Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Party Politics

This is a treat any kid would be proud of. (From Parents Magazine)

This one, not so much.

 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.

I dropped my daughter off September 30th and made sure to find the snack sign up calendar for October, so I could scribble down my John Hancock in a tiny box since I had missed the opportunity to bring in snack in September. As of 9:00 a.m. that morning, the October calendar hadn’t been put up, so I figured I’d sign up for it when I came back at 1 p.m.

Imagine my surprise when (at 1 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 sign up for something. 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 says:
“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.”

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.


Tara said...

Crap, you just reminded me that I signed up to bring something for my second-grader's. Halloween party. Maybe I'll just donate a couple rolls of toilet paper. Those glittery cupcakes go right through a kid, yo.

Anonymous said...

I always end up bring in juice boxes....mediocracy at it's best!


Rachel said...

Tara, toilet paper doesn't have to be unsexy...just tie them together with some raffia, spray paint a paper plate orange, but a slit in it fold it over and staple it (to make a 3D beak) attach it to the toilet paper; then create a black and brown feather owl shaped body, attach that below the beak, add a coat hanger to the top of the toilet paper, and you have a really cute Halloween Owl representation for a class decoration that is also very practical for the diarrhea the children are bound to get from all the sugar.
But I probably don't need to tell you all that since we are so similar and you were probably thinking the same thing.

Rachel said...

Dawn, juice boxes! Another underappreciated party item. Although next time you could spruce it up by make homemade, hand squeezed tropical fruit punch (with mangoes and papayas shipped in from Chile), serve it in a black cauldron with some dry ice to make it foamy and scary, and that would elevate those standard juice boxes to something your child could be proud of. Just sayin. For next year maybe...

jennymc02375 said...

I laughed so much at this...

This Halloween I got the dream - I got those cupcakes!!! Mind you, I did have to hide out in the mudroom during the school day to get them!

Tara said...

Girl, you so get me.

Sandy said...

I'm the busy working mom. I like it when I get something easy to bring in like napkins. :-)

I don't think I've once heard my kids say anything about not bringing the cool item. If the other moms are thinking bad things about me, I guess I'm not too worried about it.

The thing my daughter really, really wants me to do is to volunteer with her class. That, I wish I could do. Maybe in a few years if I stop working. Maybe then I'll also bring in some cupcakes. Until then, napkins it will be.

Anonymous said...

You also could make the fabulous amazing cookies and pretend you THOUGHT you signed up for them. OH MY- I must have signed on the wrong line!!!!! OOPS! (guilty- I've done it when I'm even so slow that I didn't even make it for the napkins!)

Project M said...

Lol, the blank napkin made me laugh!