‘That time I helped out at The Child’s School.’
This past weekend the Northeast got socked by a big ole Northeaster. Maybe you heard about it. Heck, maybe you were even in it. Like any sensible person, I rode it out tucked up safe and dry indoors. (Though an alarming number of people who got nailed by this storm were also indoors — they got squooshed by big ole trees falling on their houses.)
I did my best to distract myself from the swooshing of sideways rain and the rattling of windows withstanding 55 mph gusts by engaging in some serious house cleaning. And then, as a reward, I started a very good novel. (Pachinko, if you’re interested. One of the NY Times Book Review’s Ten Best Books of 2018, and deservedly so.)
But it was hard to concentrate. Instead of losing myself in a story about Koreans in Privation in the Far East, my mind wandered to Kids in Private School on the Upper East Side. Specifically, it wandered to that time I handed out name tags. Maybe it was the pillow:
You may recall me mentioning that The Child once attended a Quite Distinguished Private All-Girls School. Up at the top of this piece you can see her (as a Sixth Grader, I think) in all her uniform-clad glory lurking somewhere in this school’s vicinity. If you’re a New Yorker Of A Certain Ilk you probably now have enough clues to guess Which School This Is.
Anyway. Distinguished it may have been, but this school still liked to rope the parents into ‘volunteering’. And, maybe things have changed, but back when The Child was a student there, ‘parents’ usually meant ‘moms’.
Oh, once in a while you’d see a dad sorting used uniforms or leading a school tour — and every parent, dad or mom, had to take his or her turn walking Safety Patrol. (This really got the Big Important Dads all riled up; they had to put on an orange vest and march around the surrounding streets after school just like every other parent. If you were paired with one of these guys, he usually insisted on carrying the walkie-talkie.)
But most of the time, the volunteering parents were moms like me. Meaning that they, too, were Working Moms. These moms were judges and ballerinas and computer scientists. They served on Boards and Ran Companies. Heck, one of the moms had been Ambassador to Japan. And they still ‘helped out at the school’.
So when one of these moms (it may have been the Editor at Conde Nast; my memory is a bit foggy) asked me to help out at Parent Night, I couldn’t refuse.
I told my boss that I had an ‘important engagement’ (a Lutheran Lie if there ever was one) and left work early so I could get to the school to help set up the check-in table. My Job, along with my fellow volunteers (all moms that night) was to check names off a list and make sure every attending Parent was properly labelled.
We made sure there were plenty of felt tip pens — and name tags — and waited for the Parents to trickle in.
After a dozen or so had checked in, it became apparent that there was a marked difference — even more marked than usual — between the Mom Parents and the Dad Parents. The Mom Parents grabbed a pen and a name tag, wrote their names, slapped the tag on their blouses or blazers or tees, and moved off smartly to admire the snake in Science Class or whatever.
The Dad Parents? Every third dad or so would pick up a name tag and ask “What do you want me to write on this?” (Now I must interject here that these were not the name tags that consist of a blank rectangle and a sticky back. These were the kind that actually say “Hello, my name is ____.” That’s right; with a big blank to fill in. With your name.)
After a half an hour or so of this kind of nonsense I’d had enough. This dad shuffled up in line, asked “What should I write on this?” (Or maybe it was “Should I write my name on this?”) Whatever, something in me snapped.
I looked at him, smiled sweetly, and said “Tonight we’re doing something different with the name tags. Instead of writing your name, we’d like you to write the name of the person you wished you were.”
The mom volunteer seated next to me actually kicked me under the table, though I did notice she was stifling a laugh. But that was the last time I got asked to help out with Name Tag Duty.
Or anything else.
New York City. March 2018