Thursday, December 6, 2012

in which we hereby abolish the separation of home and school act

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
September 2012

Preschool, circa 2005

It has been a long day and another shift awaits. Like many working-full-time-outside-the-home-mothers (or whatever the hell the proper P.C. terminology is), I am driving on autopilot to pick up my 4 year old twins from their specialized preschool program.

A typical afternoon. Outside my minivan windows, my routine only looks typical.

I'm stopped dead in traffic, not moving. I take this opportunity to reach down for my cell phone, make a call as my minivan is idle. (Let me make that part very clear; I've never been a fan of talking while driving.)

I don't need to identify myself when Miss Joan answers. Sometimes I get Miss Maggie. Either way, they know my voice immediately.

They know why I'm calling.

It is the same drill every day. Routine.

A system rigged and dependent upon the precise machinations of clockwork, timed by lights and the intricacies and fickle behavior of suburban Philadelphia traffic. A plot devised after a few IEP meetings, after more than a few tantrums, after many tears and wrestling matches while struggling to get my flailing, weeping boy into his car seat.

In my boy's mind that was working oh-so-hard to make sense of his crazy world, especially these tricky thing called transitions, there were two distinct places: school and home.

In my boy's mind, Mommy + School = Confusion.

Cue up the meltdowns, the tantrums, the tears. I am an intruder here.

So, then. Let's reach across the preschool aisles and work together to reach a bipartisan agreement. Let's pass a new law, The Separation of Home and School Act, in which:

a) Mommy hereby agrees to not step foot in the classroom at drop off or pick up time and in which
b) Mommy hereby calls Miss Joan or Miss Maggie when she is 10 or 15 minutes away from school and in which
c) Miss Joan or Miss Maggie hereby always graciously, always pleasantly notifies the teacher that Boo is to be ready and in which
d) Boo is hereby brought to the lobby, in coat and with all requisite school gear, smiling and greeting Mommy, who exhales at the fact that the system has actually worked for One. More. Day.

This feels torturous, I think. Quote-unquote normal parents don't do this crap, I think. Quote-unquote normal parents actually are able to GO INTO THEIR 4 YEAR OLD KID'S CLASSROOM. We will be doing this forever, I think. I can't see beyond the week, the month.

The days become mind-numbing. The days become numbers.

This continues for the entire time we're at this school, for 2 more years.

Dinnertime, December 4, 2012 

Me: "Both of you. I'm going to be volunteering in Mrs. M.'s class tomorrow afternoon, just so you know." 

Betty: "Cool."

Boo: "Wait, what did you say?"

Betty, rolling her eyes: "Oh. My. GOD. Do you ever LISTEN? Mom, Dad, this boy NEVER. LISTENS. Like, ever." 

Me:  "You know the two bookcases full of books that Mrs. M. has in her room? She sent an email saying that she needs help labeling the lexile numbers on them. So, I volunteered to help out. In the afternoon."

Boo: "What time?"

Me: "1:30, 2:00." 

Boo: "I'M in Mrs. M.'s class then. She said there were going to be three parents coming into the classroom to do that. YOU'RE one of the three parents?" 

Me: "Is that a problem?" 

Boo: "No. Just don't embarrass me, okay?"

Me: "Like how would I embarrass you?" 

Boo: "Don't wear anything crazy or mismatched. Don't mess up my hair. Don't call me [the name we call him at home, versus the name he goes by at school. You know, because home and school are two different worlds and all that.]. And God, for crapsakes, don't Do The Gunk."

("Do The Gunk" = when Mom checks ears for excess ear wax and other crap. Mom is admittedly sort of obsessed with Doing The Gunk. Because Mom doesn't like Gunky Kids.) 

Me: "Watch your language." 

Boo: "I'm serious." 

Me: "I'll try to remember all that." 
Yesterday, circa 2:05 p.m. 

I sign into the Middle School Office as a Parent Volunteer. The school secretary doesn't recognize me and checks if my drivers license is in "The System." I'm surprised it is there, but only because I'd picked the kids up early one day for a trip back to Philadelphia. 

I don't have a record of school parent volunteering. 

I walk upstairs to Boo's classroom, the empty hall feeling unfamiliar. It's almost unsettling, this being here for occasions other than Back to School Night or parent-teacher conferences. Mrs. M. is in the middle of explaining participles. "Adults don't usually go around underlining participles in their everyday life," she is saying. ("although it would be a good idea if more of them DID," I want to add.)  

I am a dangling participle as I stand awkwardly by the door before entering. 

Boo sits at a desk clustered with four other students, all bent over their work. I'll never get used to seeing this, I think.  

Mrs. M. sets me and two other parents up with instructions at a computer station. We work - looking up books and their corresponding lexile numbers - while the lesson goes on. Boo asks a question, raises his hand, WORKS IN A SMALL GROUP, does his work without incident. 

This continues for the entire hour and a half that I'm working at the classroom computer station. 

When the parents are finished, I'm the last parent to leave. Mrs. M. asks how The Husband is doing with his thyroid cancer treatments. (She has been my number one contact with the school, my "let me know if there are any issues in the classroom that surface from home that I need to clarify or address" go to person.) I update her on our next steps and his prognosis, and we talk briefly about both kids (she has Betty and Boo, only at separate times during the class day). 

I tell her how it seems like such a small little thing, but that I am still always amazed to see Boo sitting calmly at a desk. I stop myself, remembering the days of The Separation of Home and School Act. At the end, I thank Mrs. M. profusely, tell her to let me know if she needs any more help with the lexile numbering of the books. (Turns out, the students are going to work on part of this project, too.)

"I will," she says. "I know in 5th grade, it seems that aren't that many opportunities left for parents to volunteer in class and to see their kids in action in the classroom itself. It's almost like the days are numbered." 

The days are numbered. 

I nod. They are, I thought. And I've missed out on that, I realize, by not volunteering for the various class parties and whatnot. Part of that was work, part of that was being a conscientious objector, part of that was abiding by The Separation of Home and School Act, even after it had (unbeknownst to me) expired. 

Only the unrealistic June Cleaver part of me regrets that. Instead, I recognize it for what it was: had I forced myself to be the Class Mom, to be that uber-volunteer parent in a role that is truly utterly unnatural to me, it would have been a disaster. For both Boo and myself. 

So. This one day. More than many parents like me get. More than I ever thought I would have gotten, back in 2005 and two decades before

"I'm glad you were able to spend some time with us today," Mrs. M. said. 

The days are numbered. 

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Lisa Gradess Weinstein said...

Melissa - your Best. Post. Ever. Both heart wrenching and heart warming! Also, just to brighten your day a bit, there are lots of opportunities for classroom involvement in middle school Your days of being in the class are not over yet - it doesn't end until high school. Also, Boo's response of "Don't embarrass me was just so damn NORMAL for a child his age!" It's what my kid would have said! Congrats that Boo has come such a long way! xoxo Lisa

Meg said...

Great Post. So wonderful to see how far Boo (and all of you) have come. I miss those days of getting to see what goes on in the classroom.