Friday, June 22, 2007

The "Millions of Cats" Parental School Visitation Clause

A couple of weeks ago MG announced that she had a part in her class play, "Millions of Cats." She was the Very Old Woman.

Now, if you know the book, you know that "Millions of Cats" really has only three characters: The Very Old Man, the Very Old Woman, and the Homely Little Kitty. This production also had four narrators. Everyone else in the class played one of the Hundreds and Thousands and Millions and Billions and Trillions of Cats. So you might, especially if you were a stage mom like I apparently am, say that MG had a starring role in the play.

MG seemed to share my assessment. "It was the part I wanted, and I got it," she said several times. Also, as if she couldn't quite believe it and had to keep reminding herself: "I really am the Very Old Woman in the play. Unless something happens. Then Kira is the understudy."

"When's the performance? When's the performance?" we kept asking. But she didn't know.

She knew her lines, though. All of them. Every couple of nights one of us would run lines with her, and she nailed them. Even her big speech, the one where she scolds the Very Old Man for bringing home all those Hundreds of cats, Thousands of cats, Millions and Billions and Trillions of cats when all she had asked for was one little cat.

Finally, the notice came home: the performance for parents would be on the last day of school, Friday, June 22, at 12:45 PM

Which happened to be the exact same time that my school was having its day-after-the-last-day-of-school luncheon for employees, at which departing staff (unless they're leaving in a huff) generally show up to be thanked, and everyone cries. Now, I've been at this job for almost a decade. I wrote a year ago about the weepfest that was last year's goodbye luncheon, and have been thinking ever since about what I was going to say when it was my turn. I wanted to thank everyone for being my village. I wanted the closure, and, frankly, the recognition. I really, really, didn't want to skip it.

But I also didn't want to be the kind of workaholic jerk who misses her daughter's star turn in the school play because of a workplace function. Calvin Trillin once wrote in an essay that his wife, Alice, was of the opinion that if parents do not show up to every single performance that one of their children is in, the authorities will [or, maybe, should] come and take the child into custody. The Trillins seem to have gotten a lot right in their life together, so I put some stock in this pronouncement.

So I e-mailed her teacher to ask if I could come to one of the rehearsals the day before the performance, and she said that would be fine. I mentioned the possibility to MG, but didn't make a big deal out of it, lest she be disappointed if something came up at the last minute and I couldn't make it.

But nothing came up, and at just after ten o'clock on my last day of classes ever at this school, just after the last-ever class I taught there, I signed out for an extra-long lunch and drove the 40 minutes from the suburbs back to our neighborhood so I could witness the Mermaid Girl's performance in a dress rehearsal preview for the kindergarteners.

I made good time, and her class was still out at recess when I arrived. I waited in the hall, gleeful at the chance to actually see my little girl perform in an adaptation of a book I've loved since my own childhood, and not a little smug that I was able, at some personal sacrifice, to meet Alice Trillin's high standards for worthy parenthood after all.

There's nothing like a real live child to dissipate one's rosy clouds of virtue. That's what I remembered when MG's class marched in from recess and she saw me admiring the hallway bulletin board displays. "Mommy!" she hissed. "What are you doing here?"

"I came to see your play!" I trilled. Or maybe I quavered. Because her tone was not so pleased. And she was glaring at me with the same glare we get when we break the news that if she doesn't get her teeth brushed in the next two minutes, she will be a kid without a bedtime story. Could it...could it really be that she didn't want me to see her play?

It could.

She disappeared into the bathroom to put on her costume, and when she came back she did her best to act like I wasn't there. Her teacher sent her to me to get her shoes tied and her dress buttoned, and she sidled over reluctantly, muttering out of the side of her mouth. "I don't want you here, Mommy. Please leave!"

"But..." I sputtered, "but..."

