I read in the newspaper the other day that money, addiction and sex are the main causes for divorce. But I think the reporter overlooked what must be the biggest cause: Parent’s Night. There isn’t a couple I know who doesn’t break into hives or involuntary twitching at the mention of having to sit through two hours of assemblies and parent/teacher conferences. I have seen solid unions reduced to ruins after only an hour of enduring a fifth-grade teacher conference. They ought to consider adding something in the vows about committing to Parent’s Night.
My husband and I have been married for many years now and we have reached an understanding: If neither of us is unable to escape attending Parent’s Night, then the other must change their plans and also attend Parent’s Night. It’s simply too much to ask one partner to endure alone. Just another example of the great sacrifices required to maintain a healthy and long-lasting marriage. But it wasn’t always this way.
When my oldest son was in the third grade and my youngest son was in the first grade, I arrived home from work to find the yellow astro-bright flyer from the elementary school announcing “Don’t Miss Parent’s Night Next Tuesday Night.” Since my husband had been conveniently otherwise engaged for the last couple of Parent Night affairs, I decided that perhaps a different strategy was in order this time around. I slipped the notice into my purse and waited until Tuesday night.
When I arrived home from work Tuesday evening and found my hubby settled in front of the television, I asked, “Hi, Hon, do you have any plans tonight?”
“Nope. I am planning on parking my butt in this chair and watching the game.”
“Oh. Well sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but tonight is Parent’s Night. We have to be at the school in an hour.” You would have thought that I had announced I was pregnant by his reaction. Slowly shock turned into suspicion and his eyes narrowed.
“I don’t remember seeing a flyer come home for Parent’s Night…”
“Really? I’m sure it is around here somewhere. No matter. It’s tonight and I’m so glad you don’t have any plans so that we can go together!” I called out as I hurried from the room. My husband always refers to these types of incidents as Conniving Female Manipulation. I prefer to call it Effective Strategic Planning (ESP).
We gathered up the two boys and piled in the car, both my husband and me sulking grumpily. Since we had waited until the last possible minute to leave the house, we were forced to park six blocks from the school, which did little to improve our moods. Then bad went to worse when we entered the double doors and were greeted by the Principal. Did I mention that the Principal and I had had a little spat recently? It was nothing really: a simple questioning of the logic behind the creation of the school bus route. I still can’t believe she hung up the phone on me. I mean, I thought Principals were supposed to have a lot of patience and encourage debate? Anyhow, she must have been nursing a grudge because she led us to what had to be the worst seats in the house. I didn’t even know the fire codes allowed seating behind the boiler. My husband started to mumble something about Karma and what goes around comes around, but I cut him off reminding him, “Hey, I don’t want to hear a word about the Principal. Do I need remind you of a certain nurse to whom you gave a speeding ticket just two days before I went into labor?”
My husband glared. “You can’t use that excuse again. It’s not fair. You’ve reminded me a million times about that. Are you going to hold that against me forever? I mean, how could I have known she was going to be your nurse?”
He did have a point. And I did kind of overuse that guilt. But come on, the woman delayed my epidural! That is simply inhumane. I ought to at least get ten years free use of guilt on the pain factor alone, regardless of the absence of malicious intent on the part of my husband.
The one saving grace of our boiler seating was the convenience to the exit. When all the teachers for all six grades and all the administrators finished ‘sharing’ their excitement over the accomplishments of the third quarter, we were finally released to visit our students' classrooms. We burst from the room dragging our children behind us. Our first stop was Mrs. Laux’s third-grade classroom. Jeffrey is our oldest son, and at that point in his life, the best word I can come up with to describe him is: confident. Jeff led us into the classroom and seated us at his desk while he raced around the room gathering up various projects that he had completed. I picked up the “Student-Led Conference” overview sheet and noticed that the teacher had given the students two questions to answer. The first read: THINGS I AM GOOD AT. To which Jeff responded: Everything. The second read, “THINGS I NEED TO WORK ON:” to which Jeff responded: Being Humble. Chuckling, I showed it to my husband and then slipped that piece of paper in my handbag. (I plan to bring it out in the future at various milestones in my son’s life). Jeff stood proudly in his crisp Dockers and button-down shirt, and showed us his many perfect projects. I peeked a glace at some of the other parents and noticed that the rest of the kids were displaying a book that they created. I looked at Jeff’s stack of work; no book. “Hey Jeffrey,” I interrupted, “Where is your book?” I asked, pointing to the parents seated next to us who were oohing and ahhing over their daughter’s illustrations. Jeff looked pale. Our youngest son Patrick announced, “I’ll get it Jeffrey! I saw it on the wall.” and he raced over to un-clip it from a large bulletin board before Jeff could object. Patrick thrust at me a stack of construction paper bound with bright red yarn. I looked down at the carefully printed title: How My Mom Spreads Germs. By Jeff Waldron.”
I glared at my husband who was laughing so hard that he’d fallen off of his third-grade-sized chair. “Jeff, Honey,” I smiled through clenched teeth, “What is this?”
