Mission Impossible

Illustration by Bob AulFourth grade, 1983. The night before our California missions were due, I "borrowed" my brother's nice wooden box. I painted the top red and the sides white and slopped black semicircles on to represent arches. Voila! The Santa Barbara Mission. My brother was pissed. When I got to school the next day, of course, my mission was in the negative-47th percentile of all missions made by all California schoolchildren in history. I had no stiff poster board with fake trees attached. I had no tiled roof. I sure as hell hadn't carved San Juan Capistrano out of sugar cubes, like Amy Reynolds' dad had. Goddamn Amy Reynolds. My mortification was boundless. And so when my son's California mission was due last week, I knew I would build it for him. I would not let him suffer the humiliation of being the only lame kid to actually make his mission himself. Hell, no. He deserves better than that. I got the stiff poster board. I got the fake trees. I got sheets of Styrofoam and measured and carved and pasted and painted. I deigned to let him make a fountain for the courtyard out of modeling clay. I spent hours, over two days, on that stupid thing. I am not a person who works with his hands. And when we got to school the next day, of course, my son's mission was the second-worst in the class. Had the rest of y'all hired contractors to make perfect San Fernandos and San Diego Alcalas? Damn, is that adobe in that San Miguel? So whose was the worst? That's the one kid who actually made his himself. He used popsicle sticks. And it looked like he worked his ass off, too. And here he's got his popsicle sticks—and they're tinted with old popsicle juice, not the fancy new ones you get at Michaels—and you've got adobe, and even my son's isn't as bad as that. How do you think that kid felt while you and I were ensuring our angels got A's?

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