Tonight was the open house at Briar’s pre-school. I was excited, eager to prove my mettle a parent (Super-working mom able to manage small details). Sean didn’t feel quite the same way after watching me return crestfallen from the first “Parent Planning Session” a couple weeks ago. I shifted everything on my schedule, sprinted and generally lost my senses in order to be on time for the 9:10am meeting that promised to be “quick, easy and informative.” I anticipated at least 14 parents, maybe more, and the teacher. Had I been a bit less flustered I would have realized that the likelihood of the teacher attending was slim as she would be teaching, duh!
That meeting turned to be a sucker meeting that other parents knew to skip as it was a sort of, “Hi, we don’t really do the party, you do. So it’s really all up to you and if it feels like more than you* can do, you should feel fine asking other parents for help as you wait to pick your child up after school.”
*You, was actually five of us:
1 mom who works part time at the school
1 mom who had been through the routine before with her older son
1 mom who, based on the faces she made, will never attend another meeting
1 mom who so help me is the kid who raised her hand, switched hands, looked around desperately while shaking her raised hand and held it up with the other arm sighing and twisting from the exhaustion of knowing it all, but now she’s all grown up
Sean calmly suggested that if I felt that I had to go, to take Briar and he would stay with Ave. Being irrationally nervous, eager and resolved, I said I’d take Briar and Fin. He said great and got ready to go for a run. Briar began spinning in circles, feeding off my tension.
“Are we going to my school?
Are you going to come?
I have to pee.
You promise not to leave without me?
K. Mom? If I pee will you not leave without me?
Please don’t go outside the house to my school without me.
I am peeing.
Are you still here?
Are you leaving?
Will you wait?
Can I come?”
I waited and then we left. We arrived at the school at 6:23, the open house was due to start at 6:25.
We walked giddily into the school, Fin babbling and Briar chattering. I couldn’t wait to have her show me the different parts of her classroom, what she likes to do, what her favorite activities are. I was so grateful to be there, to be investing the time in letting Briar know how proud we are and how involved we want to be in her experience. We raced down the hallway and burst into the room.
There were no kids. None. And everyone was already sitting down. Moms and Dads, not the rag tag group of grandparents and moms that show up for drop off and pick up. I felt my knees start to buckle as I clasped Briar’s hand in mine, not wanting her to dash into the center of it all. Her teachers smiled at me, “Hi Briar. Hi Amanda, Fin.”
I nodded meekly and slunk to the floor pulling Briar with me with a gentle, “Shh.” We sat and the teachers continued talking.
How did everyone know not to bring their kids? The invitation said “open house,” not “parent teacher conference.” I concentrated on keeping the stinging flame of embarrassment from enveloping my face in an unmistakable shade of scarlet. I smiled weakly at the moms who kept looking over at us. I thought I’d say something about Sean working late, but I didn’t have Avery, so it wasn’t as if I could say I couldn’t find a sitter.
“Mom, can I sit on the stars? It’s where we sit when the teacher talks,” she was scooching forward, eager to be in compliance. I whispered for her to stay. “But mom, we gotta sit on the stars.” I shook my head, “No, honey, it’s different. This is a meeting.” She looked at me,”How come there are no kids here? Where are all the kids?” I began to sweat. “I’m not sure, honey, but I am so proud of you for being quiet. If you can just be quiet a little longer I’ll get you a treat at the store.”
Several of the parents looked over when Finley would coo or kick. I tried to smile despite the dryness of my mouth, the sensation of overwhelming insecurity took me back to standing in the hallway of Roosevelt Middle School in my long-coveted Guess jeans only to have a gaggle of girls question loudly why my pants looked the way they did. They were straight leg, clearance rack, too-long jeans in a time of ankle length, pegged jeans. I snapped out of my 6th grade flashback as I heard the teacher explaining that parents should be proud of the artwork coming home.
“If papers come home looking unfinished, it is because it’s a 4 year old hand doing the work, not a 4 year old hand covered by a teacher’s hand.”
It made sense to me, then she continued, “We are teaching them to use glue sticks and handle projects so that in kindergarten when they are given the whole project to do alone they can do it.”
Through the haze of feeling foolish I began to sit up straighter. I may not get this whole when to bring kids, when not to bring kids, when you need to show up and when you are kind of a chump for showing up, but I do get being a mom. The projects, the juggling, the guilt, it can sometimes threaten to overwhelm, but damn, I am doing some things right. Between the meetings and shopping, cleaning and folding, I am letting them use glue sticks, praising their art work, letting them stutter until they are able to get the right word, and allowing them to work out their differences and testing limits.
I have a long way to go on understanding play dates and some moms, but I have never felt more certain that the things I am doing are good. Right. After the open house Briar, Fin and I went to the store. It was a sweet trip and despite my earlier embarrassment, the memory I now have of that night is of conspiratorial whispering with Briar and wicked giggles at Hannaford, perhaps not “by the book,” but great for “our book.”