Beth is in possession of her wooden box again. I, however, am in possession of a new enemy. Ah well. I suppose it’s about time.
Last week I met Crystal’s mom, Jodee Addison. In the nursery school parking lot, we returned our respective offspring’s stolen Valentine gifts as if exchanging ransom and hostage — each of us with a different opinion of which item was hostage, of course. Ms. Addison, whom I was liking less and less each minute, was determined to have the last word.
“Crystal was heartbroken this morning when I told her she had to give the box back,” she said, holding tightly onto said box even as I tried to take it from her. “She wouldn’t get dressed or eat her breakfast, so I ran her a bubble bath to soothe her, but bless her heart, she was so upset about the box she threw all her American Girl dolls and their clothes in the bathtub.”
Jack has had a lucky escape from this girl, if you ask me. I’d just seen her going into school wearing a pink plastic tiara and a T-shirt with the word “Princess” on the front. While I object to calling small girls “princess” on the grounds they need no further encouragement in that department (“Princess” is merely a euphemism for “Spoiled Brat”) it was Crystal’s Coach handbag that bothered me. All the other children at nursery school have Angry Birds or Dora The Explorer backpacks, but no — Crystal has a Coach handbag. It might be a cast-off from her mother, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
And I’m meant to feel sympathetic because she can’t have one of my own daughter’s Christmas gifts?
“Perhaps she needs some help,” I suggested, firmly taking hold of Beth’s wooden box.
Jodee sighed and raked French-manicured nails through her ash-blonde extensions. Carefully, so as not to pull them loose. “She has anger issues.” (Trendy-Mom-speak for “Temper tantrums”.) “I hear there’s a really good paediatric therapist in town. Maybe I should contact her.”
I nodded, with what I hoped was a sincere expression on my face. “On the other hand, I hear Supernanny is doing a new series. Maybe you should contact her instead.”
It took a few seconds for the penny to drop, by which time I was safely locked in my car.
* * *
So, that was last week. This week, it’s time to set a new era in motion: tonight, I am going to the local elementary school for Kindergarten Registration Evening.
Kindergarten in American schools is what they used to call Reception Class when I was Jack’s age. It’s ABCs, 123s, fingerpainting, and nap-time. The children start when they’re five-going-on-six, and only do half a day for the first year, so the daily routine won’t be much different from how it is at the moment. Nevertheless, I feel quite emotional at the prospect. My baby is going to Big School.
I get ready with more care than usual, and even remember to put makeup on. When you’ve lived in Woodhaven long enough, you know not to turn up at public events in the first rags that come out of your closet, because all the other parents will be sizing you up and making decisions about whether, based on his mother’s appearance, your child will be a suitable playmate for their child.
It’s very stressful for a slob like me.
I find the school OK; I’ve driven past it numerous times in the last eighteen months on the way to the supermarket. This is the first time I’ve been inside the school gates, however, never mind inside the building itself, and although I’ve arrived in plenty of time before the official start of 6pm, there’s already a Mom-war going on for prime parking spaces. I find a space easily enough at the back of the car park, and stay there, watching the power struggle.
The parking lot is a heaving mass of SUVs. Small Subarus driven by mousy moms are being bullied by outsize Lincoln Navigators — everyone round here has a 4-wheel-drive car because of the Massachusetts winters — which in turn are looked down upon by Porsche Cayennes. “I’m a mother of three so I have to drive a big car, but at least it’s a Porsche” is what those cars say. Lincoln Navigators generally have bumper stickers advertising the local high school lacrosse team, and are driven by only-just-right-side-of-forty blondes with a cellphone permanently attached to one ear. Occasionally, a large pickup truck with plumbing advertising decals comes along, and all other cars stop and let it pass. You don’t argue with pickup trucks. They’re the T-rexes of Car World.
As I sit in my nondescript Ford, a monster black SUV pulls into a slot two rows in front, and, true to stereotype, a woman with blonde hair extensions gets out with a cellphone stapled to the side of her head. I idly gaze at her for a moment before realising who it is; then I swear loudly (eliciting a startled look from the man who is getting out of the car next to me), slink down behind the steering wheel, and hope Jodee Addison doesn’t notice me.
For some reason, it didn’t occur to me that other parents from Jack’s nursery school would be here tonight, but now I think about it, everyone from his current school and also from Patsy Traynor’s, where he went last year, will be registering for kindergarten this evening.
After a few minutes, I peep cautiously over the dashboard. It’s a couple of minutes before six, and the parking lot is magically empty except for a few parents power walking towards the school’s front door. I clamber out of the car and attempt to power walk too, but my high-heeled boots won’t go faster than a teetering hobble.
Inside the school, I follow the other straggling parents to the gymnasium, where all the seats are taken and the noise is intense. Front rows are occupied by the hair-extension types, Jodee Addison included, still yapping on their cellphones; middle rows are full of married couples, the men in their work suits, looking stiff and uncomfortable and trying to loosen their ties, here to show that they are caring fathers who take an interest but really longing to be at home with a Michelob and ESPN; and the back rows are occupied by mothers on their own with two or three small children in tow. The children are either crying, crumbling Goldfish crackers on the floor, or bobbing up and down on their seats to play peek-a-boo with the people behind them. I send up a silent “thank you” that Oliver was able to leave work early today, and I don’t have to join this throng of RMS Titanic third-class inmates.
And then, at the very back, in the “standing room only” section, are people like me who didn’t quite make it on time. We are doomed; classified already as parents who aren’t as serious as we should be about our children’s education.
A bearded man approaches the lectern at the other end of the gym and introduces himself as Dr. Felix Roth. He is the Principal of this establishment, he says, and has been an Educator for forty years now.
The woman standing next to me, a curly redhead about my age with heavy eye makeup and an armful of silver bangles, shuffles impatiently.
“We believe your children are the most precious resource we have,” Dr. Roth is saying. “They are all special. We truly believe that. We nurture that sense of being special, that self-esteem, that feeling of being important to the community, in every single child.”
He introduces the head of the PTA, and I’m not surprised to see that it’s Jodee Addison. She must have older kids here.
“Special and important,” she begins, as she adjusts the lectern’s microphone. “That’s how this school makes our kids feel. It’s how my kids feel.” Yes. I know this already. “Every morning, the teachers at this school do affirmations with our kids to make them believe the world is their oyster.”
The redhead snorts softly, and I glance sideways at her. She smiles apologetically and leans across to whisper.
“Last year, that PTA woman got it wrong. She said ‘lobster’ instead of ‘oyster’. The sad thing is, I think I was the only one who noticed.”
Jodee’s finished her little seafood speech, and plays a Powerpoint presentation of five-year-olds with gappy mouths and inky fingers doing various kindergarten activities. Then she cuts to a short video of them chorusing “We are all Special and Important.”
My neighbour covers her mouth with her hand, but not before a giggle escapes. I meet her eyes, and can’t help giggling too.
“Did you ever hear such a crock?” she says as a round of applause bursts from the more earnest parents. “And they wonder why kids today are such entitled narcissists.”
I like you, I think. Another voice of sanity in Woodhaven.
I hold out my hand. “Libby Patrick,” I say. “I couldn’t agree more with you.”
She takes my hand and shakes it.
“Willow Reeves,” she says, and smiles. “Thank God for a like-minded parent.”
So, although I might have made a new enemy this week, I think I made a new friend as well.
Hey. Win some, lose some.
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