22 September 2011

Back to School Night

I loathe back to school night. Loathe it. Last year, my loathing caught me by surprise; I was quite excited by seeing the classroom and going to the book fair and being courted by the PTA. Seriously! I was! But then I went and it was mayhem. No place to sit for dinner; crowds and lines and stuffy libraries; crazy activities; utter and complete chaos. I do not say this to fault anyone involved in organizing the event as that was all done well. This was the usual chaos of an elementary school, and it's the kind of thing that makes me totally nuts.

This year, I felt like I went in with the right attitude, but I was still snarly by just after dinner. Really snarly. Like, I'm-the-mom-who-yells-in-public kind of snarly. Maddie got separated from me and Riley on our way to the book fair, which made her sob (who can blame her?), but she found an adult who helped her find me and what do I do? Neglect to thank the adult and lay into Maddie about how she needs to stay with me.

Really. I did that.

Then, as we crossed the playground to the kids' classroom, Riley turned sharply and without warning directly in front of me, causing the both of us to flail our arms, teeter unsteadily, and regain footing (me) or do a face-plant (Riley). Here's what I said, in this order:

"Riley! Don't walk in front of me like that! It's crazymaking!"
"Are your new books OK?"
"Wait, are you OK?"

Once at their classroom, I was irritated by the relatively small number of conference appointments available at hours that work for working families, then realized that we're out of town the week of conferences anyway. Got that worked out with the teacher, who was very accommodating. But don't even get me started on how generally working-parent unfriendly public school is. Wow. I mean, I know there are lots of issues to fix in the U.S. educational system and this is not a top priority, but it is a problem.

After my rant regarding conferences, I managed to calm down. The chaos in the classroom was at a manageable level, and I enjoyed being shown around the room by Maddie and Riley and meeting the other parents. We had fun reading the new book club books before bed, and it all turned around. But there were some moments there when I was about to lose my mind.

I'm rarely bothered by being a single parent anymore. Oh, sure, for a bunch of reasons, I'd like to have a partner. But it used to be extremely hard for me to attend events where two-parent households were the clear majority. That's much easier for me now. But somehow, tonight, with two kids talking nonstop and parents talking to me, too, and only one me to take it all in, I felt overwhelmed. It doesn't help that work has been utter insanity. Sigh.

But my best friend will be here soon and we shall have mojitos and debrief, and a big event that has been consuming much of my time and energy at work will take place tomorrow night and then it's OVER and work can go back to normal levels of crazy, and we have fun stuff planned for the weekend.

It feels so wrong to feel so bad about back to school night. I've got lots of years for it to get better, I guess. I hope.

27 comments:

Gina said...

My kids are in preschool but I rather loathe back to school night - our school insists on us all wearing name tags and playing lame ice-breaker games. Not my idea of a good time.

Enjoy your mojitos!

Crash Course Widow said...

I hated all those school/family-oriented events for so many years--and that was only preschool!! As a single-mama widow, yes, it was hard, annoying, upsetting, etc., seeing the supposed "complete" families. But I, too, found public elementary school easier for the family stuff: the chaos of the event and the more-common scattered family arrangements made me feel less conspicuous.

But don't even get me started on how much I loathe evening school events. Maybe Anna's school is really awful about them--or maybe it's just a chaos endemic to any elementary school--but they drive me absolutely ape-$*@# bonkers!! The chaos, the noise, the kids running amok, the utter lack of respect and silence as teachers/principal/presenter talks...ugh. Have hated everything about them so far...all 2 or 3 of them. ;o)

Fortunately (?) for us, Back to School Night is actually right before school starts, as the opportunity to meet the teacher, find the classroom, pay for school supplies, sign up for various things (like conferences...though I forgot to do that in August...oops), etc. They didn't even try to do anything with everyone this year, thank god, so it was just the classroom and teacher. MUCH preferable to the onslaught from last year.

Only 12 more years to go...right? ;o)

Hugs,
Candice

Lee Ann said...

Okay, deep breath. Your reaction seems a little out of proportion, and a little self fulfilling. If you go into something expecting to loathe it and be driven crazy, it's no real surprise when that's what happens.

Sorry it was bad for you!

Pam said...

