My Guide to School Events
How to read between the lines at a parent-teacher conference, survive a skating party and self-medicate your way through a school auction.
We’ve rounded the corner into a new year! And even though you slogged through fall’s onslaught of curriculum night, back-to-school cocktails and countless Christmas pageants (perhaps with some extra-curated Hanukah and Kwanzaa additions), there’s still more to come! So please enjoy a little advice that you won't find in your school handbook.
The Parent-Teacher Conference
Maybe it’s because of fear of litigation from psycho alpha parents, but teachers have developed their own military-grade code speak. They’ll deftly list your kid’s gifts while sneaking the criticism meat into the compliment rice. “Clementine needs strengthening … ” means Clementine is a fucking idiot. I’m just joking, it doesn’t, but clearly, teachers like to tip-toe around a kid’s weaknesses. For example, “There may be opportunities for Mason to explore … ” equals “I know a $40,000-a-year tutor who can make your kid not so stupid!” While any first-time rider in the conference rodeo may enjoy the opening minutes of praise — like how Hopper is an asset to the group or that Zane plays nicely with others — the inevitable word coming down the pike is “but.”
Every veteran listens to the stream of compliments nodding with a plastered smile, but internally we are buckling an emotional seatbelt for the shit that sucks. “Transitions can be tough for Sterling,” is a phrase I am no stranger to (minus the Sterling part). The comment, “On the playground, we announced a one-minute warning and Cleo grinned and climbed to the top of the jungle gym,” means “Your smug piece-of-shit kid doesn’t listen.” Before you leave, the teacher will tell you what they're “working towards,” which means “please go confiscate the iPad and read your bratty kid the riot act.”
The School Benefit
There isn’t enough boxed wine in the whole building to get me through the four-hour plunge to hades that we call the annual benefit. For one thing, as if our economy isn’t slowly swirling into the shitter, they squeeze you for more dough. In New York City, some of the lots rival Sotheby’s as artist or gallerist parents present donations of huge paintings or — I shit you not — a family photo sesh with Annie Leibovitz. Matzoh ball soup with Rachael Ray. The family’s monthly table at Rao’s (food not included in the reservation). Fifteen minutes with Warren Buffet. There are entire sections for professional sporting events, backstage Broadway tours, fashion week and Oscar bonanzas.
To me, the most inaccessible options are the fourth or fifth homes people toss to the crowd: a week at an Aspen ranch or Bordeaux vineyard. These lots can garner six figures, which is great for the schools but bad for those of us who feel like we are in over our heads and wonder who the hell is buying that. In the end, I go to the accessories table and try to land earrings for a pal, or at least jack up the price by trying. A bonus feature of these events: Rather than have the drama teacher run the auction, schools often bring in a professional from Christie’s with a “von” or “de” in her last name.
And let us not forget the dreaded East Coast tradish of the skating party, an additional benefit where we all delight in hot cocoa, holding hands, ice skating and catching pneumonia. We trudge through subzero temps to see the same people we saw three hours ago at pickup but somehow, we all light up and hug each other — maybe because misery loves company — while the Tonya Hardings show off their non-Olympic level double axels.
End-of-Year Cocktails / Picnic / Playdate / Potluck
Lest you think you are escaping for summer without some sort of wrap-up hang, think again, asshole! From class parties to Moms’ Night Out or Bowling Night, parents and kids alike can say goodbye to the old grade and become a “rising fourth grader.” Like Black Friday, I’m not exactly sure when that term came into being, but it’s a Thing. And before they rise, we picnic. In theory, I love a good Manet version of some serious déjeuner, or perhaps a cartoonish red-and-white-checked blankie with a panini-stuffed hamper, in reality, I’m nervously scanning for rodents and thinking of that scene in "Antz" in which colonies of insects are looking at a half-eaten sandwich as utopia. As a very indoorsy person, I don’t even enjoy a sidewalk café table let alone a grassy/muddy piece of urban earth for my food. And that’s without 47 kids running around, a spilled beverage with each Nike stomp. Let’s just wish each other well and eject, shall we?
In the end, community is a good thing, and these people and their spawn are influencing your kid’s life, so it’s good to show up and deal. Maybe I don’t bake for three hours for that group dinner or donate my seaside villa, but I’m good at grabbing wine and showing up.
The next morning at breakfast, the kids eagerly await details of who we hung out with. I realized there is a fun, surreal element in thinking of mom and dad lurking in their school without them. It makes them feel like it’s not just their school but ours, too, which is a lovely family sentiment. The problem is that we already did it as kids and walking by a locker wall can induce a little PTSD. But like our own childhood years of school bells and dropped books, it’s not forever.
Jill Kargman is a New York-based writer, actress and television producer. Follow her on Instagram @jillkargman.