She actually failed a Science Inquiry project last year, I think, or at least scored so low she might as well have failed. She has gotten better about doing her homework this year, and has brought her GPA up to cum laude range, but she still doesn't really dig in and do her best.
For her scrapbook, though, she started weeks ago, poring through files of photos to select the ones she wanted and hassling me to get them printed. She sorted her pamphlets and ticket stubs by day and then did the same with the photos. She labeled things with sticky notes. She typed out her captions, journal entries, and page headings. We discussed ad nauseum which color of card stock she would use for the pages and argued about whether or not we needed to buy more page protectors (we didn't) and what size binder she'd need (I was right). We perused the craft store aisles for relevant stickers, which luckily were on sale.
She had a vision of the finished product and she knew how to go about realizing it.
Seventh graders for whom scrapbooking comes naturally don't arise in a vacuum, however. Twelve comes by it legitimately because her grandmother invented it. Okay, so that's probably not accurate, but women in our family have been assembling scrapbooks long before you could just go to the store and buy coordinated scrapbooking crap and then just assemble it according to the directions. Back in the day, my mom used regular paper, regular scissors, and plain ol' markers to commemorate our lives. Somewhere, my siblings and I each have multiple scrapbooks - the first few are even housed in the kind of books with pages that when you peel back the clear plastic, the pages are somehow sticky but not actually sticky.
(Quick, someone turn magnetic photo pages into a meme that pithily illustrates how we're all getting older! Yes, it *has* been that many years since that movie was made, because that is the way time works.)
I have personally refused to get into the whole scrapbooking thing on the grounds that I don't have another room in my house or hours in the week to devote to it, but it's still part of Twelve's worldview because my mom maintains a Memory Book for her (I suspect that my mother realized that if it was going to be done, she'd have to be the one to do it, but it is a lovely grandmother/granddaughter thing nonetheless). It's now on its second volume. And my sewing room's rotary cutter, mat, and rulers work just as well for papercrafting as they do for fabric, so our house isn't completely devoid of scrapbooking potential. What all this boils down to is that Twelve is good at it.
When I was a kid, our household was heavily influenced by a child psychologist dude named Dr. James Dobson and his organization, Focus on the Family. He is, of course, a staunch conservative Christian anti-equality, anti-choice activist and his organization follows suit, but I didn't know any better until years later so I read all his books when Twelve was little. I'm sure I'd disagree with most of it now, but one of his points still sticks with me and I think is probably sound: Being good at something is good for a children's self esteem. That way, if they find themselves being picked on for being fat, bad at sports, wearing glasses, or whatever, they have something concrete to hang on to. It's the childhood equivalent of a minimally endowed, insecure-as-hell guy driving a huge pickup that makes him feel better about himself.
(A former roommate told me that she was once waiting for a tow truck on a highway and hollered "Sorry about your penis!" out the window at such a truck as it passed by. I have mentally yelled that at large trucks for about a decade now.)
Now, of course as an academic feminist I'd argue that the responsibility for solving this problem lies with the society that constructs fat, nonathletic, corrective lens wearers as second class citizens, but as a parent I need solutions that are a bit less esoteric. Unless we organized and mobilized ourselves to an unprecedented degree, parents can't stop other people's children from picking on ours, but we can talk to our children about how people treat each other and help them learn a compensatory skill.
I was thinking about this today because a fellow doctoral candidate friend emailed me that her thirteen year old daughter is having body image issues. I don't have a ton to offer on this subject, since body image is not a huge deal for Twelve, as far as I can tell. She makes the occasional comment about not liking her legs because they are fat, to which I am never quite comfortable responding. Twelve's legs are, objectively, just fine. They are not too fat, but they are also not super skinny. I figure that I can't tell her they're thin enough without reinforcing the beauty ideal, and I can't agree with her because that reinforces the beauty ideal and also makes me a huge jerk. So I just tell her they're fine and change the subject - mentioning the phrase 'the social construction of beauty ideals' almost always does the trick.
So, all I could say to this friend was to suggest that she explain to her daughter that
... the only reason that she doesn't like her body is because movies, tv, and magazines have taught her that her body is not okay, and then explain that the media's definition of an acceptable body is unrealistic and just plain faked. And then work with her to find something that she really likes and can become really good at, which will help her feel good about herself for real and not just because of how she looks.I don't know if Twelve's scrapbook skills are going to translate into a career path or make her feel better about her legs, but I am absolutely positive that it's been a great experience and I'm thrilled that she's had it. She now knows what it's like to envision a complex project with many steps and make it happen over a period of time. Honestly? I don't know if I can do that particularly well and they're going to give me a Ph.D. pretty soon.
Note: For those of you hetero cismen who thought this was going to be about how to please your sexual partner even though your penis is tiny, I apologize. Please do keep looking, though - there's a lot of good stuff on the internet and you surely aren't the first dude who needed a bit of help finding the clitoris.