Another mom kindly offered to get her costume fixed up, and I escaped to the hallway, totally at a loss, trying to sort out my thoughts, which went something like: After all I did!...Can't tell me not to...! Only chance to see her be the Very Old...! And the other moms will think I let my kid walk all...!

I could see only two options: to slink off quietly and return to work, a humiliating and miserable prospect aside from all the wasted time and fossil fuels; or to march back into the classroom and assert my parental right to see my child perform, possibly pushing said child into a tantrum and/or into stubborn non-performance, which would not only make me and MG miserable and embarrassed, but also her teacher, her classmates, the other parents, and the visiting kindergarteners.

So I did what I often do when confused or at loose ends: I went to the library. I poured out my troubles to MG's librarian, who sympathized and didn't seem to think I was at all wimpy for letting my kid order me around, at least not under these circumstances. She was pretty nice about the whole thing, and I was able to calm down enough to go back to the classroom and give it one more shot, being prepared to leave if need be.

The play hadn't started yet; the kids were all in their places, but the kindergarteners were just starting to find their seats. MG stood next to the gray-bearded Very Old Man in her old-fashioned dress and apron and bonnet, with wire-rimmed granny glasses I'd never seen before perched on her nose. She waved to me solemnly as I drew near.

"Goodbye, Mommy," she said quietly but firmly, waving, and looking a little like a slightly pissed-off Mrs. Santa Claus.

"I'll go if you really want me to," I said.

"I really want you to," she said.

"All right," I said. "but are you sure? It's my only chance to see you in the play, you know."

She sighed a tiny bit. "Ohhh-kay," she said. "You can stay. But go stand over there!" She pointed over to the side, near the cubbies, behind the painted scenery, far from where the rest of the audience was gathered.

"Okay!" I agreed, trying not to look either too pleased at getting to stay or too irked at having to stand in a weird place.

So I got to stay and see her after all. Or, at least, to hear her, since the scenery prevented me from actually seeing her face for much of the performance. Though I did have an excellent view of the Hundreds and Thousands and etc. cats, who did a really good job of mewing and arguing and pretending to fight while not actually hurting each other (though one or two cats did seem to be just a wee bit excited about getting to kick at each other with their hind legs).

And I got back to work in plenty of time for the afternoon end-of-school festivities, and today I got to say my goodbyes and weep my weeps at the luncheon, while RW was watching the final performance with the other parents.

And MG and I talked last night. She said she'd rather be disappointed by my not showing up after saying I might, than surprised by my unexpected appearance, so I agreed that if it came up again I'd try to tell her if I might or might not be able to come to something.

Then I announced the New Rule that RW and I had come up with. The New Rule is that parents are allowed to come to their child's school at any time, with or without warning, and the child is not allowed to make a fuss. (We won't be taking advantage of that rule once she hits middle-school age. But I decided not to tell her that just yet.)

MG scowled. "I hate new rules," she said. "The only rule I like is the rule that Shy Kitty's not allowed to come into my room, because I'm allergic."

But her protest had a pro-forma vibe to it. She didn't cry, or try to argue, or explain all the reasons that the rule was unfair. She just said she hated it, and went on hula-hooping in the front yard. I got the feeling that this particular new rule didn't actually bother her very much, or at all.

I figure that, given the choice, I'd rather have her upset that I showed up than upset that I didn't. I don't want to try to read MG's mind--recent events have shown that I'm not so good at that--but I think that when it comes down to it she'd rather have it that way, too.

And I imagine that Alice Trillin, may she rest in peace, would approve.


Blogger liz said...

I'm with you on that one.

2:35 PM  
Anonymous Arwen said...

I was a very on stage sort of a kid, and I would regularly get snippy with my mother just before going onstange. A welcome target for venting nerves. Stage can be very scary. I'm not saying for sure, but it's a possibility. In which case, you being there was the best of all things.

5:40 PM  
Anonymous Arwen said...

Onstange? No. Onstage. I never went onstange, because I couldn't find it.

5:41 PM  

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