Monday, May 16, 2011


You know what I think could be really great for Primo?

Doing origami.

You know what would cause me to have a panic attack?

Helping him do origami.

A few weeks ago, there was a world festival at Primo’s school where parents led activities related to, or hailing from, their country of origin. There was aboriginal dot paintings from Australia and West African mask-making and there was Chinese flower arranging. And there was Japanese origami.

Primo has been interested in origami a year or two ago when he saw a book at the library called “Easy Origami.” The joke after that was that the book should have been titled “Easy Origami for Origami Masters” because it was totally impossible. Even with my help, we couldn’t make the first project it detailed.

So when he saw the origami table, full of uncrinkled squares of floral print paper and tiny examples of cranes and frogs and the like, he dashed over.

“Let’s do origami!” he shouted.

“OK,” I agreed. The paper was gorgeous and I do enjoy crafting lovely things.

There was a mom leading the event who appeared to have some serious paper-folding chops. But she was deeply involved helping a little boy, not much older than Primo, with an impossibly difficult project. Remember the flying Crane move which Ralph Macchio did in the first Karate Kid? This was the origami equivalent of that. It required two pieces of paper folded together. There was no way to interrupt such complex folding – one wrong move and the whole things could go up in flames. So we waited patiently for the expert to finish and I tried to help Primo myself.

I absolutely loathe following visual instructions. I cannot state that emphatically enough. It is, in fact, one of the biggest reasons I married David, and stay married to him – I could never, ever put together an Ikea Trofast, much less a Pax shelving system. Once, when David wasn’t around I tried to put together an Ikea nightlight and I literally couldn’t figure it out, despite the fact that it only had two steps.

“Why the hell don’t they TELL ME what to do, in words?” I shouted madly, “This isn’t ANCIENT EGYPT! I can’t read hieroglyphics!”

I felt the same instantaneous surge of frustration when I saw the one-page instructions for the origami crane. None of it made any sense.

Ok, the first two or three steps were easy enough – fold the paper in half, than half again, etc. But then make a square? That’s when the problems started.

“Now how the heck do we make a square out of a triangle?” I said, narrating my though process to Primo as I experimented, mangling the perfectly nice triangle we’d proudly made. With every fruitless fold, my paper looked more and more wrinkled, and that pissed me off. My end product would be folded to a pulp. What kind of a crane would THAT be? ”What am I, a magician? It’s a triangle, not a square! How can I make it be a square when it obviously doesn’t WANT to?”

I took a deep breath: “Primo, we can do this. We can make this crane. We just have to prevent ourselves from getting frustrated because frustration clouds your thought. So let’s stay calm and the answer will come to us.”

Primo looked at me calmly, and it was clear that both he and I knew I was using the royal “we.”

I threw a frantic look at the expert woman but she was elbow-deep in paper folds with her origami prodigy.

I was on my own. It was time to get resourceful: “Now what if we just rip this little corner here? That might make it work . . “

“You can’t rip the paper, Mommy!” Primo piped up.

“How do you know?”

“Mommy, you just can’t. No one else is ripping paper.”

I rubbed my temples and considered. The boy was right. I’d never seen an origami creation with jagged, ripped edges, It was against the whole philosophy of origami I’m guessing to rip the paper, I guessed, though I don’t know jack about it. It just doesn’t seem like a gentle thing to do. But I wasn’t feeling particularly gentle at that point.

“Well then, let’s just MAKE it go. We’ll just squash it down and force it to be a freaking square!” If the paper could talk it would have screamed, “Lady, please! I’ve got a wife and two kids at home! Have mercy on me!”

I was killing the paper.

“So HOW do we make this crane?” Primo asked, getting impatient.

I looked over at the woman again. She was still helping the little boy, probably training him for the Origami Olympics.

“You’re so good at this!” I offered, hoping to charm her into helping us, “It’s so hard!”

“I’ll help you in a minute,” she replied.

“Hear that, Primo?” I said, “She’s going to rescue us. This stuff is hard honey. I mean, Mommy’s not very good at following directions like that. Mommy gets a little panicked when Mommy sees all of these pictures of shapes which are literally impossible for a person to make without a MAGIC WAND!”

While working myself into frenzy, I’d accidentally opened the triangle up into another dimension and somehow before me was a square. A pretty perfect square.

“PRIMO!!!!” I yelled, startling the other parents and children, “Primo, LOOK!”

“MOMMY!” he shouted, YOU DID IT!”

“It’s so EASY!” I yelled, “This is how you do it!”

I showed him and he made his triangle into a square and then we both turned our papers over and made the other triangles into other square.

And then we were stuck again.

“We made the square!” I said to the expert woman, like we were nearly there, had almost reached the end goal, although the fact was we were still at step number 4.

“Ok,” she said, putting the finishing touches on the master opus she and her protégée had made, “I’ll help you.”

It had taken us fifteen, twenty minutes to get up to step four and within five minutes, under the tutelage of the expert, we’d finished our cranes. Yes, the paper was a bit worse for the wear, a bit sagging and haggard but by George, those were cranes all right, unequivocally.

Primo and I dashed outside to meet David and Seconda, who’s been waiting for us in the playground outside for a half hour.

“DADDY! DADDY! Look what we MADE!” Primo shouted.

I was an excited as he was, “Aren’t they beautiful? Aren’t they regal?”

And now, the twin cranes sit in the shelf of honor in our apartment, greeting guests with their fragile splendor. Every time I see them, I think, “Primo could really get into origami.” And then I think, “If he had another mother.”