First day of school for the parents

September 21, 1996|By Rob Kasper

I WENT TO "parents' night" at my kids' school recently. When I was a kid, about the only time your parents showed up at school was when you were in danger of expulsion. But nowadays schools have these get-acquainted evenings during which teachers meet parents. The emphasis is on the "joy of learning" instead of "the likelihood of detention."

Like most properly run households, ours operates with exacting precision. The other night, for instance, the original plan called for my wife to represent the family at the school. The rest of us would stay home reading about Mesopotamia, doing math proofs and practicing our Japanese. We were not going to watch "The Simpsons," or listen to the baseball game, or watch "Seinfeld." No sir. That is not how life works at our house. We keep our nose to the grindstone, the Mesopotamian grindstone.

I ended up going to parents' night alone because my wife had a "scheduling conflict." She was at the store buying batteries. To an outsider it might have appeared that my wife and I had "forgotten" that it was parents' night. An outsider might have thought that those telephone calls I made to the homes of other kids in the school asking "What time does this thing start in 20 minutes!," were signs of panic. Not so. They were part of our backup plan. That plan called for me to stuff a banana down my gullet as I ran out the door, grabbing the car keys from my wife as she returned from the store and aiming the station wagon in the general direction of the school.

There was a time when my wife and I would have felt guilty if either of us had missed a minute of parents' night. Those were the days when the kids were little and were just starting school. Those were the days when, after dropping the kids off at school, we lingered at the curb until the kids had skipped into the school building. Now the kids are 15 and 11. Now when I drop them off at school, as soon as I hear the car doors slam, I hit the accelerator.

nTC This particular parents' night was held at a middle school. I have noticed that as kids get older, their homework gets tougher and their desks get bigger. I remembered that when I was the parent of a second-grader, I spent much of parents' night worrying about how I was going to squeeze into and out of the tiny second-grader desks. In sixth grade, however, the chairs and desks are more accommodating to the bodies of us tired, and not-so svelte, parents.

Back in the second grade, I could keep up with my kid's homework. But now, as a middle school parent, figuring out the subject matter of my kid's classes is getting tricky. For instance, another parent at parents' night told me that she couldn't even help her son paste up the letters of the Japanese alphabet. She didn't know which end of the letter was supposed to be up, which end down.

Later, one of the math teachers started talking about the kids writing "proofs" of math problems and my palms got sweaty. I dimly recalled trying to write proofs in a high school math class. Coming up with these exacting proofs was a traumatic experience for me, one that pushed me into a career in journalism, a field noted for its tolerance of imprecision.

Recently, it took me the better part of an hour to understand my kid's science homework. The homework concerned the "Hubble Constant," which as I understand it, has something to do with the notion that the universe is much younger than most people thought. I found this notion comforting, especially if it means that the creatures of the universe, especially the parents, are also much younger than most people thought.

Age is getting to be a sensitive issue in our family. I was not pleased the other night when the sixth-grade English teacher announced the list of books the class was scheduled to read. The title of one novel about the sea contained the words "The Old Man." We don't use such language at our house, at least not in my presence.

I didn't say anything to the English teacher about the offensive words because I believe it pays to keep a low profile on parents' night. After years of listening to kids "share" stories from the home front, teachers have probably heard more tales of domestic misbehavior than Oprah. When I meet one of my kid's teachers and the teacher smiles, I fear that the teacher is remembering some "shared" story and thinking "Oh, so you're the one."

Parents did ask a few big-picture questions on parents' night. The questions were along the lines of "When is the dreaded science project due?" "What exactly is Mesopotamia?" And, "What is the shop class going to make this year?"

When I got home, my family filled me in on what had happened on "Seinfeld," and I told them that the school year looked promising. No more birdhouses. This year the shop class might make lawn chairs.

Pub Date: 9/21/96

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