The other night was College Night at Child One’s Super Crunchy School. Sig Other was working and could not attend. So I went without him. I’d already had a few conversations with the school college counselor and as such had become the self-appointed representative of the United Parents of Child One (UPCO) in the Junior Year Family Panic About College. By way of background, there have already been a few conversations this school year about things like test prep and curriculum overload, and we, the UPCO, have taken on all challenges as a unit. I can’t say it a wholly harmonious unit but it’s a unit nonetheless. Sig Other definitely represents one end of the academic extreme ("you should apply to Harvard") and Ex-Wife the other ("do you really want to apply to schools that require SATs?"). And I try to bounce somewhere in between but find myself often biting my tongue with both of them.
I left work early, changed out of my high-heeled fancy shoes into flats that were comfier and more Crunchy School-friendly (though still Chanel), and set out across town. Traffic was heavy, giving me too much time to ponder the journey and just enough time to begin to feel very awkward and out of place. What was I doing? Was it appropriate that I attend College Night? Do other kids’ stepparents attend College Night? Is it awkward for Child One to have her mother AND her stepmother present? Would Child One feel pressured to make me feel wanted even though she really thinks I’m an interloper? Is it too much for her to have to explain to her teachers or her two-parented friends why she has three parents and why they’re all so damned involved? Was this responsible Step-Parenting or overstepping boundaries? Also, what if I couldn’t find the school or didn’t know where to park or they wouldn’t let me in because I didn’t have the secret parental pass code and couldn’t pass a DNA matching test they inevitably must give at the door? Would the other parents stare at me in confusion? Would they wonder what the hell I was doing there?
Like I said, traffic was bad. And I’d be lying if I didn’t consider turning around and going home. Child One didn’t need me there. Or did she? I wasn’t sure. And so I sat in traffic and fought my anxiety and realized part of my anxiety was about Child One and part was purely selfish. I hate going places where I could be uncomfortable. For years I’ve entertained at home on the weekends with the excuse that we have the kids on the weekends and don’t want to leave them, so in order to maintain an social life we entertain at home. And I love cooking. It relaxes me. And fills a creative void. All those things are true. And also true is the fact that I’m a control freak, that I feel more comfortable in my own home because its an environment I control – the guest list, the food, the wine, and even the conversation to a certain extent. School never felt like a second home. School always felt bewildering and overwhelming. So sitting in traffic on the way to College Night, I started to experience that familiar feeling, started dreading the notion of being thrust back in time – back to a place with awkward hellos and uncomfortable straight-backed plastic chairs and flat indoor/outdoor carpet that smells vaguely of industrial cleaner.
Eventually, I arrived at Crunchy School, pretty much on time and somewhat calmer. The security guard on duty didn’t ask me for my step-credentials and very sweetly directed me “the gathering space”. What’s wrong with a goddamned high school gym or auditorium? Or even a theater? No – Super Crunchy School has to refer to the drama room as a Gathering Space. There, I was greeted by Robert, the counselor I’d spoken to on the phone several times, and Julien, who will be Child One’s advisor. Ex-Wife had saved me a seat next to her in front. And Child One waved wildly from her seat at the back of the bleachers where she sat with the rest of her class. I said hello to the few parents I knew and then dove into the handouts and reading materials.
The presentation was fairly short and terribly informative. We all laughed nervously as we were called out (kindly, of course, but called out nonetheless) for being the over-anxious, over-achieving parents of our over-anxious, over-achieving kids. No one asked me what I was doing there. No one wondered who the hell I was. I didn’t stand out like a sore step-thumb. The only uncomfortable part of the evening was, in fact, the hideous plastic chairs. Child One seemed glad I came, gave me a big hug, an “I love you” and made a joke about her lesbian mothers as we all stood around chatting. And as I walked back to my car, I realized, once again, that life is all about showing up.