Sort of a big deal

His teacher handed me the note at our conference last week, saying it was a surprise for Rye.

Well, 7-year-old, nothing-gets-past-him Rye was with me, with us, and when our little family got to the car, he wanted to open the envelope.

He did, and I read.

“Dear parents, your child will be honored at a special assembly next Thursday, Nov. 1. Please join us to celebrate your child’s accomplishment. Please do NOT tell your child …”

Er.

Well, having that at the top of the note might have been helpful.

At any rate, we were excited our son was receiving an award, no matter what it was for, which still remained a mystery. I marked our calendar.

Today was Thursday.

Today I was crunched for time, overwhelmed with getting both kids fed, dressed, groomed and to school on time, as well as my morning full-time (paying) job work done before being back at Rye’s school by 9:45 a.m. for the awards assembly. I managed to semi-groom myself, too (I spent 12 minutes – that included a shower. Not even kidding).

The rock star was waiting on the street outside his art gallery and I slowed the car to pick him up.

We walked into the elementary school gym late by five minutes. Kids’ names were being called off and they stood from their position on the floor to be honored. I had no idea what they were being recognized for.

Rye turned around to wave at us. We smiled and waved back, bemused at the goings-on more than anything else.

His name was called. He stood up. He sat back down.

A few minutes later, the principal, who was doing the name calling, said something about having another shot next quarter at perfect attendance if your name hadn’t been called this time.

Oh, perfect attendance, I thought. Well, at least he was recognized for something! Anne Lamott says 80 percent of life is just showing up…

I thought the assembly might be over, but the school principal switched to a different award.

Excellence in P.E.

After a few other students were honored, Rye’s name was called! This time, he got to walk to the front of the gym and be honored with the 10 or so other students who received the Excellence in P.E. award.

Wow, I thought. Cool. I was proud. There’s something about seeing your baby up on stage with an award in his hand.

Rye sat down and the principal moved on to awards in other categories: Music, Computers, Library.

I glanced at the clock, figuring the assembly had to be over then, happy our son had been honored twice(!).

But it wasn’t over.

They saved the best for last.

Every quarter, each teacher gets to pick ONE student from her classroom to receive the Super Citizen Award. This is the student who embodies the ideals of the school; they try hard, they work hard, they listen, they show respect, they’re a good friend, a model student.

The principal talked about the attributes of each student using pronouns before announcing the winner by name.

I watched one mom and her two younger children clap and wave and react how any mom would when her child wins this sort of award. And I smiled. I was happy for that family.

A small handful of other students were honored.

The principal announced the winner in Rye’s class last. This student “is a wonderful example of positive thinking and actions,” the principal said. “He is kind, helpful and always has a nice word for a friend. He has quickly become a positive member of our classroom and school.”

That sounds like my kid, I thought. I kept listening.

This student’s “commitment to follow Shelledy expectations shows he is an honest person,” the principal said. “He is a model for other students to follow. He always completes his work. He listens during directions so he knows what to do, and then gets right to work on a task. He always tries his hardest and his work reflects his dedication to learning.”

Is Rye dedicated to learning? I thought. I hope so.

And then.

“This student is new to our school but has quickly become a bobcat. He is proud when he gets a PAWS and enjoys our school. Congratulations, Rye Stickney.”

I turned to the rock star, mumbled something unintelligible and then quickly looked back toward the front of the gym, where my first baby was walking to the front of the room, where he was getting an award called “Super Citizen.”

For a few minutes, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to turn the water works off.

A dad I’d met at the class Halloween party the day before came up to congratulate us. He said, “Wow, this is a big deal. Some kids go their whole time at Shelledy without ever getting this award. You should be really proud.”

I was. I am. So proud.

So can’t-stop-smiling proud.

Volunteering at my kid’s school: Why?

I’ve started volunteering at my son’s school.

He’s in the second grade at his third new school in a little more than a year and, well, maybe I feel guilty about that or maybe I genuinely want to know his teacher and student teacher and every single classmate he has or maybe I just want another way to be involved in my not-so-little-anymore boy’s life.

Maybe I want to be the cool mom who other kids say, “There’s Rye’s mom!” with a smile on their face. Maybe I want my own kid to think that.

Whatever the reason, I started volunteering at my son’s school and, so far, I don’t love it.

Every Monday, I show up at 3 p.m. to help with whatever task the teacher assigns.

The first week, I finagled a paper cutter in the teacher’s workroom to help make various stacks of oddly-shaped flashcards, which I then wrote “2+3=5” and similar facts on.

Last week, I helped students learn subtraction facts by flipping flashcards. I got through about five or six students (not my own) before my time was up.

Yesterday, I cut out more math facts from over-sized sheets of laminated construction paper.

As I sat at the small desk at the back of the room, maneuvering the scissors over the slippery laminate, I wondered: Why am I here?

My son’s teacher greeted me, handed me my assignment and then ignored me. My son seemed both happy to see me and horrified that I was in his classroom and might oh-my-God speak to one of his friends, at the same time. My son’s classmates glanced at me awkwardly, unsure who I was, what I was doing there or if I’d be calling them over to practice their math.

My brain ticked off a list of other ways I could be spending that hour: work, laundry, going for a run, unpacking, reading, painting the bedroom, planting flowers, ETC.

I kept cutting. The classroom carried on around me.

I tried to remember the times my own parents visited my elementary-school classroom. There was a year both my mom and my dad led my Girl Scout troop. That was fun. And there was a time or two my dad brought his college actors in to perform a skit from a children’s show he was directing. I also remember, as a really young kid, bringing Halloween sugar cookies to school for my birthday. My mom had made those.

But aside from school programs and other functions, those are the only times I can remember my parents being at school. Certainly, neither volunteered to help the teacher on a weekly basis.

And as a kid? This was fine with me.

So I’ve been struggling lately with how I spend my time, what commitments I’ve made, whether the things I do reflect the priorities I have. If I want more time with my family, why would I take on any community obligations? If I want to be a five-day-a-week runner at this point in my life, why wouldn’t I forgo another commitment to make that happen? If I want to learn to play the guitar, why would I pursue any other extracurricular activities?

It’s a tough line to find, to cross, to sidestep, to hover over. And I’m still working on all the answers.

But for now (for always), I know one thing for sure: Being involved in my kids’ lives is important.

And if being present in my son’s classroom on a regular basis helps communicate that to him, if Anne Lamott is right that 80 percent of life is just showing up, if my son looks back one day and says, “Wow, Mom was at my school a lot, she must have really wanted to be an active participant in my life,” if my son feels he can pursue any interest and his mom will support it …

Well.

Then all the mindless, thankless cutting of flashcards, was worth every second.