Free Gold? It’s a Trap.

The “Leprechaun Trap” assignment sheet came home from school, about ten days ago, with Seth, my second grader. I remember grumbling my way through the experience of building one, four years ago, when Lance was in second grade. Lance, if memory serves, thought the whole exercise was cruel and unusual punishment—for the Leprachaun. “Why are we trying to trap him, Mom? What do we do with him once we have him?” I thought it was cruel and unusual punishment for the parents.

Truly, I was at a loss to answer his questions. Obviously, I don’t have any Irish heritage on which to hang an elaborate story of why the Leprechaun needs trapping. And, by this point, we’d already had the opportunity, shall we say, to make it “our little secret” that Santa isn’t real, and then hang out with him, anyway—did I really want to go this route, again? Was it necessary? I fell back on, well, science. I explained that building the (humane) trap was a good way to figure out how things work. And then I teased my firstborn, non-trouble-maker,  that maybe it would help me figure out a way to build a trap for him, in the event he got up to too much mischief. Talk about cruel and unusual.

We seem to have, in our house, arrived at the juncture where we’ve deemed that Halloween, St. Valentine’s Day, and St. Patrick’s Day, are not Jewish holidays, obviously. For these holidays, we fall into the category of American Jews who sort of hover around the sentiment of certain holidays, making clear to our kids that there are religious roots from another faith, but there are also reasons to participate, in the same way that we might invite non-Jewish friends to a Pesach seder or a Purim Shpiel. Heck, we’ll even go to a Christmas party, but in our home, the sanctity of that holy day in Christianity is observed by not observing it for sport (no “winter tree” or “Hanukkah bush” in our home, no sporting exchange of gifts.) This, from a girl whose mother bought egg-dye kits every year around Easter, because it was fun—and because it made all the egg consumption around Passover just a tad bit more colorful. Whatever.

Still, the whole Leprechaun Trap thing stressed me out, to be honest. My selfish, evil side has been hard at work, wondering whether it would be frowned upon to petition to get a condition called “lack of craftiness” recognized by the ADA.

Yes, the overdrive of Holiday Land—the kinds of Let’s Make Everything a Dress-Up, Interwebs-Worthy Production Number may be driving me to make jokes that could be, conservatively, classified as being firmly planted in the County of Poor Taste.  Yet, I’m not alone in my rallying cry for the overwhelmed and under-enthused. Writer Kristen Howerton summed it up pretty well, over on HuffPo, today. Not that I don’t appreciate the magic of childhood, and the hilarity of some people’s Leprechreativity.

But there’s another layer that gives me pause—not my family’s specific situation, because my kids know who we are, and what we’re about, so navigating Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s and St. Patrick’s Day isn’t, by any stretch, a hardship. Christmas, for instance, may get us a little riled up about the fact that there seems to be no other topic to explore at school, no corner of the curriculum that isn’t touched, in some way, by this holiday. But, actually, I get good and freaked out when I think about families who can’t afford the time and resources to go gangbusters, even if they’d like to do so, and yet are bombarded with subtle and not-so-subtle messages about the look and feel of the season—whatever the season.

So, my question is, how much of this is fun diversion, and how much is pressure to conform to an ideal that may seem out of reach, for one reason or another?

That pressure seems, in some way, to be avoidable. I’m all for the educational value of learning customs and traditions, of exchanging messages of friendship and good will, of holidays whose celebrations revolve around candy. These are all good things. But it’s the ramped-up, everything-is-a-craft situation that adds a layer of pressure that feels unnecessary. (Some parents aren’t lazy, or un-talented, like me. Some have strong religious convictions that dictate against even causal observance of holidays; others simply have no time, amidst the working of multiple jobs and trying to keep their heads above the water line, to get all crafty.) I’ve gone so far as to write impassioned emails to the teachers and administration at our school, pointing out the insidious trickle-to-tsunami of well-intentioned, all-in-good-fun overblown Spirit of the Season for just these reasons.

