The day after Halloween is never an easy day for anyone associated with children. I do not understand why schools don't just give up the (Halloween) ghost and make the day after Halloween a teacher work day. Should we really subject teachers to classrooms full of exhausted children with sugar coursing through their veins, makeup smudges and colored hairspray still faintly marking their faces and hair? It's kind of cruel and unusual. On the other hand... well, I am always excited to drop them off at school that morning.
In a wise move, my first grader's hero of a teacher, the wonderful Mrs. Hoot (not her real name -- I'm protecting the innocent, and she loves owls), decided to make the day after Halloween a Fall Fun Day. So, at 8:45 a.m. on November 1, I stumbled into her classroom along with a few of my mom peers, feeling hungover even though I hadn't had a drop to drink the night before and dreading the inevitable table of seasonal crafts. I am not an arts and crafts mom.
The children were seated on a rug expectantly, their eyes big and their legs in constant motion. As the moms and I negotiated which centers we would claim -- I happily escaped stringing autumnal bracelets and instead took candy corn bingo -- Mrs. Hoot discussed with the children how they would divide up and rotate through the centers.
As is their way, the children began eyeing the moms and watching the classroom door. "My mom said she could come," one little boy said plaintively, watching the door. "Maybe she'll be here soon."
"My mommy has to work," another little girl said, her lower lip trembling. "My daddy does too," said another. "My mommy has to take care of my little sister," a little girl whispered.
I froze a little. Just the day before, my friend had lamented that her little boy had been sad when she couldn't come to his class Halloween party because she had to go to work. She's a fantastic mom who had stayed up late the night before to make her son his Halloween costume, and yet one complaint from him, and BOOM -- she felt like she had failed him. In that moment in my son's classroom, my thoughts went to her. The truth was, I could only be there for about 30 minutes, and only because my husband stayed home with my toddler. But my husband needed to go to work, and I was going to leave as soon as other moms arrived to take my spot. Even though I am an at-home parent and I write only in whatever time my toddler allows, it's not as if I was free to be there, either. I was squeezing every minute in too, and I empathized with both the kids and the other parents.
Mrs. Hoot waved her pointer over the children's heads. "Now wait a minute," she said softly. "Do you know my son, Hootie, in kindergarten?" she asked. The kids nodded dutifully. They all know who Mrs. Hoot's son is, and they report back to her whenever they see him around the school. "Well, Hootie's Fall Fun Day was on Wednesday," she said. "Does anyone know where I was on Wednesday?"
The kids paused, then hands started shooting up. "With us," said one little boy. "You were with us."
"That's right," said Mrs. Hoot. "You needed me to be here with you, so I was. Sometimes, mommies and daddies want to be at your parties, but they have other people who need them too. And that's OK. Hootie still had fun at his party, and you are still going to have fun today too. And next time, your mommy or daddy might be able to come. You never know!"
That was it. The kids scrambled to their centers, tossing mini pumpkins into cornhole boards and eating banana ghosts and clementine pumpkins (someone's mom likes Pinterest!) and playing candy corn bingo with me without another thought about the mothers and fathers who were not there. They were fine. I told you Mrs. Hoot is wise and wonderful.
I slipped out after one game of bingo, kissing my son on the head and ushering the next mom into place before running home to relieve my husband. I was grateful for the chance to see the kids, even if that time was short.
Last spring, I wrote about how it is the "Halloween parade" equivalents in our kids' lives that are important to parents, whether we work outside the home or not. It is imperative to be able to make it to some of our kids' special moments. However, it's not always feasible to attend every special school event, party, parade and field trip -- and I am not sure we even should. If we don't empower our children with the independence and ability to experience some of these moments by themselves, how will they learn to value them without us, and later, without an audience? I don't want to be there to validate every experience for my children. I don't want them to think my presence is required for something to be worthwhile. I want them to be able to live the moment on their own and know how to appreciate it for themselves.
Everything we do these days can be validated in an instant by posting it on social media -- we even post our meals and desserts for our friends to ogle and "like." Maybe it is a valuable skill to learn to be able to say, "That was awesome," with just the people who experience it with us and not the outside world. Maybe our children could learn to love a meal without posting it on Facebook or Instagram, or to enjoy a moment on a beach without posting a picture of their toes in the sand. Perhaps there is magic in getting to come home and tell us their own stories of their days and adventures, just as much as there is magic in having us share those adventures sometimes in person.
I'll still slip into school as much as I can. Selfishly, I want to be there to see my children and their cute little friends, and now that I have one in middle school, I know the time to do that goes fast. But when I can't get there, I refuse to feel guilty about it, and I hope other parents can too. It is absolutely important to be there for the "Halloween parade" type moments -- it's all that matters, really -- but it's also important to give my children the chance to develop resilience and independence so that they know that when I am not there, they will be OK, and yes, they will still have fun.
The awesome thing about this theory is that whether I can make it to the party or not, I'm still being a good parent. See how I did that there?