I have to agree about working parent unfriendly schools. Sigh... My DS is also in Kindy and the parent/teacher conferences are during my work hours. While I do have a husband, most school stuff, wait all school stuff falls to me. I am annoyed that in 2011, it's still assumed the Mom stays home. Perfect example, Doughnuts with Dad was at 7 AM. Muffins with Mom, 10 AM. I work well over an hour from home and this just ticks me off.

Nik said...

Back to School night bites. I didn't like it as a kid and I don't like it now. It's infantalizing to just about everyone and is geared toward precious in a way I can't stand. I'm happy my daughter changed to a school that was a little less gleeful. But I don't like soccer either.

Snickollet said...

@Pam:

The Doughnuts with Dad/Muffins with Mom thing is a perfect example of thus underlying assumption that a parent (most likely the mom) is home with the kids.

I don't want to come down hard on M&R's school. The staff and PTA work very hard for the benefit of students and their families. While the doughnuts/muffins situation is a perfect example of the problem, this issue runs much, much deeper.

-snick

Nik said...

Oh. And since I'm an alum of where you work, I went to look up what big event was this week. Good luck with that! 100 years will be over soon.

CV said...

I also find the mayhem crazy-making. And you know what?? This year I just skipped back to school night! It was awesome.

Last year I felt a lot of pressure to do every school event. Maybe it's the single-mom thing where I feel I need to prove to everyone around my kid that I can do.it.all. But this year (and our event is parents only anyway, so I wasn't letting N down by not going) I just told the other parents I'd happily watch their kids for a few hours while they attended the event. We had a quadruple playdate, it was a blast for all involved, and the other parents got to hear the boring spiel from the PTA. win-win-win-win-win-win-win (okay, I can't do the right number of wins here.. but you get the idea!) Miss you!

sallymander said...

Maybe, instead of being upset with the school or the teacher about not having after-hours conference appointments, we should be a bit more upset with our employers for not allowing appropriate comp time to attend conferences during business hours. After all, we manage to go to doctors appointments, dentist appointments, vote, etc., all during business hours without being outraged that they don't work until 8pm. Why should we expect teachers to sacrifice additional hours to accommodate parents' schedules?

My mother is a teacher who puts in an additional 10-20 hours per week beyond her contract hours. Her contract hours only allow her a 30 minute planning period every day. Don't get me wrong, it's a fantastic district that treats their teachers well, but seriously. I think she spends enough of her "off" time in school already.

Snickollet said...

@Sallymander:

This is what I meant when I cryptically said in my earlier comment that this issue runs much, much deeper. There's an entire societal shift that needs to take place in order to accommodate people's work and family lives--the burden shouldn't rest just on schools or just on employers, and no one family situation should be privileged over another. It's really complicated.

Many of us schedule the types of appointments you describe outside "normal" working hours because we feel compelled to. Or, as I'm sure teachers do, too, we take vacation time if we're lucky enough to have it to take.

It's not easy for anyone, and it seems like there should be a way to make it easier. But whatever that way is, it's not going to be simple. My intent was not in any way to blame teachers, but to point out that our school system (and many of our working structures) were designed for a different time and assumed family situation that are just no longer the norm.

-snick

Anonymous said...

Back to School night is chaos at my daughters' elementary school as well. I understand what you are saying and would have had all the same reactions you did (conferences, Riley falling, etc). thankfully BTS nights don't set the tone for the entire school year. :-)

Anonymous said...

We skipped it this year. I figure I saw her room already the day before school started and her teacher keeps us informed via email so why go back with all the other anxious parents? Besides, my BTS (I am a teacher) is this Saturday and my school doe 15 minute periods for the parents -live the shortened life of your child sort of thing so I wasn't willing to do two BTS days.

Anonymous said...

My husband never did these things with me. He just didn't have the patience and I did have the patience for him not having the patience! LOl! Now as we sit here in our quiet little home with the kids off to college, I kinda...nah, I'm not going to lie! I don't miss it!! It is all over too quickly though....

Anonymous said...

Just chiming in about the school is designed for families with one parent who stays home — in our school, the parent-teacher conferences aren't the problem, it's the booster club and parent meetings, and constant exhortations to volunteer in the classroom. I'd probably volunteer more if it didn't feel like a clique of SAHMs.

I am really trying hard not to say something snippy about it.

renewalbykelly said...

