I’ve cracked the code, the code by which elementary school “room mothers” and preschool teachers alike rate the responsibility of parents. Judgment is doled out in the seemingly innocent auspices of the school holiday party and what item one is designated to bring. There are the top tier parents who are The Cupcake Moms. Without them and their lovingly crafted confectionary goodness, there would be no party. They are only challenged by Craft Project Moms or Silly Game Dads. They are the ones who cause teachers to light up when they enter the classroom for that hectic Halloween or wild winter party. Those teachers know that they can breathe a sigh of relief for a brief, shining moment while other capable hands entertain the squealing masses.
But we can’t all be Cupcake Moms or Silly Game Dads. That’s right; I’m Fork Mom. Nothing that a room full of Halloween-costumed first graders can’t live without and, let’s be honest, probably would prefer not to use. Indeed, as I set my box of forty-eight forks down (they only requested twenty-four, but I wanted to seem extra responsible), I noticed that the table was full of mini-muffins, cut veggies, cheese sticks, and cookies. The forks, it seemed, were simply an invention to keep me from feeling completely useless. Nice gesture.
As I sat in the corner eating grapes and tiny twist pretzels with a fork, I found myself wondering, “Why am I pouting? I am the luckiest woman in the world!” Yes … because I have three really amazing children … but also because I wasn’t up half the night assembling cupcake ghosts or pipe cleaner spiders! I found a box of forks from last summer’s camping supplies threw them in my son’s backpack and called it an evening.
I’ve just never been “that mom.” You know the one. The one who came to the park with a diaper bag filled with three changes of clothes and several choices in the cracker genre. Invariably, my child would spy his play-date’s four-course, pre-lunch snack and look at me with longing. Having been, just moments before, proud that I a) made it to the park that day and b) remembered his windbreaker, I now sheepishly reach into my coat pocket and offer my tyke a mint from the Mexican restaurant we ate at three nights earlier. Trying not to show concern for my child’s nutritional well-being, Playground Mom (who will graduate to full Cupcake Mom status as soon as her child crosses the Kindergarten threshold) says to me, “Harry can have some of Susie’s crackers. We have plenty. Would he like graham, gold fish, whole grain or gluten-free crackers?” Naturally I take up her kindly offer because if I don’t, I’ll then be on the skewer for letting my pride get in the way of snack time. “Hey, Susie,” I say flatly, “wanna Tic Tac?”
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t doubt my ability to be a good mother. Others might, but I don’t. I know that I’m solid in several key areas of parenting. I know that the boxed noodle soup can magically cure my kids of many ills, but the canned variety is “yuckers” and should be avoided at all cost. I am the queen of cuddling … even though they ask for it more rarely now that they are bigger and/or constantly moving at the speed of light. I laugh at their jokes, and perhaps more importantly, I laugh at myself. I am really good at being firm on discipline, yet only rarely do my kids refer to me as “the meanest, most totally unfair mom in the universe!” And even when they do, I also check off the “good disciplinarian” box.
So sometimes when Playground Mom gives in to the Susie’s tears for more goldfish crackers ten minutes before lunch or more time at the park when it is way past naptime, I get the opportunity to say “Wow, Playground Mom, little Susie is totally playing you!” But I don’t. Why? Because deep down all of us—Cupcake Mom, Silly Game Dad and me, Fork Mom—know that we are each doing the best job we can. We love our Susies and Joes, Harrys and Brittneys. Some of our kids have consistently snack-filled bellies; some of our kids have really fresh breath.
So, ok … this time it was forks, but I’m ok with that. Before I leave the party, I whisper to Cupcake Mom, “Great dessert! Great party! Put me down for napkins for the Holiday Party.”