Back to School Night

Back-to-school is that special time when moms everywhere experience the extreme opposite of emotions all in one morning: Thank goodness the kids are back in school—I’m so sick of applying sunscreen to children as they run by! and Summer flew by too quickly! I miss my baby!

I’m pretty sure only moms understand the bipolar experience that the start of the school year brings. I know my husband is immune to any tugging of the heart strings that come from our daughter starting a new grade and he certainly can’t understand the utter joy that comes with knowing that after three long months of entertaining a six-year-old, I will finally have time to start doing laundry again.

After two days of wandering the house not knowing what to do with myself, I finally started getting back into my pre-summer routine. Then I made the mistake of checking my email. There it was—an email from my daughter’s teacher informing me of the dreaded “Back to School night.” No, no, no my inner spoiled child wants to scream. I did my time in school. I suffered the slings and arrows that ill-behaved children hurled at me. Why must I be dragged back for this yearly ritual? Why can’t I just get school information the old fashioned way—in random sound bites and fragment sentences from my daughter?

I quickly come to the realization that there is no escaping Back to School Night—it’s part of my contractually obligated duties as a parent, just like providing a vegetable with every meal and picking dirty socks off the bathroom floor.

The night of the information-filled extravaganza arrives and I walk into the school with a fake smile and a choreographed saunter. Every parent there crowds the seats in the back of the room so I strategically pick a seat in the front row thinking there may be some extra credit for my obvious bravery. I glance around the room and nod at a few parents, a gesture that clearly says, “Yeah, I’m that mom.”

I get comfortable and prepare to listen to everything I ever wanted to know about first grade but then I have a moment of panic—what if my short attention span kicks in? I have been known to lose concentration mid-sentence and start cleaning out a closet instead. No, I won’t let that happen to me tonight. I sit up straight in my chair. But now I’m sitting too straight and my boobs are sticking out. That can’t look good here a back to school night. I try slouching a little so that people will think I am relaxed and cool. No, that makes me look like I’m sitting on the toilet. I finally contort my body into a completely unnatural state that I think implies, “I’m totally listening to you,” when I realize the meeting started almost ten minutes ago.

Damn it.

I concentrate even harder but then I catch a glimpse of the woman sitting next to me. She is nodding her head at some important information I have missed. She keeps nodding. Wow, I think, she really is a good listener! I can’t take my eyes off of this incredible nodding woman. Wait, is she really listening or just nodding? I decide to time her. I glance at the clock on the wall and start. That woman nodded for six minutes solid. I have to get to the bottom of this.

“Excuse me,” I whisper. “Are you just nodding aimlessly?” Sitting in the front row has apparently given me a new boldness.

She gives me a quick smile and keeps nodding her head.

I don’t know if she was answering my question or if her head was set to automatic bobble mode, but I think she might be a genius. As for me, another fifteen minutes of the meeting have gone by and I still know nothing about the esoteric world of first grade.

Using every bit of concentration I have, I focus on the teacher speaking long enough to hear her begin a speech about misbehavior. Oh, please don’t let her be talking about me, I think. Fortunately, she is speaking about the children. That was a close one. As she talks about locking kids in closets, or whatever it is they do with ill-behaved children these days, I hear a bit of pandemonium break out in the back of the room (I have a six-year-old at home—I know what pandemonium sounds like).

It’s a group of children some parents have brought to the meeting and have let play in the back of the room, but the playing is clearly getting a little loud and out of hand. The teacher speaking about discipline glances to the back of the room, obviously fighting all of her tingling teacher senses beckoning her to the back of the room to dole out some punishments, but she gets ahold of herself, visibly grits her teeth, and soldiers on. I’m on the edge of my seat now because the irony of the situation is more than I can take. I search the room to see if the offending parents will go claim their hooligans, but no one moves. It’s like in yoga class when someone’s phone rings and everyone just smiles nervously like it’s not theirs. Not one parent budges and the meeting continues.

I heard something about lunch money and a quick dissertation on the evils of decorative pencils and then it was over. I felt a bit defeated knowing another school year would pass without me knowing all the secret handshakes or which papers had to be signed and which ones required just initials.

Next year, it’s my husband’s turn for back to school night.

Pets

There seems to be an unwritten rule in our house that all pet responsibilities are mine. Let’s take dog poop, for example. My husband and daughter see the dog poop, they step over the dog poop, but somehow they can never manage to pick up the dog poop.