You all are making me very thankful for our district. PTA meetings are at 7pm and PT Conferences were from 4-7pm on two different days. The teachers have a comp day off following for part of fall break. There are lots of opportunities to volunteer that do not include being there during school hours. Our Kindy teacher just sent home a packet of items that needed cut out and sorted into zip lock bags for an art project.

Maybe there are some suggestions to take back to your school?

Sandi said...

At my kids' school they specifically tell us NOT to bring our children. It's for the adults only.

Kristy said...

I'm a teacher (and a lurker on blogs...) and I hate back to school nights. I hate them as a teacher and as a parent, for all the reasons you state. But a word about parent conferences--I am a working parent (see above re: teacher), so I get it. But for teachers, conferences are a LONG and INTENSE day, repeated for an entire week. I allot one evening for conferences and on that day alone, I am at work for 14 hours. I, too, have kids at home to care for and I have to find childcare for them in order to be able to do that one night a week, and I am often stood up. I get frustrated by school hours, too. But then I remember all those people at the school are working, too, and they have families, too, and hence the hours. That said, it's hard, I know. (I like to have a glass of wine before attending my kids' back to school nights, makes me less agitated. Now that I say that, would it be wrong of me to do that as a teacher at back to school night? kidding kidding)

Anonymous said...

I think we need to keep in mind that our teachers have lives that they put on hold a lot of time for our own children. And instead of going into the situation loathing it, thus having your bad attitude rub off onto your children, perhaps you should just relax. Keep in mind your children are only children once. No use in making it miserable for them. As adults, do you really want them to look back on their childhood and remember their mom acting like that at their school events? I sure wouldn't. It is embarrassing for you, as well as for them. Do them a favor...learn to relax and let them embrace their childhood and enjoy it. After all, they are NOT mini-adults.

Polly and Fiona said...

I cringe every year when I receive the volunteer form from my daughter's preschool because it's all stuff I can't do as a working mom. On the flip side, I work as a high school counselor and cringe every time a working parent is irritated with me that I can't meet with them at 7 AM or 6 PM. I can't because I'm a working mom who has to get home to her kid. As you said, it is complicated.

Grace said...

From today's Motherlode: http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/23/my-last-back-to-school-night/

Michele said...

I understand where you're coming from. Just the overload of info at our school made me almost break into tears many times, and I had my husband covering the 2nd classroom.

I don't have a problem meeting with teachers for conferences, etc. during working hours, but the volunteering from 9-2pm or the parent coffee hours at 8:45 am in the library just won't work.

This weekend the PTA supposedly organized a "kindergarten playdate" Saturday morning at a park form 9-11 am. Our of 5 classes, only one other family showed up from 9:45 - 10 am. They left after seeing it was just my girls there at the park.

Mama Mama Quite Contrary said...

We are heading to the school open house tonight. I will consider your blog post fair warning. I tend toward the ornery side of life anyway.

Jay Cosnett said...

GAWD, Snick, I'm so there with you. I hate that shit. I hate being invisible. (To the other, intact-family parents. Like having a dead spouse is contagious. The teachers are great. No problems there.) I hate how stressed my kids get (Sam more than Ella, but still) and how stressed that makes ME!

But I LOVE how you're "the kind of parent" who gets fed up. And acts in ways your later maybe a little ashamed of. Because that means I'm not the only one.

XXX

Jay Cosnett said...
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Jay Cosnett said...
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Jamie said...

Eek. I confess I actually love back to school night. We call it "curriculum night." As a single mom who hardly ever sets foot in the school during school hours since I'm always working, it's one of the only chances to see the teachers eyeball to eyeball, you know? And to try and say hello to some other parents in my kid's class, who I wouldn't get to meet otherwise. But ours is just for the parents - the kids don't come, or if they do the principal shows a movie in the gym for them. It's pretty fun, honestly.

Anonymous said...

I am a public school teacher and I want to chime in that I hate conference nights too, because it means 12 hour work days. At my school, we do not get comp time for the hours we stay late for conferences. We are simply expected to do it. I feel like a bad person for saying this, but I'm never disappointed when I'm stood up. It gives me a minute to catch up on the mountains of paperwork I usually take home on weekends. Ugh... I feel for the parents who have to come at inconvenient times, but frankly I am exhausted.