“CA-rol! How ARE you?!”
“MAR-gie! I haven’t seen you in for-EV-er!”
Walking into my daughter’s new school on Parents’ Night, I might as well be the new kid myself. With all the squealing and hugging going on, it’s like watching sorority sisters at a 15-year reunion, except these women aren’t ZTAs. They’re PTOs.
Holding three enormous bags of classroom supplies, I weave my way through the clumps of women in search of the kindergarten wing. It takes a moment, but I finally find my daughter’s classroom, where moms and dads huddle on munchkin-sized chairs in the center of the room. I smile nervously and hunker down over an empty seat.
I guess I’m tardy, because the teacher already has started talking. She’s dimply and sincere, with an endearing lisp that reminds me of Drew Barrymore. I look up at her for a moment and then glance around at the books and lockers and ABC charts and finally, down at the bright rug where in two days, my daughter will sit with 18 other children.
And suddenly, without any warning, I feel tears spring to my eyes. On Parents’ Night. In front of all these grown-ups.
God help me.
For years, I’ve dreamed about this moment, only in my fantasies, I’m wearing a smug smile and seem right at home. You see, I’ve sat in these classrooms before. I’ve attended this school’s many festivals and eaten scores of lunches in its cafeteria.
But that was eight years ago, when I was a brand new stepmother. Back then, I could barely get the other moms to make eye contact with me, let alone smile. I might as well have had “Second Wife” embroidered on the butt of my Bebe jeans.
I wished desperately during those days that I could fit in with the mothers of my stepdaughters’ friends and classmates, and I couldn’t wait for the day when my own children came to this school and I was a bona fide, birth certificate-carrying mom.
Now, though, sitting here among parents who are far more friendly than the ones I encountered eight years ago, what they think of me no longer matters… I’m too busy fighting back an ugly cry.
Two days later, I return to the school building hand-in-hand with my 5-year-old for her first day of school. When we arrive, she runs ahead of me down the sidewalk, ponytails flying, never once looking back. But once we get to her classroom and find her seat, she grows silent.
“Mommy,” she solemnly whispers, “I’m not sure if I’m ready for school or not.”
I try to comfort her but my words ring hollow. I know exactly how she feels.
Half an hour later, I return home alone and let me just say that you don’t really need to know what happens when I walk into the kitchen and see Punky’s cereal bowl sitting at an empty table. I’d prefer it if we just end that scene with the lights dimming as “Sunrise, Sunset,” swells in the background.
A few hours later, I wash my face and arrive at school 20 minutes before the final bell rings, only to find that there are at least 75 cars ahead of me. Apparently, I’m not alone in my anxiety.
After waiting for 45 minutes, I finally collect my pink-cheeked daughter and strap her into her booster seat.
“How did it go?” I ask expectantly.
“It went great!” she says. “Kindergarten was fun, Mommy!”
“Oh good,” I say, relieved. “What did you do?”
“I made three friends,” she says, “and my favorite thing was when the teacher read the Gingerbread Man story. I really loved that story.”
“Terrific!” I say brightly. “Well, the good news is that tomorrow is Saturday and the next day is Sunday, so you don’t have to go back to kindergarten until Monday!”
In the rearview mirror, I watch as Punky frowns. “I don’t get to go to kindergarten tomorrow?” she asks.
“But I want to go to kindergarten tomorrow!” she pouts. “We’re going on the playground!”
“Well, you’ll just have to wait until Monday,” I tell her. Punky exhales loudly, crosses her arms, and looks out the window. I stare at her for a moment. In just three and a half hours at school, the child has aged 10 years.
I want my baby back.
But it’s too late for that, and I’ve got the bills from a brand new Standard School Attire wardrobe to prove it. Besides, this morning I joined the PTO. Soon, I’ll be squealing in the school halls right along with everyone else.
I’m a mom now. I might as well enjoy it.
Read more of Lindsay’s columns at www.suburbanturmoil.com