Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Adventures with Me and Flat Stanley

I think I hate Flat Stanley.  There I said it.

Look at any second grade wall the first month of the school year and the photo essays staring this pressed paper hero will showcase trips to museums, Europe, cruises, salt water fishing for prize Marlins, making salt water taffy but not eating it, rodeo elephant rides, free style skydiving, hiking the Appalachian trail, meeting NFL and NBA stars on the street for a pick up game, trying out for Broadway shows and throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.  You'll see dance recitals that rival the Joffrey and ice cream sundaes that require building permits, great pictures of kids shaking hands with world leaders, rides in helicopters, winning the slots at Vegas and professional cooking classes with Iron Chef Michael Simon.

If the Flat Stanley project were subjected to judicial standards of truth, those photo essays would be very different. Every poster that included a trip would showcase F.S. strapped in a car saying, "Are we there yet?" Most would have a shot of the paper thin boy watching television, playing the Wii and coming to Mom on a perfect summer day and saying, "I'm bored." But there are no essays about how Flat Stanley sunburned the day we went to the ocean because we ran out of sun block or how we spent three weeks looking all over the house for the library book that he lost. No one writes or brags about how Flat Stanley played cards with the whole family past midnight or how he subsequently did not get up until after noon the next day.

I admit, I'm not going to buck that trend but now I know why I hate Flat Stanley.

Flat Stanleys are the school assignment equivalent of New Year's Resolutions and the boasts made at 20 year high school reunions rolled into one.  We'd like to think we did fun exciting thoughtful splendid outings all summer long; and we can talk a good game but... just as reality indicates that we might not be our driver's licence weight and height, so also, the photos of Flat Stanley often show a kid  who only wears one outfit all summer long. 

It's not that we're all just braggarts and liars.  It's not that we're simply poor planners or slackers.  It's not that we didn't take the assignment seriously; it's that we're invested in the kids, not Flat Stanley.  On those days when we say "Let's go to the pool!"getting the suntan lotion, the swimsuits, the towels, the sandals, and everyone loaded in the car was the priority and the purpose.  Half way there, we'd remember we forgot the camera or we forgot Stanley or both.  Even if we tried to outsmart ourselves by leaving the camera and Stanley in the car for the next outing, we'd forget we did that when the next outing came or the next outing would be a limited party that took the other car.  Flat Stanley was not part of the routine, not part of the family, and not part of the mental mind set when we were thinking, "Fun!"

But with one week to go, I started thinking "Panic!"

So instead of bracing honesty, we embraced staged earnest emergency actions.  Last week they went fishing.  Last weekend, we went up to Connecticut for a big reunion.  Yesterday we drove to Baltimore for a pirate ship cruise. Flat Stanley attended them all.   We could document we did something of value and quality this summer.  In the spirit of the actual assignment, I let my son take some of the pictures and pick the shots. 

It was then that the authenticity that is childhood shone through my attempts at a polished veneer. All these splendid show Flat Stanley off escapades still could not escape the reality that it is the kid that determines the memory, not the parent or Flat Stanley.  To illustrate the fishing trip?  He chose the shot of the lobster we bought at the fish store afterwards.  The 50 year anniversary party in Massachusetts where he played all day with his cousins?  He shot a picture of the dog.  And the pirate cruise? The one shot was used up.  Hopefully they turned out on my phone. When I asked my son what he loved best, he said the ice cream afterwards.  I didn't get a picture of that though.

So despite all my parental sins, my son remains untainted by Flat Stanley or me, still viewing summer as time off as properly spent in pursuit of very little when the rest of life requires so much.  Flat Stanley remains a secondary perpetual nag in my  book; but I'll give him credit.  We had a fun time with the memories we were forced to create on his behalf even if the most memorable parts like the best moments of actual summer and life, were not always captured on film and don't translate well to a poster.


Joanne said...

I too always groaned when Flat Stanley came home. The concept sounded good at the beginning but then FS slept in a folder until a week before the report was due. Except for my when my granddaughter brought him home. Her aunt (my oldest daughter)made FS HER project for the summer and he went everywhere!She's now married with 3 children of her own and I imagine that her kids FSs will do a lot of folder sleeping or refrigerator hanging as well!

Anonymous said...

Sometimes Flat Stanley project can be a bit of a tiresome for parents, I agree. As you mentioned in the article it is all about the kids... So there is still hope in making the lives of parents easier!

never have to worry about bringing the camera along if Stanley is always with you :)

Karen said...

I loved Flat Stanley so much (we sent our older daughter's FS to Disney World) that I created Flat Father Stanley for my kindergarten religious ed class. The kids take him home for a week and take pictures of their week with him and I put together a slideshow movie of his adventures at the end of the year.

Sharon said...

Sherry, You have the right attitude; kids are important, not FS. He's nice as a tool to remind kids what they did for that dreaded "what I did on summer vacation" essay. But, other than that. Bah humbug!

Jeanne said...

Cute story. Flat Stanley certainly has survived for many years. Many many years. I have been teaching for 32 years and Flat Stanley has been around for a lot of them. It started out as a very creative idea (I remember the early days) but now it seems rather done too much, in my opinion. However, some of the memories I have seen online have been great. FS has been places I can only dream of.

Dale Hubert said...

Hi Sherry
After reading your article on Flat Stanley, I'm almost afraid to confess that I am the teacher who began the Flat Stanley Project 16 years ago. Please forgive me! I wanted to give kids authentic opportunities to write. It works, too, because the irony is, even though you say you're not a fan, it sure helped you create some quality and fun writing in this post.
BTW, we've just released V2.0 of our new free FS app for the iPhone. I think you'd be a great tester and I'd love to hear your thoughts on it. Does this interest you?


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