How to Make a Paper Platypus

Or, should I say, “paper PLATE-ypus”? Because that’s what this is. (What? You don’t think it looks like a platypus? Of course it does. If you put this thing out in the wild, other platypuses would try to mate with it, it’s so lifelike.)

I’m not the most craft-y person in the world, but I am pretty good at coming up with ways to make things out of everyday household objects and basic craft supplies in a pinch, which is helpful when your children tell you they want to “make” something, be it a computer or a stethoscope, or, in this case, a strange Australian mammal.

What put this crazy idea into their little heads? Well, the other day after breakfast, while I was finally eating my breakfast, I let them watch an episode of Wonder Pets, which featured — you guessed it — a baby platypus in serious trouble.

When the show was over, instead of asking to watch another episode, as they frequently do, they told me they wanted to make platypuses. At first I thought: fantastic! See, this is why TV is not necessarily a bad thing. It can inspire art projects! And then I thought: crap. How are we going to make platypuses?

“We could draw platypuses,” I suggested, lamely. “Or we could make the different parts out of construction paper and you could glue them together.”

These ideas were not well received. Elsa said she wanted to make them out of paper plates. (We’d recently done a project with paper plates and tissue paper that I came up with during our endless weekend.) Very well.

First, we consulted that renowned zoologist, Google Image Search, to identify some good pictures of platypuses to serve as models. The girls were very focused on *which* of the pictured platypuses they wanted to make. “I want to make the one underwater,” Clio said. Elsa wanted to make the one “on the floor,” which, I didn’t have the heart to tell her, was actually a taxidermied platypus. To these requests, I said “fine, whatever,” knowing full well that whatever platypuses we made were going to look like, well, platypuses cut out of paper plates.

Anyway, here is the step-by-step process, as perfected in our home:

1. Color one paper plate brown with magic marker, on the shiny/waxed side, so that the magic marker doesn’t dry, and rubs off all over your child’s hands, forearms and face. (Elsa’s technique.) Alternately (Clio’s technique) use brown crayon, and then get upset because it’s not the *right* color brown, and it’s not dark enough. Get even more upset because you can’t color magic marker over the brown, because the crayon repels it.

2. Trace a lean, oval-shaped, platypus-y body out of the center of this paper plate for your child to cut out. When your child says it doesn’t look like a platypus body, say “what are you talking about? It looks exactly like a platypus body!” Add my line from above about platypuses in the wild attempting to mate with it if you’re feeling particularly exasperated / cranky and therefore prone to saying inappropriate things to your children.

3. Next, use a second paper plate to trace a head and bill — sort of the shape of the number eight, or an infinity symbol. The edge of the bill can extend to the rim of the plate, for a weird twist on nature: the spoon-billed platypus! (Note: If you have two children, the second one may, like Elsa, freak out at this point because they think you are doing something different with their platypus head than you did with your other child’s. Assure them you didn’t. Get the other platypus head for comparison. This won’t work. Have the child take a time out until they can calm down and come back and use nice words, because mommy is trying to help, and would they rather just make it themselves? Answer: “I don’t know how to make it!” Resist urge to say, “Well, clearly you do, because you’re trying to tell me how to make a fucking platypus.”)

4. Your children will want to glue this head/bill piece (once they are calm) to the body. Tell them this won’t work. Rather, gently tell them, “But if we glue it, you’ll have to wait to let it dry, and you can’t play with it until this afternoon, or even tomorrow.” Staple head to body. (Tape is also acceptable, but you probably won’t be able to find the tape, because your kids have been using it for all manner of “projects” and not putting it back where it belongs. It’s most likely under the couch.)

5. Using the remaining rim pieces of either plate, cut out wedge shapes that roughly approximate webbed feet. Whatever. They won’t know the difference. (In fact, the reason your second child freaks out yet again will be, again, for reasons you cannot fathom. “Not like that!!” she’ll scream. “Like what, then?” you’ll say. “Bigger!” she’ll say. So, you’ll make another set, bigger. “No!! Not like that!” Say, “Sweetie, I know it’s frustrating, but when you ask somebody for help with a project, it may not come out exactly the way you want. Are you sure you don’t want to do it yourself?” At this point, she is probably rolling around on the floor, crying and wailing something unintelligible. Tell her, OK, you’ll try to help her later, when she can try to be nice and use words. This will yield more passionate crying. Go get a cup of coffee.

5a.  While child #2 is writhing on floor, affix the feet to child #1’s platypus. (Not without chuckling to yourself about how, funny, usually it’s child #1 who freaks out during craft projects.) Again, insist that the feet should be stapled on instead of glued or taped to the body of the platypus. The stapler is the lazy crafter’s best friend.

6. Say “There you go! A platypus!” but immediately realize that something is missing. Your child will remind you what it is, in her patient, charming way. “No!!! He doesn’t have a TAIL, mommy!!” Shit. What does a platypus tail look like? Briefly consider going back to Dr. Google for the answer, but fuck it. It’s a sort of beaver-like tail, isn’t it?

Go back and get another couple of plates, and trace a wide, beaver-ish tail. You will be told that it is too fat. This is true. Re-trace it a little skinnier. Child #1 will begin to get upset and scratch frantically at the lines you just drew with her finger. “I don’t want lines on it!!!” Explain that those are the lines to cut around, and the outer lines — oh, never mind. Here. Take the scissors and do it yourself. Staple tail to body. Bada bing, bada boom. Platypus.

7. “But where are his eyes??” Make a couple of dots where the eyes would be if, that is, this platypus had been flattened under the wheels of a Land Rover (which is pretty much what it looks like). Also, make a curved line to delineate the bill from the rest of the head. To your amazement, your child will be happy with all of this, and get some crayons to color the eyes (“What color eyes does a platypus have?”).

8. Return to child #2, who has calmed down and says she’s ready to be nice. She will give you the feet you cut out — the first set — and you will say, under your breath, “Those are the ones I made in the first place,” as you staple them to the body.

9. Feel a surge of maternal love and crafty-ness as you recall that at some point, you swear, you bought a little bag of googly eyes at A.C. Moore. Go and dig them out of the jumble of craft supplies in the basement and tell your children, “Hey guys, I’ve got something really cool for your platypuses. Want to see?” Produce googly eyes, and place them on Platypuses to show what they’ll look like. There will be cheers and cries of  “You’re the BEST, mom!” In your mind.

10. Help your children put two small dots of glue where the eyes should be and affix googly eyes. These “dots” will end up being the size of half dollars. Affix eyes. Tell children they need to wait a little while for the glue to dry. Child #1 will wait, because she is good with delayed gratification. (High emotional intelligence). Child #2 will not, but she doesn’t really care about having googly eyes anyway. She is more interested in stuffing her gluey, one-eyed platypus into a basket along with her other “friends” — a stuffed horse (which she insists is a donkey), a stuffed dog named Penelope, and her blankie (which is actually a giraffe head with a sort of poncho for a body; something she’s had since she was a baby.)

That’s it!! How to make a platypus in ten easy steps. Best of all: when your children lose interest in them, 24-36 hours later, they’re completely recyclable! (Except for googly eyes, which should be salvaged to fall off of future craft projects.)

Tune in next time, for how to make a two-toed sloth out of masking tape and old egg cartons! Sure to be fun for all!

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