The flyer came home from school on a Thursday. All of the flyers for various events, activities, calendars, and sign-ups arrive in the Thursday folder. I understand the school’s intent to streamline the amount of paper and flyers that get sent home, but the brimming Thursday folder pushes my stress meter right into the red zone. It’s not the sorting and organizing. I find great pleasure in going through the piles of pastel colored paper and dividing them into Keep and Recycle. Interested and Not Interested.
This is a task I can handle. What causes me stress is the overwhelming feeling of inadequacy that churns up in my stomach every Thursday as I retrieve my sons’ school folders from their backpacks. Looking at the piles of paper, I am reminded of just how much we take on as parents. And it leaves me wondering, What else can I possibly do?
My oldest son is in third grade, my youngest in second. After staying home with my boys when they were babies and carting them back and forth to half days of preschool, I am enjoying the elementary school schedule. They get on the bus in the morning. I have the day to myself. They get off the bus in the afternoon and my world revolves around them once more. But those hours in between are mine, all mine. They feel well-deserved, a reward for years of sitting on rugs and pretending to care about Legos. I don’t take kindly toward anything that threatens to shrink my hours.
The flyer that comes home on this particular Thursday is for The Reading Theater. From what I can decipher, the third grade has invited parents to come listen to the students read aloud. But I have a problem. I have a conflict with this event. It sounds like a ridiculous waste of time. Listen to other people’s children read aloud? This is like a thing? That I need to attend? I’ve never been more uninterested in an event. It requires an RSVP so I file it under Not Interested, but Requires Response. I promptly forget about it.
It turns out, The Reading Theater is a thing, a big thing. The teacher emails me directly about my RSVP. My son writes in his assignment book, Ask about The Reading Theater. He says, “They need to know how many chairs to put out.” I roll my eyes. “Are you sure they’re not making their Good Parent, Bad Parent list?” I mutter under my breath. But okay, sure, it’s about the chairs. I don’t want to go. It’s not that I have a big meeting or a deadline or a surgery scheduled. I just don’t want to go.
I ask my son, “Do you want me to come?”
He says, “I don’t care.”
“Are all the other parents going to be there?”
“I don’t know,” he replies not looking up from the iPad.
This is not helpful. If he said, “Mom, it’s a thing and all the parents are going to be there.” I would have sent my RSVP immediately. But he doesn’t. And so I don’t.
I don’t get the point. Reading is great. In our house, we love reading. We read every day. I know my son can read. He’s a great reader. Why do I need to witness this at 1:00pm on a Wednesday? Why do I need to see other kids read? Do we really need to take time out of our day to say “Oh! Hooray for you! You can read!”? But while I think The Reading Theater is a supreme waste of time, I also have extreme mom guilt about my lack of interest and excitement. I want to apologize to the teacher:
“I am so, so sorry. I’m your worst nightmare.”
It’s the day before the big event, and my son is stressed. I can see it in his shoulders, in the way he can’t seem to focus on his homework, and in how he keeps going after his brother. I ask him, “Is something bothering you?” He shrugs. “Is this about The Reading Theater?” (Yes, a full on projection of my mom guilt.) He shrugs. This is a typical conversation with him. I am not too alarmed by all this shrugging. “Okay,” I say, “When you’re ready to talk, I’m ready to listen.”
That night thirty minutes after he’s been tucked into bed, I hear him call out, “Moooooom?” I climb the stairs and step into his darkened room. I can barely see the outline of his face in the top bunk. “Yeah honey, what’s up?” Silence. Silence and darkness. “Come on hon, it’s late. What’s on your mind?”
“I don’t want you to be mad,” he said.
“I won’t be. I promise.”
“You know The Reading Theater?” he asked.
“Yep, it’s tomorrow. Are you nervous?”
“No.” Pause. “It’s just…my teacher needs to know how many chairs to put out.”
“Right. Okay, I’m on it. Now get some rest.”
The next morning in the rush of getting out the door and getting on the bus, we don’t talk about The Reading Theater. I send his teacher a quick email guaranteeing I’ll have a chair and move some things around in my day. When I get to the classroom, I look around the room and make matches in my head ticking off the parent/child sets. We’re all here. For The Freakin’ Reading Theater.
I glance around and see that parents have arrived early to stake out the front row and are adjusting their cameras and smart phones ready to capture this epic event. I slip into the back row and look over to where the kids have gathered on the rug. My son won’t make eye contact, but he sees me. I can tell from the crooked little smile he’s trying desperately to hide that he knows I am there.
I make the obligatory gesture to take out my phone as if I’m about to snap pictures, but I know I won’t. The theater begins, and the kids read in pairs. Each duo takes a turn reading aloud a fairy tale that’s been reworked to suppress all conflict and provide a different sort of happy ending. Little Red Riding Hood makes friends with the Big Bad Wolf.
In the back row, I can’t hear much. The stories are garbled and hard to follow. As they read aloud, I have to consciously make an effort to relax my jaw and the furrow in my brow. I try to remember to smile. I look around at the other parents who seem to be having a blast at the theater. I think, “There must be something, really, really wrong with me. I must be missing some critical piece of mom DNA, because this is not my thing at all.”
When the reading is over, the children make their way to their families so that we can gush over how great they did. My son comes over with a huge smile, and folds himself into my side for a hug. Third grade PDA. I’ll take it. He was proud, and I was there.
With his arms wrapped around my waist, I finally surrendered. I put away all of the logic about why and how. I reminded myself that even when it’s not your thing, it can still be a thing. And I braced myself for next year, when my younger son when be in third grade, and I would once again attend, and survive, The Reading Theater.
Writer’s note: I wrote this piece a year ago and it is now just finding it’s way to my blog. It just happens that today is the day of The Reading Theater for my younger son. For the record, I RSVP’d immediately.
#tenyearsaparent is a blog series about what I’ve learned in my first ten years as a parent. Whether you’re a parent nodding in agreement or shaking your head with disgust or a non-parent using these posts as birth control (the surgeon general wants me to tell you that reading blog posts about parenting is not an effective form of birth control), I’ll be spilling the beans on what parenting is really all about.
When Kaly doesn’t have her nose in a book, she wrangles and referees two elementary age boys and blogs about her humorous efforts to lead a mindful, connected life. She’s the author of Good Move: Strategy and Advice for Your Family’s Relocation a book about the craziness of moving with kids. Her writing has been featured on sites such as Mamalode, The Mid, In The Powder Room, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and Scary Mommy to name a few. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.