I wrongly assumed that seven years of school events made me an expert. My hand has a scar from hot-gluing 27 third-graders’ handprints for holiday ornaments. And I am just now getting over the trauma of being stuck on a bus for a never-ending 14-hour field trip to the coast, which involved being held captive on a bus full of sweaty 10-year-olds. Not to mention the afternoon I somehow ended up as the kindergartners’ target for the balloon toss on a poorly planned field day.
I’ve been there, done that and got the T-shirt.
Then my son went to middle school. From the moment his sixth-grade homeroom teacher emailed me an invitation to see my son receive an award at the year-end ceremony, I realized that I had lost my veteran status and was a newbie at this stuff. Middle school parenting = new rules.
1. Incognito is good.
He wanted me to come; he didn’t want me to come. My son invited and uninvited me to this hour-long awards ceremony more times than my knees make funny creaking noises these days. It made my head spin. In an attempt to be funny, I finally blurted out that I would wear sunglasses and a wig to school so no one would know I was his mom. Completely missing my sarcasm, he nodded and said that would work. As he walked away, I almost called out that I would also be wearing an “I’m Trevor’s Mom” T-shirt with my disguise, but decided I had been the victim of enough eye rolls for the day.
2. I am no longer a rock star.
I used to walk into his elementary school classroom to the type of reaction that I imagine celebrities get. “Trevor’s mom is here!” Everyone wanted to hug me, show me their art project or have me admire their sparkly pink shoes. My son would proudly lead me into the classroom to show me off. I will even admit that there were times I went to volunteer at school on days when I was blue, just to feel like a rock star for a few minutes.
But today, not so much. I left my wig at home, hoping that he forgot this requirement. I sit with the other parents in the back of the auditorium. My son walks in with his entourage, laughing and talking. He doesn’t try to find me. He just sits down as he smooths out his hair—which contains more hair gel than I thought was humanly possible. I try to pretend I don’t care or notice. I keep reminding myself that this means I’ve done a good job. But yeah, it kinda sucks.
3. Waving is bad. Nodding is OK.
But then I see it. He turns around and scans the auditorium when no one is looking. He catches my eye, and I give a big wave. His face turns red with embarrassment, even though no one saw me. He rolls his eyes and quickly turns around. This sucks even more. I am lost and don’t know what to do. The rules changed, and I haven’t got my groove.
The teacher hands out an award for almost every accomplishment under the sun, from flag helpers to attending a book club meeting. I have been amusing myself by making up new categories (The Nose Picker’s Award makes me laugh the hardest. Yes, I am still 8-years-old at heart). Seemingly 436 hours later, my son’s name is called. He goes to the stage to collect his award. I resist the urge to jump up and holler. I clap appropriately from my seat. Then I see it. Walking back to his seat, he scans the crowd again. I get my hopes up. Hopefully he’s looking for me, not the cute girl in his science class. And he is. He sees me and smiles. I don’t wave this time, but I give a nod and smile. Apparently this is acceptable, because I don’t get an eye roll. Instead he nods back.
4. He wanted pictures, but didn’t want anyone to see me taking them.
It’s over. Another mom runs to the front to get her son to pose with the principal. I am amazed at the speed with which my son finds me across the rows of wooden chairs and sends me “The Look”—the one that begs me to keep my camera in my purse. I nod, and the relief on his face is visible. I quietly ask a mom friend with big lenses on her camera to secretly take a photo. The picture is great. I can see the boy he was and the man he will be. And he will be happy because every hair on his head is in perfect place. I am happy.