For the Love of Projects (and Hot Glue)

This is my mom’s hot glue gun. It’s possible she’s had it longer than she’s had me, but currently it’s at my house and I used it most recently to turn wooden dowels into wands for an upcoming Harry Potter-themed 11th birthday party for my current 5th grader. There’s some symbolism there because my mom was a 5th grade elementary teacher for half(+) of my life and as a kid, I loved nothing more than tagging along to her classroom to be her weekend helper.

Of course I was never the one wielding the hot glue gun back then. That was my mom as she stood on desks and window ledges once a month to do a total swap out of her classroom (maybe don’t tell my dad that). The school she taught in was this ancient (to me as a kid, anyway) elementary building in a tiny (that’s accurate, even without kid memory driving the bus) town several miles from our farm. It wasn’t in the same district as our house so I never had my mom as a teacher, but I did spend hours upon hours helping her change bulletin boards each month and changing out her window displays, too. Hence, the glue gun. 

Her room was on the second story of the building, up some serious steps and down a rather winding hallway which ended at her large and spacious classroom. There were windows on two sides and above the glass were spaces where she could hot glue laminated posters and displays to the surface of the wall. I may not have been doing the gluing, but I definitely popped a bunch of (formally) hot glue discs off posters when she would do her change out the next month and store the old ones for use again the next year. Speaking of the lamination, I helped trim those as well and learned the satisfaction of a long, smooth cut around the edges of large items pretty early in life. To this day, I still love getting my hands on a reason to laminate something, although my little at-home machine is pint-sized compared to the school’s giant one. 

Helping my mom at her school impacted me a lot as a kid because I also learned to enjoy and love a good project. She was forever coming up with a new theme or unit for her students and I got to live vicariously through that by helping her prep and prepare (I also spent a lot of time running copies in the quiet little library that also lived on the second floor of their building and I swear, it was the most peaceful place on earth, even it smelled a bit dusty and musty). She’s a very creative person who could draw her own posters if needed and could do a remarkable amount of transformation with colored paper, a stapler, and probably some more hot glue. She once helped turn their upper-elementary hallway (grades 4-6, one classroom each) into a tunnel walk through a jungle and maybe and ocean, too.  

Through her teaching, but also through our home life, my mom instilled a love of books and themes in me that clearly impacted my later undergrad and graduate work, not to mention my eventual career as a college English instructor (although I don’t get to do anything with fun bulletin boards and laminators in my career, like she did with hers). And this love of projects and creating things together has stuck with us throughout the years since I stopped being her classroom helper. 

In high school, it was letting me use her sewing machine to make scrunchies for all my friends each Christmas. Later in life we created giant barnboard signs and oversized holiday wreaths for my house. This year we made Thing One and Thing Two wigs for Dr. Seuss Day at the kids’ school (look close at the picture and you might see some blue fuzz there, still). We’ve painted numerous walls and crafts together. And none of this includes the fact that she’s made countless costumes for dress up days and such for the kids, plus she’s taken over birthday cake duty for them since she moved to Hastings, which they love and helps me out tremendously in the day-to-day hubbub of raising a big family. 

My mom has always been a goer and doer but also a reader and a thinker. I inherited a great deal of both ends of that spectrum from her and am doing what I can to pass along the love of projects and books to my own children because the creative life is a full life, and let’s face it, there is always something that you can make better with a little hot glue and, if you’re lucky, lamination and a good helper! 

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