It’s the same way with all of our pets. First, there is our Wonder Mutt, a 50lb German shepherd/sheltie/mutt/oh-my-gosh-what-is-it who is simultaneously the most lovable and the dumbest dog in the world. In short, I love her. Well, we all love her, I’m just the one who who gets the honor of cleaning up after her every time she throws up behind the chair. My husband and daughter love petting her and throwing the ball for her and taking her for walks, but that poor dog would certainly go hungry everyday if it weren’t for me. Of course, my husband did feed her once back in 2010 which he still brags about to this day.

The next group of pets are the kind with too many legs that my daughter adopts via our backyard. It all started with caterpillars; my daughter was so excited to see those caterpillars turn into butterflies. She even made me show the caterpillars a time-lapse video on Youtube just to make sure the little guys were ready for the big change. My daughter watched half of the video then went outside to play. I sat there for the rest of it, trying my best to reassure the caterpillars that it couldn’t possibly be that gross in real life and saying encouraging things like, “A cocoon is just like a little vacation; I’d make one myself if I could.” I fed those butterflies orange slices and sugar water in an eye dropper until they were ready to fly away. My husband and daughter watched as I let the butterflies go, it was very beautiful until the dog jumped up and ate one and another hit the windshield of a passing car. Funny, none of that was in the video.

Our insect pets have also included, but are not limited to: an old Tupperware container of roly-polies that my daughter shoved in a drawer and I found a month later, a few lady bugs that were literally played with to death, and a dead beetle of some sort that my daughter insisted was just sleeping (that one “ran away” when my daughter wasn’t looking shortly after his arrival in my kitchen. My daughter said, “See, I told you he was just sleeping!”).

Then we have fish; lots of fish. Usually goldfish or sometimes bettas—we stick with the ultra-flushable varieties. It’s always the same story with fish: my daughter insists she needs a fish and that she will take care of it, then it’s all on me. I actually like the fish but I have had some bad experiences with them. Once, I was poised over the toilet and ready to flush my daughter’s fish, Sally, when the darn thing started swimming again. I could have sworn it was dead. The next time it died, I waited an extra day just to make sure. It wasn’t moving this time and I’m almost positive it didn’t have a pulse, so I finally felt at ease about her burial.

There was also the time my daughter’s fish, Rhoda Flower Haas (she was very into formal names at the time) died and my daughter didn’t notice for close to four weeks. When she finally noticed, she insisted that she needed another fish. I drew a hard line. “No, if you don’t notice a pet has been dead for four weeks you lose all rights to obtain another a pet of that same species.” My hard line lasted for almost two months, then we got a new fish, simply named Clucky.

I don’t mind being the caretaker for all these creatures and I guess I can’t really blame my husband and daughter for their inability to feed and care for the pets since neither one of them has mastered obtaining food for themselves yet.

Little Mommy

As a mommy, I spend an inordinate amount of time saying things like, “Be careful!” “Slow down!” “Did you remember to floss?” and “They’re vegetables, nobody likes them but we eat them anyway because humankind’s future is inexplicably bound to our consumption of leafy greens!”

It’s simply the way of parenthood; we all end up saying things that sound eerily like the things our parents told us. I’m not even certain how I got to this point. I never sat around in my twenties telling my friends, “Gee, I really hope that one day I have to spend the better part of a day telling a five-year-old that no, her butt is not like a glue stick.” Yet I have had that very butt/glue stick conversation on more occasions than I care to recount.

And now this whole parenting thing has taken yet another bizarre turn as my daughter keeps having these moments of acting like she is my mother.

Like the other night, my husband and I were seeing who could hold a plank the longest. Apparently I started convulsing after about four seconds and then the painful groaning began. I avoided my normal pitfall of swearing profusely (mostly because I didn’t have the strength for profanity) but my daughter decided it was simply too much for me.

“Mommy, just stop; you’re going to get hurt. Mommy, this is enough!” she yelled at me while her brow furrowed with genuine worry.

I made it to thirty seconds then dropped (my husband was the clear winner, holding the plank all the while laughing at me). My daughter patted my back and said, “It’s okay Mommy.” Her gesture simultaneously melted my heart and bruised my already fragile ego.

She had another one of her mommy moments as we walked to the park together last week. There’s no sidewalk, so I was walking closest to the street with her on the inside; every time a car came down the street, my daughter would grab my hand a little tighter and pull me towards her saying, “Mommy, a car is coming, get over here with me!” Her eyes were filled with what I can only hope is the same concern she sees in mine when I pull her closer.

I guess it’s not bad having this little mommy look out for me. But if she ever tries to make me eat lima beans, I’m grounding her for a month.