16: Product Design

16: Product Design

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: For Mom, with Love

Product Design

Children require guidance and sympathy far more than instruction.

~Annie Sullivan

It seems like the day I started high school, every single teacher I had said that it was important to get good grades because then we’d have high GPAs, and then we’d be able to go to college. None of the teachers actually came right out and said it, but the unspoken message was that if you messed up even ONE SINGLE TIME, your entire life would be ruined. The pressure to look ahead to the future seemed to start the first day of high school.

I did okay in the first half of ninth grade. I took all the classes I was supposed to take and got mainly B’s with a few A’s tossed in. For electives, I had classes that I liked, a few I didn’t, and some I couldn’t wait to get through. But I passed them and that was all that mattered. I was always thinking about that stupid GPA and the fact that I had to keep at least a B average if I ever wanted to do something with my life other than collect aluminum cans from the side of the road.

Then came the second semester and an elective I took called Product Design. For some reason, I thought that this would be a class about designing things like labels or cereal box covers. I like to draw and I figured Product Design would be an easy A. How hard could it be to come up with a new design for a pop can?

It took about three seconds into the first hour of Product Design to figure out that I should have read the course description a whole lot more carefully. Product Design had nothing to do with logos or pop cans or cereal boxes. It was about using things like drills and lathes and welders. It was basically a metal shop class that I belonged in about as much as a candy bar belongs on the dashboard of a car on a ninety-degree day.

To make everything even worse, the teacher was one of those I’m-telling-you-this-for-your-own-good types. Only he wasn’t only just telling us things for our own good — he liked being nasty when he told us we stunk at welding or drilling or whatever he had us do.

Looking back, I should have dropped Product Design after the first week. But I didn’t. I kept waiting, thinking it would get better or I’d somehow miraculously get better at doing things I’d never done before. I also didn’t drop because of my GPA. I wanted to keep it high and I was sure I could at least score a B in Product Design.

That was the longest semester of my life. Every single project I did was a nightmare. And everything took me two times longer to do than it did for the rest of the class. From January to May, my grade hovered around a C, and that was only with staying after school four days out of five to work on whatever the latest project was.

The stress was getting to me. At night I dreamed about welding. I woke up positive that I was going to weld my fingers together or go blind from the flame on the arc welder. I felt like I was going to throw up every time I stepped into the Product Design room. All I wanted was for the year to end.

But I didn’t want to flunk. What would an F do to my GPA? I’d already decided that I wanted to go to college someday and I was pretty sure that I’d need a scholarship. So how could I get a scholarship if I got an F in Product Design?

And what about my parents? I’d never flunked anything before. They’d freak out if I brought home an F on my report card. I stopped having nightmares about welding because I stopped sleeping. All I could think about was why I didn’t drop that stupid class when I had the chance.

Finally, after I messed up the last assignment and knew that I’d never be able to pull my grade up above a D, I told my mom. I figured that it would be better for her to know what was coming instead of being blindsided when report cards arrived.

She listened, nodded her head, and shrugged her shoulders. “Don’t worry about it,” she said.

I stared at her. She must not have been listening as closely as I thought she was. “I’m getting a D or an F in Product Design,” I repeated.

“That happens,” she said. “It’s not the end of the world.”

“But I might not be able to get into college!”

Mom looked at me. “Who told you that?”

“Everyone tells me that. The teachers, the guidance counselor — they all say you have to get all A’s and B’s if you want to go to college.”

Mom hugged me. “Honey, you’re a freshman in high school. Why are you worrying about college now? I didn’t even think about college until I was a junior.”

“It’s different now.”

“Not in this house,” she told me. “You have plenty of time to get your GPA up. Tell me one thing: did you learn anything in Product Design?”

“Yeah. The teacher was a jerk.”

“Did you learn anything about welding and metal work and all that other stuff?”

“Yes,” I admitted. “But I suck at all of them.”

“The point is, you know more now than you did going in. Isn’t that what really counts?”

“I guess so.”

“Then don’t sweat it. And next year when you sign up for electives, you might want to know what you’re taking first.”

“Believe me, I will.”

Mom hugged me again. I felt better. Not great, but better. And the more I thought about it, the more I decided she was probably right. I had three more years to take classes and get decent grades. I wasn’t going to sweat it.

And I was definitely going to know what I was taking in every single class for the rest of my life.

~Hank Musolf

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