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.

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