This is a true story from my childhood as best I can remember it. Names have been changed to protect the innocent and shroud me from the responsibility of fact-checking.
One day in second grade, our teacher Mrs. Parker announced that our next project would be on the North Pole. She then blew our minds by saying, “…and we will use milk jugs to build an igloo as big as this room!”
We couldn’t have been more jacked up. Our classroom was going to be transformed into an Igloo Palace of recyclable materials, and our very own second grade teacher inexplicably had the structural engineering knowledge to do so.
A construction project of this magnitude required preparation. For weeks we brought in used, plastic gallon milk jugs. We collected them from around town and our own households. We encouraged family members to drink more milk…knowing that with each lactose intolerant fart, we were one step closer to a Frozen Chateau.
Three weeks later, construction began on our Ice Dream House, and everyone had a job. Mrs. Parker was the welder because she was the only adult certified to operate the hot glue gun. Some students were material runners, others minded the inventory, and a few of us stood in the hallway and catcalled the first graders because, after all…we were construction workers.
We started by building the foundation which stretched across the entire room. The plastic jugs snaked through our desks as if designed by a sophisticated Danish architect. We diligently continued each day, breaking only briefly to learn about erroneous subjects like math and reading. As we glued, Mrs. Parker told us facts about the North Pole like, “Did you know the Eskimos have 50 different words for snow?” and, “There are no penguins in the North Pole.” Important facts. Facts a kid had to know to be able to build a House of Ice.
Three days later Mrs. Parker glued the waist-level milk jugs into place. Well, waist-level for her, chest-level for us. We squatted and looked over the edge of the three-foot wall, giving each other a side-eye of excitement because we knew how close we were to an enclosure…one that you could actually crawl through!!! Ninety percent of glorious childhood accomplishments involve shoddy construction of something that you then dangerously crawl under, and our Igloo Castle was no exception.
The next day, Friday, we came to school with more than just TGIF Fever. We continued our work right away with completion looming in the air like a mist. Around 1:30 p.m. the moment came: Gluing of the keystone milk jug to complete the first arch. Mrs. Parker slathered up the jug with hot glue…this time on BOTH sides…and mushed it into place. TA DA!!! WE HAD AN ARCH!!! We squealed with excitement as our vision stood cubically in front of us…fragile and delicate, yet the most tangible accomplishment of our seven-year-old lives.
We continued to bring Mrs. Parker more milk jugs, careful not to bump the still-frail structure. An hour later we had done it; the arch was now a tunnel six milk jugs wide and sturdy enough to stand on its own. “Ok, yes!” Mrs. Parker laughed, “You can crawl under it! One at a time!” We crawled, slithered and crab-walked through the first completed portion of our Ice Mansion…chests bursting with pride at what’s possible when you steal trash from strangers.
The end of the day came all too soon. Leaving our Ice Crib felt like leaving half a popsicle in the hot sun…there was so much more fun to be had. We reluctantly blew it kisses and left the room, eager to go home and brag to our parents…threatening them that if they didn’t start letting us do what we wanted, we were leaving and moving into our Ice Villa!
The start of the next week was and still is the only week in my life where I didn’t have a “Case of the Mondays.” I gathered in the lobby of the school with the rest of my classmates, loudly boasting so the nearby third graders could hear. We poked and joked with each other, peacocking because Ice Manor made us the raddest kids in elementary. “Good morning class, follow me!” Mrs. Parker said in sing-song, and we buzzed down the hallway to our fab Ice Pad.
When we got to our room, Mrs. Parker opened the door and turned on the light. The photons revealed the greatest engineering disaster since the Tacomas Narrows Bridge.
The Ice Castle had fallen.
We walked among the rubble in silence, the only noise a brief,”Bomp,” when someone accidentally kicked a jug. Mrs. Parker started, “Now class, I’m sure you’re all disappointed, but…”
“We’ll rebuild it, right?” one of us pleaded.
“I’m sorry, class, but we have to move on in our lessons. There’s not enough time to rebuild it,” she said gently, knowing that her words pierced our hearts like a pitchfork. “You can play with it today, but then we have to clean it up.”
We bravely accepted our fate, and spent the rest of the morning holding up the fallen milk jugs to give each person one more chance to crawl underneath. Each person held up two milk jugs, making the crawl through the tunnel a glorious 13 seconds…the only time any of us actually got to live in our Ice Palace.
After lunch, we slowly carried the jugs to the recycling bin…the place where we got some of them in the first place.
The four-eyed nerd that I was learned an important lesson that day: When something falls apart, move on. It was probably just trash anyway.