One of the things I’m constantly being reminded of is that reading the calendars that get sent home from school is important. It’s not that I don’t instinctually know this being a former teacher and all, but life tends to get away from me on an hourly basis which means my children show up to school without the red shirt on, the much needed paper sack, or the five items that begin with the letter “W” in a plastic zip lock.
Now that my youngest is in preschool, I’m having to re-learn all the rules—spoken, unspoken, and whispered in hushed tones—and quite honestly I’m a little annoyed at my learning curve because I was under the impression that navigating preschool would be akin to the old adage about riding a bike or smoking; you never forget how to do it. In reality, it’s more akin to breastfeeding. No matter how many times you’ve done it, you wonder why the hell it’s so painful and difficult each and every moment.
Since I had missed the opportunity to bring in snack in September, I made sure to find the snack sign up calendar for October so I could scribble down my John Hancock in a tiny box. As of 9:00 a.m. that morning, the October calendar wasn’t up, so I figured I’d sign up for it when I came back at 1:00 p.m.
Imagine my surprise when—at 1:00 p.m.—I noticed that not only had the October calendar been tacked to the wall, but that every single snack slot for the month was already taken. How had I missed this? Were the good parents lined up behind the trees and bushes outside ready to steal the slots from me the moment I left? No, logically most children leave at 11:30 and those lucky parents happened to sign up for October. The very nice and gracious teachers told me they’d hang up the Halloween party calendar after 11:30 pick up, so I’d have a chance to bring in a treat. I’m a good mom, really I am, they reassured me. They wiped my nose and sent me on my way with a little pat, pat, pat on the back.
It’s not that I’m pouting. I just understand how these things go. I know because I was a teacher when I didn’t have kids and now I’m a parent who doesn’t teach, and I’ve heard first hand the implications of parents who don’t bring in snack. Or a cool item for a class party. You’re labeled:
- a busy working mom who doesn’t have time for her kids, or
- a lazy stay-at-home mom who doesn’t have time for her kids, or
- cheap, or
- a user
Trust me. It’s not spoken. It’s one of those quiet things you just feel. I was walking with my friend the other morning who was also commiserating with me on party politics. She said:
“And since I was out of town, I told my husband, ‘Husband, make sure you sign us up to bring something for the Halloween party.’ And so when I got home I asked him, ‘What did you sign us up to bring?’ And do you know what he says? He says, ‘Napkins.’ Napkins! ‘You signed us up to bring NAPKINS?’ I asked him. ‘You don’t sign us up to bring napkins! Napkins aren’t fun! When you sign us up, you sign us up for something good, like cupcakes. Or cookies. You do not sign us up to bring napkins.’ So now I’ve been online and looking in the stores for the best damned napkins I can find.”
I feel my friend’s pain. Napkins just aren’t sexy, along with the other drab party necessities like paper plates, cups, and plastic utensils. The only thing that would make bringing in napkins cool, is if she hand cut 8” squares out of harvest colored flannel and monogrammed each child’s initial in the corner, which would then make it suitable for a party favor as well. That would be something every 3 to 5 year-old could brag about.
Moms want to bring in something their child can be proud of, show off and boast about, like cupcakes with glittery frosting, or cookies with gummy lifesaver eyeballs, or little bags of candy tied with curly orange ribbon. We want to try out all those food crafting projects we see in Family Fun and Martha Stewart because really good moms make chocolate pudding cemeteries with oreo earth and their children love them forever. Those items speak volumes about how much your love your child, care about their preschool psyche, how dedicated you are to domestic service and hence, what a wonderful woman you must be.
Truth be told, perhaps that extra effort of making colorful cupcakes is a silent offering to our children, a way to make up for the million ways we slight them, yell at them, ignore them, or look past them while we worry about schedules and bills and homework and housecleaning and laundry. If we’re lucky maybe our children will remember the hours we spent decorating 50 sugar cookies with candy corn and black licorice and not the 15 minutes before bed when we refused to read a story because we were so completely exhausted the very thought of reading Good Night Moon brought on a migraine. I mean, any idiot with five bucks in their pocket can bring in napkins and plates. Bringing in party ware must mean you aren’t sorry for anything, right? That your kids should be happy with the mediocre parent you turned out to be?
Regardless of the emotional baggage and implied meaning us parents bring to the party table, kids only see the glittery. The colorful. The sugar coated. And trust me, when the little kids are out on the playground having a pissing contest over what they brought in, you do NOT want to imagine your child, hands shoved in pockets, eyes cast downward while the cupcake kids taunt:
“Suzie’s mom brought napkins. My mom brought in the cupcakes that say, ‘Trick or’ Treat!’ when you take a bite.”
Because isn’t that our worst fear? Having our kids be embarrassed of us the way we were embarrassed of our parents? Don’t the embellishments and colorful gift bags make us cool?
Well, the good news is that I got to the sign up sheet before the 11:30 pick up parents, but the bad news is that mini cupcakes and all the food items were already taken. My choice? Non-edible treat. Fine. I signed my name. Perhaps I’ll buy each child their own Barbie house or Star Wars leggo set. I can do something cool with a non-edible treat.
What did they end up with? Well, a little cello bag with a friendly ghost on it, filled with a mini play dough, bouncy ball, and spider ring. I filled a shoebox with the little packages of delight, and they are ready and waiting for the infamous party day.
I know. I sold out. I over did the “non-edible treat” and bought into the politics of the holiday. The good news is that I closed the baggies with the enclosed twist ties and did not use any sort of curling ribbon to make them cuter. I thought about it, but refrained. I mean, I’m sorry at times…
But not that sorry.
It’s a mediocre thing.
Okay, what about you? Do you feel the pressure of party politics at your kid’s school? Is it more internal or external and what did you do to overcome it? Or have you?
Rachel Vidoni is a professional writer and blogger and former classroom teacher. She is a mediocre mother to three pretty neat kids. You can follow her humor and family blog at www.eastcoastmusings.blogspot.com. You might not be a better parent after reading her blog, but you will feel like one.