But they’re not here.” Looks at me with hope that I will volunteer the use of my computer so she can look them up again and re-print them.

4:23 pm: Decide I have had it. Decide events have come to the rare Stepparent-Is-Entitled-To-Express-Irritation Place. Decide she is going to find the damn pictures.

“Nina, did you look in your book bag? In your folders? In your room?”

She knows I know she has not. She searches her book bag.

“Yay, I found one!”

“Looks good.”

“Well, now I just have two instead of three. How can I arrange them so they take up more space on the posterboard?”

4:33 pm: Finally give up all hope of accomplishing anything productive with the afternoon.

“Why don’t you put an alternate color of paper behind them, to make them stand out?”

“Okay!” Goes up to her room to get more paper.

“Jen, look, I found the third picture!”

4:38 pm: Do not say any of the 17 things I want to say.

“Great, we’re on the home stretch.”

“Do you have a glue stick?”

Glues each of the pictures to colorful paper and then to the posterboard.

“Okay, I think I’m going to fill up the one blank space by writing his name. How do you spell Houdini?”

4:53 pm.

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