School projects, tranquillisers and karma

2013-04-25 00:00

I’M convinced that teachers have a hidden agenda when they send home school projects. I imagine that some of them rub their hands in anticipation of the disasters that will be handed in weeks later, when the children have driven their parents mental.

Recently, I have been quite tempted to include a bill for tranquillisers with a school project, which on the surface seemed to be quite a reasonable request, but in practical application became a mission from hell.

My darling child came home and told us she needed to do a project to illustrate the workings of electricity. My eyes glazed over and I pointed a finger in the direction of her father, my ex — he who “knows” everything.

I am very good at offering creative suggestions but am somewhat vague about the practical applications. My last encounter with electricity was trying to put together a plug. I seemed to have done quite well, but a few weeks later it caused a short circuit in the house, thanks to a loose wire.

Anyway, the weeks swiftly rolled past and, of course, as the deadline week dawned, we had a child on our hands who was having a nervous breakdown. He who knows everything dutifully went to the hardware store and bought the required stuff, but despite fiddling and various arrangements of wire and bulbs and clips, even he could not get anything to work according to the instructions in the daughter’s science book.

Of course, my daughter believed this was a crisis as large as a tsunami, despite my attempts to assure her that we would manage to pull a rabbit out of the hat. Then he who knows everything disappeared to Durban for work and it was just me and the science project.

After trying everything, to no avail, I started to have some sympathy for the Msunduzi Municipality, which has also not managed to get its act together. We live in a suburb, which shall remain nameless, that still has frequent outages. I realised that if I could not manage to get a single bloody light bulb to work, then I could at least sympathise with the municipality trying to fix an entire electricity network. Maybe its officials should go to the science teacher for extra lessons.

My daughter, in the meantime, had prepared the stage for her project beautifully, with a miniature zoo complete with animal pens, animals made from clay, plants and visitors to the zoo. All that was missing was the functioning lights.

“Why don’t we simplify this?” I suggested. Maybe we should make one big security light; it is South Africa after all. Her eyes started filling with tears. I was clearly not being a very good mother.

I turned to the Internet, which offered some ideas, although not all were helpful to a non-scientist like me. I figured the glitch was occurring somewhere between the bulbs, the batteries and the discrepancy between watts and volts.

On googling the subject, it said: “The power P in watts is equal to the voltage V in volts, times the current I in amps: P(W) = V(V) × I(A).” Now I was also on the brink of a nervous breakdown.

Then I had a brainstorm. Like all good quiz shows, there is always the option to phone a friend; in this case my father, who is the handiest man on the planet. He listened patiently, then grunted and said: “Whose project is this anyway?”

I said he was not being helpful. He said he really could not help unless he could see what bulbs I had, or the size of the batteries — details! I noticed my daughter had lost interest and was now curled up on the couch, engrossed in a television show. A vision of making an electric chair flickered in my mind.

And then, I had a flashback of my Standard 7 house-craft project. We had to knit a baby jacket. Incapable of doing anything other than casting on stitches, my irritated mother got sick of my tears and took over the project and finished it.

She was horrified to get back a “D” from the teacher with a note saying “poor effort”. I was hysterical with laughter at the time, but I guess this project must be karma.

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