Still, during the rest of the year, my protests are, for the most part, perfunctory. I buy store-bought Valentine cards, and if the theme my kid wants to use has an option for including a pencil, then, I’ll go all out and buy the pencils. Under no circumstances do we craft our greetings. St. Patrick’s Day, when I was a kid, was all about wearing green—I don’t remember the pinching-if-you-don’t tradition, but I’m sure it was there. I don’t remember building a trap. When it came up, four years ago, the assignment was a required piece of curricula. Yes, I I felt a twinge of “why do we have to make a big thing about this?” but I, kind of, got behind it on the premise of encouraging creativity and engineering, in a way that captures the imagination of a second grader.

This year, however, when the Leprechaun Trap assignment came home labeled “OPTIONAL,” I swear to you, I almost danced a jig. You know, because I’m so Irish. It felt like a very tiny step toward progress.

Still, when I was on the first of what will be many Marie Kondo-inspired closet-cleaning binges, two weeks ago, I collected some found objects (almost-finished rolls of paper towels, never-used Velcro rollers for my hair, a shoe box) and offered them to Seth. “You want these for your Leprechaun trap?” He accepted them, but said he wasn’t sure what to do with them. I told him I was sure he’d figure it out. He’s an engineering-minded kid, after all. I tried to get myself to suggest we work on it a few times. Then, I tried to suggest that he work on it with one of our friends who was helping with the kids while we were out of town for a long weekend. I tried to remember to do it on Sunday night, the night before it was due, when we got back from the trip. But, of course, I was too tired and blissed-out from looking at scenery like this, all weekend.

View from a spa pool. Not a bad place to start the day.

View from a spa pool, Terranea Resort. Not a bad place to start the day.

Monday morning, I took a final swing: “Do you want to try to make a trap before school? We have time…” Seth demurred. He was okay, skipping it. And, for once, I was okay letting go of something “optional,” thinking of it as another in my line of quiet protests against the overdoing of holidays in general, and a good exercise in giving my Type-A, do-it-all nature, a small respite.

Then, this morning, Seth lingered in his room after getting dressed. This isn’t unusual, and, often as not, he’ll emerge from his messy den of creativity, having created a new Lego structure or art project. Today, he announced, “I built a Leprechaun Trap!” And, sure enough, he’d used the box as a base, and the towel tube as a tunnel/ramp for entry. The rollers were propped up on either side, inside the box, with paper towels sticking out like flames.

Would you turn down free gold? I think not.

Would you turn down free gold? I think not.

And, dear reader, different versions of me had different reactions.

The “Type-A” Me: Crap, you couldn’t have done this, YESTERDAY? What a bummer you won’t get to share this with your class!

The “Proud Mother” Me: My kid is SO creative.

The “Ashamed” Me: Why don’t I do enough to capture his creativity?

The “Don’t Be Silly” Me:  Duh, left to his own devices, he is plenty creative.

The “STEM Fan” Me: Look! My kid is an engineering GENIUS!

The “Facebook Addict” Me: I must post a picture.

The “Trying to DeClutter” Me: If I take a picture, we can recycle it.

Seth, said: “Don’t worry, I’ll just save it to use next year!”

Practical me will have to duke it out with Decluttering me, over that one.

So, what do you think of Leprechaun Traps? What’s your take on holidays in school? Are you gung-ho on all the crafting, or wishing all the craft stores would simply…fade away? Let me know in the comments!


  1. Vermont Mom · March 23, 2015

    Brava! Having just recently been through the Leprechaun trap/St. Paddy’s Day debacle myself, I applaud Bari Nan on her article and the sentiments expressed therein. While I enjoy art, and certainly can be quite “crafty” when the mood strikes, the modern-day uptick in schools’ enthusiasm towards holidays and overzealous craft-based expressions of said “holidays” seems to me to be cruel and unusual punishment to working parents. Ironic since the stay-at-home parent is less common now than ever.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jill · March 21, 2016

    My five year old built a trap at school. And I too didn’t care too much because it’s engineering creativity, etc. What does irk me is that we now have one more mythical creature to believe in and build a web of lies around. Santa, fairies, unicorns, and now leprechauns. My daughter woke up from a nap crying that she wanted to catch a leprechaun. Actual tears over her disappointment. Let’s just keep things simple teachers and get into the wonders in this world that actually exist. I can think of a lot more interesting things to study in the month of spring. But maybe I’m just cranky.


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