The other night I attended a semi-mandatory outdoor meet and greet at my daughter’s elementary school. The trick is that in return for attending this event, each participant is given an ice cream bar and the chance to meet the child’s new teacher. These events are excruciating for me. While the ice cream social is always well executed and expertly put together, I find myself shuffling and stamping my feet. The kids in attendance have this kind of cool to them. They’ve met this year’s teacher, who is usually a rested looking woman full of the kind of energy that is reserved for amped up pageant contestants. The students themselves are a bit indifferent to the whole ordeal. They speak casually to each other, smile at their new teacher’s jokes and then inexplicably go and swing from tree branches. Within two weeks, they’ll be staring wistfully out the windows at those same branches and dreading the fact that they were yet again sucked in by the parade smiles of teaching professionals. During the social, though, the kids cling to a last bit of late summer casual and effortlessly mingle in a blase fashion while eating melted ice cream sandwiches in the schoolhouse courtyard.
As a parent, there is no cool, even from drippy Eskimo Pies. We have no casual attitude. Much of what we do is competitive parenting and semi-professional eye rolling. Mom’s and dad’s have a way of overdressing for these events. Yeah, I think the sequined halter tops and shirt/tie combos are neat, but unnecessary. I have no such desire to be a fancy dad. I can sort of manage to stand around and look like a schlub, before some ancient Miss America teacher slaps my wrist and tells me to stop picking my nose. We’ve spent every day since college looking out the door’s and windows of our workplaces wistfully for a tree to climb. Eventually, as often happens, my blissfully calm daughter will give me some ice cream, tell me to shut up and then smile beatifcally. Future teacher in the making, I suppose.
Life in a parallel universe is proving to be interesting. The only reason I say this is because my daughter is excited to head back to school on the Tuesday after Labor Day. This excitement could only exist in some alternate reality. The world I know, the real world, would normally contain no such eagerness to begin the school year. The idea of being legally required to attend an eight-hour per day, unpaid desk job never appealed to me. When I was ten, there were tons of projects I felt had to be done, and none of them involved going to sit with other pointy headed kids in a drafty, vomit scented building, eating bologna sandwiches. That year I went so far as to fail a grade. The windows in my classroom faced an Oldsmobile assembly plant, and I felt it was a better use of my time to figure out how to make crappy, inefficient cars.
I am glad and actually relieved that my child has not inherited my spirit of flunkitude and has a desire to learn through the school process. None of her father’s poor scholastic traits have manifested themselves in her DNA. School was divided into two distinct eras for me: B.G. (Before Girls) and W.N.? (What Now?). During the B.G. years, I spent time learning to break things. B.G. was the instructive part of school, because I learned the art of completely implausible denial. If, for instance, the jungle gym just happened to fall apart or the trash dumpsters rolled into traffic there wasn’t even any point in trying to deny it. I’d Make up a story involving aliens, gorillas and Margaret Thatcher and then go mute. The What Now? years were more difficult. I was too busy trying to figure out the nature of women to concentrate, let alone break anything. By college, a third era of enlightenment opened up and I stopped trying to figure out women, or destroy objects with just the power of my mind. I briefly studied. Why Not? Oldsmobile had quit production and I was out of distractions.