It is what you have to do as a parent. You have to feed your kids. You have an expectation to clothe them as well as provide a roof over their heads. Given you are sufficiently ensconced in a particular kind of neighborhood (mostly white, entirely too educated), there are also preschool registration rites of passage. Namely, you must attend the parent mixer, also known as Open House Night.
If you happen to have an older child you’ve already been indoctrinated into the climate of competitive parenting. Where adults angle for a grandiose appraisal of their offspring. This begins with meeting the educator tasked with not screwing up the talented minds entrusted to their tutelage. It is a night of first impressions. In my experience this initial encounter is often where a child named after a character from To Kill a Mockingbird will be confirmed into a selective club. A club that Harper or Atticus’s parents already suspect their child belongs: the world of the supremely gifted.
There are no average kids in our communities. It is a homogenized world of middle to upper-middle class professionals vying for prestige through the anticipated acts of children. It is a world that through the hard work of zealous parenting, the fruits of inherent genius are harvested. Said fruits are validated at Open House Night. In early childhood education the ripeness of the child should be substantiated by the teacher’s endorsement a full six months before class begins.
A child’s ability to discern shapes and pick blue from yellow is already so keen it is almost not worth mentioning. Especially when compared to little Hardy’s ability to excel in social contexts with other three-year-olds, parents, teachers and houseplants. These milestones must be exhibited as each family waits their turn to meet an underpaid district employee who has been at work for twelve hours. Naturally, if brilliance is not readily identified in this introduction, all confidence in the educator is lost.
Soon the teacher’s dubious credentials will become the ultimate justification for a child’s average handwriting. Had the teacher gone to say, Trinity or Williams, maybe they could facilitate the milestones of a superior intellect like Stacy. Who besides sucking pigtails and secretly eating crayons, is, according to her mother, such an adept negotiator of cookies she’s bound to become the CEO of Goldman Sachs. And if little Jessie remains unable to hold a pen correctly by October, this will also fall on the shoulders of the preschool teacher. No doubt the poor child will be reduced to–heaven forbid–Ball State.
These are the mental prognostications I generally indulge in when avoiding human interaction in the corner by the class aquarium. The problem I find with being unengaged in negotiating my daughter’s future is that I attract a different element. The type of parent, like myself, that would rather have skipped orientation night altogether. He is often a stay-at-home dad like myself, who is openly bitter about missing a reality show chronicling the drama of producing alcoholic beverages in a distillery-slash-two-car garage.
Which is what happened tonight in a room decorated with butterflies. There is, you see, the beginning of the year. When you bring your cherubic caterpillars into their new environment. Where cinderblock walls are transformed into cubbies, and tablet technology stations, and corkboards of decoupage featuring, you guessed it, butterflies. The room itself is the chrysalis (I still don’t know what the happened to cocoons). As little caterpillars advance throughout the year toward the handwriting worktable their amazing minds bloom. This is the metamorphosis. Otherwise known as the process by which Harvard alums are materialized.
There are generally only a few other malcontents at Open House Night. Tonight, as I kept an eye on my wife (to make sure at least some of the requisite positioning was completed) and my three-year-old, who played in the dress up station (a sure sign of a her ability to participate in the rigorous methodology for supporting open discourse regarding gender-role equality of cross-dressing squirrels), I was approached by a man in his middle-thirties.
Like me, he still had his hair and a healthy disdain for pomp and ceremony. Things were comfortable between us. Until he produced an iPhone image of three letters decorated with brown construction paper kangaroos asking, “What do you think of that shit?” His wife rolled her eyes and laughed, “ignore my husband.” And then she left me with him, staring at the image of “KKK” in a room of thirty aggressively egalitarian parents. “This was in my older daughter’s classroom today.” I was unable to discern the context in which this man found this assemblage of letters curious. All I knew was that we both had older children. He’d been through this before.
This man was my peer.
I didn’t bother to mention the lions decorating the letters partially visible below the KKK’s were LLL’s. If adjusted, the image might reveal the consonant procession MMM for monkey, followed by NNN for nitwit. In fact I barely had time to respond when he produced an image of “my good buddy Charles.” It was a photo of a man leaning over a computer monitor with a cat sitting on his chair in a precarious position. He called the piece, “Cat-fucked from behind.” It was then his wife reappeared to alert him he had five minutes. The same warning my wife had just given our three-year-old.
“You from around here?” he asked.
“Yep,” I replied, hoping this would not lead to an adult play-date.
“I’m from upstate New York.”
We nodded in the way people do when a fart has occurred and to acknowledge it is tantamount to ownership. “Where did you go to college?” he asked. In our neighborhood such things are often assumed. Then, he looked at me in a more appraising manner. “You didn’t go to Cornell did you?” No, I shook my head. “Huh, you look familiar.” Unfortunately I am a type of generic person with features that are more often than not, painfully and erroneously recognizable.
“I went to a state school.”
“Well,” he said, hastily searching his phone until he was suddenly preoccupied with an urgent text-strain, “It was nice to meet you.” He thumbed at his phone and began walking off to find his family. Without looking up he dismissively mumbled, “See you around.”
It’s ok, I told myself. Next year I will make an effort.
After all, things don’t get serious until kindergarten.
Patrick has studied writing at the University of Colorado and New York University. He lives in Denver with his family.
Check out his website or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.