Things My Son’s Eagle Project is Teaching Me
I’m a bit project obsessive. This is a huge asset to me when I am fully in charge of a project. It means that I keep coming back to projects as soon as I am rested enough to think about them again. When I’m only sort-of in charge of a project, either I’m driven crazy by the schedules of others, or they’re driven crazy because I keep coming at them and saying “What about this? Do you think this would work? I’ve thought of a solution for that, let’s go take care of it now.”
Learning experiences work best when there is no deadline, unless one of the things-to-learn is how to work to a deadline. In that case, the deadline is best if it applies only to the learner and not to the helper/teacher. Or else the helper/teacher tends to over-help in order to make sure the deadline is met.
Eagle projects always have external deadlines because it has to be in service of some other organization. That organization can’t wait around forever while the scout figures things out slowly. As a parent, I feel that obligation and it weighs on me.
Eagle projects take longer than you think they will take, because an inexperienced person is supposed to be in charge. I have to let it take however long it takes, no matter how frustrated I am at having the project continue to reside in my brain. Stress is created because of the gap between the speed the scout figures things out and the deadline hopes of the other organization.
I am good at figuring out where a project will have a problem far before that problem becomes apparent to others and before it impacts the project. I am not good at waiting for others to discover and solve the problem. Instead my brain rushes ahead and figures out solutions. Once I have figured out a solution to a problem, I am not good at keeping my mouth shut so that others can find their own solutions. Instead I end up pointing out problems and sharing my solutions one right after the other. Then I remember we’re supposed to be having a learning experience and I realize that I’ve over-helped and I feel bad about it. Repeat many times. If I’m fully not-in-charge then I can go into a minion mode where this does not happen and I can just wait for instructions.
When rain starts to fall and it becomes obvious that we need to call off work for the day, I will be the last one to admit that it is time to quit. I’d rather work in cold, miserable, wet than have to arrange for tools and people to arrive again on another day. This is particularly true when some of the tools are rented. Even more particularly when those rentals were donated by the rental place and we’ll have to go to them again to ask for a second donation of tool time. This is when my son stands up to me and re-iterates that conditions are miserable and unsafe. No we can’t just keep working until the walls are vertical, we must throw tarps over everything and call it quits for the day. I did not give in gracefully.
It is important to admit to my child that he was right and I was wrong when that is the case. I did so as soon as I was calm enough to be able to see it.
Dry clothes, food, and a nap are helpful to restore perspective. Of course my brain spent some of my half-awake time picturing how the walls of the shed go together and picturing how we need to measure the top boards and make marks for the rafters. We really should do that before we make the walls vertical so that we don’t have to stand on ladders while measuring. We really do need a working nail gun. The one we had today was being problematic, which was probably because I was distracted and never checked the pressure setting on that air compressor. I was aware that they were trying to troubleshoot it, but was distracted by other work and now I don’t have sufficient information to try to solve the problem, but my brain keeps chewing on it anyway because we have to have a nail gun. …and my brain runs onward from there, which points up what I said up there in the first paragraph about being project obsessive.
I do better at letting other people encounter project problems and learn from them when I clearly define the limits of my role. For example: I will remind once and no more. If I don’t have a clearly defined limit, I will accidentally take over and my take over can last quite a while before I remember I’m only supposed to be helping.
I have a hard time staying within my self-defined limits. This is one of the reasons that my kids always make leaps forward in self-reliance and adult behavior when I go away on a trip. I’ve removed myself so that they really have to learn things and I won’t fall in to my plethora of management habits which incidentally make their lives easier and remove responsibility from their shoulders.
These tendencies of mine which have manifested in this project also show up in every day. I over manage school work, house work, etc. Seeing that makes me feel like a failure. Can being too competent and prepared be a failing? It sure feels like one sometimes. Particularly when I’m bothering others with reminders they’d rather not have. Even more so when I spend piles of energy preparing for an eventuality that never arrives. Definitely when my project brain pops me awake at 2am and I spend an hour pacing with anxiety that the project will not come together. Then I’m unable to sleep again until I’ve made lists and plans. Then the lists and plans are done and my son does not get to learn from thinking things through and making them. My anxiety drove me there first. It definitely feels like a failing during those moments when my son says “Mom, I’m supposed to be in charge.” and I know that he is right. So I apologize for taking over. Again.
I’ve heard the jokes so often, about how there should be an award for parents who have survived a son’s eagle project. I’ve also heard the jokes about how it is really the moms who earn the eagle award. I didn’t want to be that mom, the one who drives her son to the completion of an eagle project. Link could have begun his a year and half ago, but I waited until getting it was important to him. I certainly have no emotional need for him to earn this award. But earning this matters to Link. A lot. I see him persevering, stepping up, and trying to take ownership of this overwhelming endeavor. He’s doing so with only a minimal understanding of construction and an active fear of power tools. He’s organizing groups of people and trying to be in charge when he routinely avoids talking in front of groups in every other social situation in his life. Link wants this project enough that he’s stretching his own capabilities. I can’t help feeling that he would stretch even more if I could stop trying to push him into my schedules and my solutions. I wish he could learn more about other things and less about how to deal with Mom when she’s project stressed.
Link and I are both learning from this, but I really wanted today to be the point where we could be done organizing big groups of people and objects. Instead we’ll be building again on Wednesday. I don’t know that we’ll have time to finish with only a few hours to work. So there will probably be yet another day scheduled after that. Most people have told me that the paperwork on an eagle project is almost harder than doing the project. Right now, doing paperwork sounds heavenly in comparison. Especially since I don’t think it will trigger my project brain at all. Instead I’ll be able to step fully into a helper/teacher role and let Link do it all by himself. Which is how this whole thing should be.
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