I'm driving through Bellevue as fast as I dare, with the kind of expression a deer wears as it bounds away from rednecks in camo. Glancing at the clock, I screech into a subdivision, pull up at a friend's house, and breathlessly unstrap my son from his car seat. "No time to talk!" I gasp as I open her front door and toss my squirming toddler over the threshold. "I'm volunteering in the classroom today and I'm running late!"
My friend laughs and holds out her arms to 2-year-old Bruiser.
"Ooh, you don't want to be late for that!" she says mockingly, as I run out the door.
I make it through the door of my daughter's classroom a few minutes later, with seconds to spare. "Lindsay Ferrier reporting for duty, MA'AM!" I shout. Punky's teacher looks at me strangely.
"Okay. Hello," she says, smiling. "Well, the first thing you can do is sharpen all the pencils at each of the tables."
My shoulders slump a bit. Sharpen pencils? I had pictured myself lecturing the kids on neo-impressionism, or at the very least reading Green Eggs and Ham with voices. Still, I want to keep my job.
I sharpen the pencils.
As I work, I steal glances at my daughter. Punky is busy cutting out shapes, but every few minutes, she looks up, smiles shyly and waggles her fingers at me. Clearly she's gotten the word out about my new position, because I can hear the other kids whispering that I'm Punky's Mom.
Once I'm done, I put name tags on composition books, sort and staple together homework sheets, and cut out some laminated hall art. Thirty minutes have passed. The teacher looks worried.
"You flew through that," she says. She thinks for a moment, then brightens. "I know just the thing."
She leads me over to a large cubby stocked with a dozen plastic bins. "Look at this," she says, opening one. It's filled with an assortment of Legos, wooden blocks, plastic teddy bears, pop lock toys, brightly colored tubes, and other tiny kindergarten goodies.
"These are all supposed to be in separate bins," she says, sighing, "but someone mixed them all together. Can you help?"
"I'm on it!" I say proudly. I sit down on the carpet and start organizing, becoming so absorbed in my work that I don't see the little girl until she's standing right over me.
"I did that," she says.I look up, startled. "Did what?""Mixed 'em all up," she says. I pause.
"Don't. Do it. Again," I say, smiling with all the warmth of Christopher Walken.
She laughs derisively and walks away. A few minutes later, another boy comes over, picks up one of my bins and dumps it on the floor.
"What the—" I say, then bite my lip. I begin scooping the toys back into the bin, and it occurs to me yet again how funny it is that this is what's become of me, the former TV news reporter. Once, I was interviewing celebrities and presidential candidates.
Now, I'm sorting plastic triangles.
More than a few erudite minds out there say I should be profoundly bothered by the fact that I've opted out of the workforce—that my education and talents are going to waste. They say I'm wrong. Experience tells me I'm right.
I've spent the last eight years helping raise two stepdaughters through adolescence. When they were young, they treated me as if I was the world's coolest stepmom. All too soon, though, puberty paid a visit. Before I was ready, I found myself unceremoniously booted off the pedestal they had built for me.
Ever since then, I constantly find myself in situations like yesterday, when I was introduced to one of my stepdaughter's guy friends. As we shook hands, I made a silly wisecrack, one that I thought would put everyone at ease. I was met with dead silence. Confused, I looked at my stepdaughter and saw not amusement, but horror in her eyes.
The beauty of my fall from teenage grace is that I know exactly what's coming with my younger kids. Give Punky time and her ardent gazes will turn into silent pleas to not embarrass her again, OMG, Mom, nooooooo.
And I will have the rest of my life to back off.
So yes, I could probably be uncovering government corruption right now, or reporting on a four-alarm fire. I could leave the child rearing to paid workers. But I think I'll stick with sharpening pencils and exchanging secret smiles across the room with my daughter.
Because I will never have enough time with her 5-year-old self.
Read more Suburban Turmoil at www.suburbanturmoil.com.
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