Snarky in the Suburbs — Done right, the K-12 experience has plenty for parents to learn, too

05/13/2014 6:21 PM

05/13/2014 6:21 PM

In a few short days, I will be the mother of a high school graduate. This means that I have done a complete maternal tour of duty of the K through 12 experience.

Like any mother who has reached this milestone I have emotional and physical school project scars from posterboards, glue guns and dioramas. I still experience lingering episodes of homework-related rage and two words can trigger an episode of PTSD: field trip. I’m sure I’m not the only mom who has cried herself to sleep on more than one occasion because she knew in the morning she was chaperoning an all-day field trip that required three hours of travel time on a school bus.

Because I’m a giver I feel it is only right that I share some of the wisdom I have gleaned from this parenting journey. As always, feel free to take notes.

Tip 1: Volunteer early and often

Get your foot in the classroom door early. Sure, you don’t want to be THAT mom who lives at the school but you want to make sure you’re getting a peek into the inner workings of the classroom. Yes, you want to help the teacher and your kid thinks it’s awesome to have his mom at school. Who cares about that? (OK, you should sort of care about that.)

The real reason you want to be in that classroom is to do your own little FBI profile on each kid. Because here’s the deal: The girl who is mean in second grade is usually still mean in 11th grade. Argue this point with me all you want but I stand by this statement.

Tip 2: Force yourself to go on a field trip

Get a sitter for your little one that’s still at home, take the day off work — just make it happen. Because spending seven hours on the road with your kid’s class is like putting everyone’s personality under a microscope.

You find what cliques the kids separate into, who has severe motion sickness (don’t discount the value of this knowledge), whose parents pack them crappy lunches (trust me, every lunch tells a story) and if your kid’s teacher is a screamer. You really don’t know a teacher until you see him or her in a free-range environment.

Tip 3: Don’t bounce a $10 check to the PTO

Long story but it goes something like this: I changed banks and accidentally used the “discontinued” checkbook. This resulted in an extremely embarrassing phone call about my bounced check and the “service” fee the PTO was charging me (which was much more than the $10 check). For years, I felt like I was being financially tracked and monitored by the PTO. Seriously, you wouldn’t believe the side eyes I was getting.

Tip 4: Attend Field Day

Field Day is your opportunity to bear witness to all the parents who think they’re cool. This is when the aggressive sporty dads show up to turn a simple field day activity into the X Games elementary school edition and the moms who take 15 hours of “muscle confusion” classes a week display their charms.

Stand back and take notes. Any dad who is yelling at kindergartners to hit the beanbag target “harder” and to “really kill it” at the Frisbee toss should go on your “Do not want this dad ever as a coach” list. As for those hot moms, they go on another list and I’ll let you figure out what to call it.

Tip 5: Think long-term

Pick and choose your battles carefully. The squeaky wheel may get the grease but after a while the principal and school staff will stop hearing the squeak. If you have more than one kid you have to be extremely particular about your complaining quota. You really can’t go full crazy until your last child is in their last year at a school. And yes, in case you’re wondering, to date, I have had two full crazy episodes. Not that I’m bragging or anything.

Now, there are times when I think that I may not be following my own advice. I just found out the counselor that shepherded my son through four years of high school and would be doing the same for my daughter, a soon-to-be incoming freshman, is not just leaving the school but she’s transferring to another district. You don’t think she’s running away from me do you?

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