Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Valley of the Room Parents

Yesterday we had our first Gathering of the Room Parents. Thirty-six women--because room parents are always women, it is the law of the land, men need not apply--sat in a circle and displayed an impressive range of pedicures and strappy sandals as we discussed budgets for Valentine's Day parties and strategies for encouraging working parents to make the time to volunteer in their children's classrooms.

Our Fine School is all about parental involvement. It is also apparently all about really great footware. You should have seen some of these sandals! And the toes on these women! Fuscia! Lilac! Fire Engine Red! A foot fetishist would have gone mad, I tell you, mad.

Have I mentioned Our Fine School is a private school? Sometimes being around so many rich people leaves you gasping for breath. Every year at the beginning of the fall semester, I look around for my tribe, those women whose strappy sandals came from Kohls, whose capris are Issac Mizrahi for Target. We are the parents who can only afford the tuition if we squint at our bank accounts while standing on our heads. But there are people who could afford to pay tuition for the entire student body. You better believe they have great shoes.

Anyway, I'm sitting in this circle of women, and I'm trying not to be wildly self-conscious about the fact that the right side of my face is swollen up like the Elephant Man's after a trip to the dentist on Monday (long story; not fun; you don't want to hear it; involved stitches; etc.). I mean, my face is seriously distorted. And I don't even have a pedicure to distract people from noticing it.

I sat next to my fellow room parent, Mrs. L. After the ruckus and fuss of the first week of school (I still haven't recovered), she has stopped talking about a class party. It was good of her to think it would be a nice thing for the children, and it was an even better thing for her to drop the whole idea when it became clearly untenable.

But you know how I really knew I was going to like Mrs. L.? When she pointed out I had several bagel crumbs plastered to the corner of my mouth with cream cheese. She said, "I figure you'd rather know now than realize it when you got home." As someone who feels morally obligated to point out open flies and undone buttons on the same grounds--a tiny bit of private embarrassment beats a whole boatload of public mortification--I appreciated her frankness. And that she wore a jean jacket and kept whispering, "Wow, I can't believe they expect us to do all this!"

Of course, I could explain to her about my dental work, and she was appropriately sympathetic. But when it was time to go around the circle and introduce ourselves (like anyone was going to remember that the woman with the Chanel sandals and the really great highlights is the mother of third grader Josh and first grader Stasia and is a room parent for Mrs. J's class), I resisted the temptation to say, "I don't always look like this." It was too pathetic. I just let them stare.

The meeting was run at a good clip by Mrs. B., one of the richest women in town, who is irritatingly nice and down to earth. Her kids are polite, her husband is friendly. Not to mention she has the best sandals of all. Really, it's too much to bear. At the end, as I was filing out behind all the other room parents, she put her hand on my shoulder and said, "Thanks so much for coming!" When I turned the right side of my face to her, the chipmunk side, the temporary freak of nature side, she didn't even flinch.

Today my face is still swollen, but not quite so badly. I have several public appearances to make (pick up Will from school, meet with Jack's teacher after school on room parent business, take Jack to tae kwon do), and am trying to get in a spiritual frame of mind about it. Millions of people walk around every day of their lives without looking the least bit cute. If they can do it, so can I. And the next time I see someone who looks like the Elephant Man on a bad day, I will not flinch. I will put my hand on their shoulder and smile and say, Thanks for being here.


Tracy said...

I feel your pain....all the way through my half numb face. I've been to the dentist today too :(

Man am I glad our school has very few super rich people and lots and lots more of us who squint and hold our tongues just right to pay school fees!

Left-Handed Housewife said...

I'm actually surprised how many middle class families (like ours) are at this school. Which is to say, how many families don't go out to dinner or take the kids to Disney World or buy new cars so their kids can get this stellar education. Which is not to say there aren't plenty of families who don't go to Paris over spring break and Disney World on the odd long weekend. I just ignore them the best I can, and tell my kids to forget it!

Victoria said...

The tooth thing really does add awkwardness to awkwardness doesn't it!
I have 2 foster daughters in a private school (paid for by the governent, as it should be!), and one with my son in the public school. There is a HUGE difference in everything about relating to both schools. The gaps between the 2 are very funny and strange. I think I'm more a public school parent by nature!