Jeff took a deep breath. “Mom, you know how you are always drinking out of the milk jug—“
“What? I do not!”
“Yes, you do. And you lick the spoon when you make cookies too,” Jeff said pointing at me. “And when I tell you that it spreads germs you lick the spoon even more!”
“But Jeff, we are family. It’s okay if we’re family. we all exchange germs every day,” I explained as I gazed at an unflattering illustration of me casting hundreds of green and purple tentacle-laden bugs in all directions, while little stick figures of Jeff run away in horror.
“Mom, germs make people sick. You cook for us. Mrs. Laux said that’s when it’s most important to be careful of germs; when you touch food.”
Great. So he’s been talking to the teacher about my household hygiene habits. What’s next? Is the gym teacher going to ask about my sex life?
Grumbling that it was getting late and we had better head to Patrick’s classroom, I hurried everyone out the door. As I followed them, I noticed my husband’s shoulders trembling as he tried desperately to keep from laughing. Bastard.
Patrick practically skipped to his class. Outside his classroom door was a huge sign that said, “PARENTS! Please read before entering our classroom.” Puzzled, my husband and I stepped up to the sign and read:
Our students are studying the life-cycle of salmon. Recently they made mobiles and they are hanging throughout the classroom. Despite what the mobiles may resemble, they are supposed to be salmon fry. We hope you enjoy our Parent’s Night. Thank you for coming.
Curious, my husband and I stepped into the classroom. We were surrounded by sperm. Or at least they looked exactly like sperm! No wonder Mrs. Babcock posted a warning note. She had probably learned her lesson from concerned inquiries following previous parent’s nights. Giant eggs and sperm filled the space above our heads as Patrick dragged us around his classroom.
Mrs. Babcock was a tiny woman in her fifties who smiled with her entire face. Even her eyebrows and bangs wiggled when she grinned. Flashing wide teeth, she raced up to us, “Oh Mr. and Mrs. Waldron, I am so glad you could come to Parent’s Night. Mr. Waldron we missed you at the last two Parents nights,” she chided. I grinned as Burke squirmed. “Could I have a moment in private?” She asked as she tugged me towards a corner. “I really need to talk with you.” Concerned, I followed her. “I’m having a small issue with Patrick,” she hissed through her smile.
“What kind of issue?”
“Well, as you can see we sit in small groups. The children each have their own desk and I’ve arranged them into groups of four. Patrick is a very busy boy. He has many interests. He will drag out a million different things and won’t put things away. When I ask him to finish one thing before he starts another project, he tells me that he is very good at multi-tasking and capable of doing many things at the same time.”
“Did he really say ‘multi-tasking?’” I asked, secretly suppressing parental pride.
“Yes, he did. And it’s becoming a real issue, just look at his desk.”
I turned to follow where she was pointing. In the center of the room was a desk all by itself that was so stuffed with paper that the top of the desk wouldn’t close and papers stuck out of all four sides. The hinges even looked sprung. My jaw dropped open.
“I told you, it’s a real problem,” Mrs. Babcock said wringing her hands. “I don’t know what else to do. I’ve kept him in at recess, I’ve taken away privileges. The other children are requesting not to sit near him because his papers fall onto their work areas. Can you try speaking with him?”
“Yes, of course. Both my husband and I will talk with him tonight. I’m so sorry, I had no idea,” I explained. “I’ll send him with two large garbage bags tomorrow.” How is it that the same parents, same genetics, and the same womb can produce such completely different results? One child was so neat that his bookcase was arranged by publisher and the other never wore matching socks. I wandered back over to my family in time to catch Patrick’s explanation of his drawing. A large bulletin board contained 23 drawings, each stapled and labeled with a typed title. It wasn’t hard to find my son’s. His was the one with liberal use of black crayon. Pat explained that the teacher had asked them to draw a picture of a fairy tale. Most of the children had drawn pictures of princesses and knights in armor. There were of course lots of castles and green pointy dragons. Pat’s masterpiece looked like giant flames surrounding a small black shriveled raisin. Patrick stood in front of his art smiling madly. My husband peered at the drawing and asked, “Pat, can you help us out a little and tell us what is happening in your drawing?”
“Daddy, it’s a knight! The dragon just burned him to a crisp.” Pat announced, beaming and waiting in anticipation of his ooh’s and ahh’s. Burke caught my eye and we both dissolved into hysterical laughter. Pat just grinned wider.
On the way home, we stopped at the store for extra-strength garbage bags and a travel pack of sanitary clothes and disinfectant for Patrick’s desk-cleaning project. As Burke and I settled into bed that night, we agreed that all future Parent’s Nights, band concerts, choir concerts and school talent shows were considered dual-parenting activities. We even created a rather complicated exchange-rate chart that we’ve maintained and perfected throughout our marriage. The chart allows single parent-attendance at some events provided the other parent attends an event of equal value solo. For example, a 7th-grade tuba concert is worth two ninth-grade debate tournaments. We’re thinking of applying for a patent for this system. We're sure Dr. Phil could save hundreds of marriages with our chart!
More from parenting