My son opted for grilled lamb chops for dinner the night before he started his senior year of high school. I set the table with anticipation for him and anxiety for me. My mind and heart are hopping, skipping and jumping through the next year and the finals; not the exams per se but the senior year milestones: the applications and acceptances or rejections from colleges, the final lacrosse season and the last lacrosse game, the bawdy weekends when his posse of friends descends upon my kitchen and refrigerator and, ultimately, graduation.
So it’s with a touch of envy that I watch the little ones as they hop, skip and jump on their way to the elementary school in our neighborhood. Those days of snapping photos to commemorate the first day of school – new shoes and backpacks – have long been sequestered in my memory.
It is with more than a little sadness that I see the moms and dads texting and talking on their phones as they accompany their charges to school. I want to scream at them at my highest pitch because they are so self-involved that they ought to be reported to child protective services. “Look up!" I want to say, "Look at your baby bird. Your chick will be in middle school and then high school and then fly from the nest faster than you can text a reply to a friend or schedule a tennis date.”
Hey elementary and middle school parents, I may not have done everything right, God knows, but I did cull a few tidbits of wisdom that may serve you well. Here are few standouts:
Don’t get caught eating a cookie on campus. You will risk someone from the nut club descending upon you and demanding what exactly is in that cookie. The one you purchased from the coffee shop. The one someone else baked. The one labeled Oatmeal Raisin. When you explain this to the nut monitor, she will look at you like you’re nutty in the crazy way and say, “Oatmeal, raisin and what else?” You will reply because you know this for sure because you have baked oatmeal raisin cookies (which, p.s., are better than the one from the coffee shop) hundreds of times, “Butter, sugar, and flour?” You will answer this question in the up-talk of those who are not so sure because, by now, you are blindsided by the inquisitor’s zeal and her disregard for personal space. She will look at you, quite likely with hands on hips, and direct you to “Throw the cookie away or exit campus.” You will most likely do both, the former with disgust, the latter with fear.
If your child is not reading at an 8th grade level in first grade, he shouldn’t be. Unless, of course, he is a prodigy and there aren’t many of those. We all want our kids to succeed but our children bloom most beautifully not from a singular focus but from exposure to diverse experiences academically and socially. Deep breath. Your kid will read. He’ll understand fractions. Hopefully, he’ll coat his hands with clay in a pottery class and perhaps even play the triangle in band. The point is, the three Rs (reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic) are a given. It’s the other stuff that expands minds and enriches hearts.
Don’t try and rig the system. Every summer, the list of classroom and teacher assignments was posted at our school (yes, physically posted on the door to the principal’s office) and every summer, parents called the school demanding changes. One mother didn’t like a teacher because she didn’t award her son A’s, another because her daughter wasn’t in the top reading group, and I love this one, “She doesn’t understand boys. She favors girls.” All this lore heard and then passed on while hands clasped lattes or through downward dogs on adjoining yoga mats. It's the 21st century version of the telephone game.
My good friend threw a fit on my behalf when my son was assigned a teacher in first grade. My friend maligned the teacher about this, that and the other thing, all hearsay by the way. I stopped. I contemplated. I figured it would be an interesting year. And it was, and Ms. Einen turned out to be one off my son’s best teachers. This all to say, trust your gut. Let your kid gut it out.
Lice happen. They’re the great equalizer. There’s nothing better than when a Patty Perfect is informed that her child has lice and even more deliciously diabolical, that the lice have hatched.
A trophy for every child is just plain nonsense. “Trying our best” to win the trophy is not the same as earning it. It’s harsh to face defeat but it’s a reality, and it’s a lesson our children should learn early. James Harrison, a linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, reacted with these words when his sons came home with participation trophies: “I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men because they tried their best, because sometimes your best isn’t good enough. That should drive you to want to do better.” Word.
And while we’re on the trophy subject, I will release the bee in my sports mom bonnet. Shut up on the sidelines! Your child is not D1 material at seven-years-old and it’s likely he never will be. So you played lacrosse (or any sport for that matter) at a D3? Good for you. It doesn’t give you permission to live vicariously through your kid and, more critically, put the pressure on him to 1. Play lacrosse and 2. Suffer for D1. Put away the camera. He doesn’t need a reel unless, of course, he is standout in high school and even that is a long shot. Maybe he just wants to have fun. Accept it and move on. You’ll have a happier kid. And isn’t that the point of sports parenting?
Now for a view from the trenches. My mother was a teacher. During dinner, we listened to stories from the front. I decided that teaching was not for me. A sister of mine embraced it. She teaches in a community much like the one in which I live. It’s wealthy and populated by parents who are educated and professionally successful, including the moms who no longer work (they are the majority) but somehow manage to sport a CEO mantle in car line even though they left the professional universe when they were low level account coordinators or legal assistants. Here’s what my sister has to say and you, parents, may want to heed her advice.
Don’t drop off lunch and special drinks every day, especially when they’re from Starbucks, Panera or Teavana. Send your kids in with a damn PBJ and juice box. They will be happier.
Lurking by the principal’s office to say “hi” to your children on their way to the cafeteria is just weird.
Please don’t email articles about education. Teachers live education every day. Most of them have been in the trenches for what seems like a million years. When June comes around, it feels like a trillion.
Don’t ask for the assignments that Suzy will miss on the two-week Disney cruise in the middle of January. Suzy opted out and, in deference to the other students who must slog it out, the teacher is opting out, too.
Why would parents take verbatim what a second grader tells them and then contact the teacher to “help” fix the social injustice? “Ashley made fun of me in front of Bella and Isabel, and now they hate me” or “The PE teacher put Tommy at the back of the line because dodge ball is not his strength.” As my mother told us, “Fight your own battles.”
One more suggestion from me to the parents whose children attend the elementary school in Kentfield: please don’t park in my driveway and linger on your phone after your kid has been dropped off for school. And to that guy who ignored me until I knocked on his window and then told me we needed a gate, F--- you.
When I grilled the lamb chops for my son on the evening before his first day of senior year, I made this rub to gussy them up a bit. Redolent with oregano and garlic with a lemon kick, it’s a flavor spark that works not only for lamb but for pork, chicken, and vegetables, too.