Sunday, May 14, 2006

PEI encounter

I am where I feel most uncomfortable, where I feel the most bile rise in my throat and surge and gurgle like a dammed river. I am at a Mommy n Me class.

It’s one of the more harmless ones. It’s a “drop-in” style class. One where mats and tunnels and balls and rocking wooden boats are arranged about the room and one- and two-year-olds run around exploring and crashing into each other. Isaac loves it. And I love it for him. Especially since he spends so much time figuring things out, fiddling, finessing fine motor skills, slipping the string through the slots in the chair over and over again, starring at cat hairs he’s plucked from the carpet.

I love that he does these things – bypassing the high-five offered by the grocery clerk to stare quizzically at this cash register – my little engineer. But this is a chance to release and do something different.

He has so taken to the opportunity to crawl through padded labyrinths that he will even sit happily in his detested car seat nodding his head and pointing forward as I strap him in – “Onward, Driver!” I imagine him thinking.

Today, I have the misfortune of being one of only five or so parents to show up – a small group and easy prey for the dreaded Parent Education Instructor – the PEI.

A cheery blonde with a clip board sits in a rocking chair half-blocking the entrance and applying lipstick. “Did you sign in?” she spouts.

I imagine the tryouts for these parent ed performers: A dark theatre. One bright spot light shining a circle of light on the stage. A woman walks nervously into it holding one hand over her eyes like a visor, her shiny Mary Janes clicking on the floor and echoing around the room. She clears her throat and tries out her line: “Did, um, you sign in?” “Great. Thank you. Next!” calls a rough voice from somewhere among the dark seats. The woman swallows audibly and shuffles off to the wings where identical women hug her, tell her she was great, and reapply her lipstick.

Some time goes by in the class when I’m able to play with Isaac or stand around idly unhindered. And then… “Have you heard about our garden party?” Christ. She’s looking right at me. What could possibly be the right answer to this question? “No,” I strangle out. “Oh! Well, it’s this Friday in the meadow. There’ll be music. And it’s a potluck, so bring a dish…” I don’t hear more of what she’s saying. My mind has wandered off to a list of things I’d rather do than attend a Mommy n Me garden party. Items appearing on the list include things like having my entire body waxed with duct tape.

More time goes by, and then…”You know,” Cheery Blonde is addressing all of the parents at once. “I heard on TV that a couple guys have started putting oil in their cars instead of gas!” She titters like it’s the silliest thing she’s ever heard.

I’m thinking about how people should be given a set number of exclamation points at birth and when they use them up, that’s it. Try to be nice, Kitty, says the voice in my head. She’s attempting adult conversation.

“Don’t they have to do something first before that works?” I ask in a plain tone.

Cheery stops, tilts her head thoughtfully, her eyes, the exact green of her sweater, drifting up and over her left shoulder. “Yes,” she says at last. “They do. That’s right. They have to do. something. to. their. cars.” She nods exaggerated nods including all the other parents in her confession. Perhaps she’s worries they’ll start pouring Wessen in her Lexus SUV if she doesn’t. I can’t imagine it though – I can’t imagine them doing anything that wasn’t printed on a handout and certified by the Academy of American Pediatrics.

“Somebody needs to do something to help us use the cars we have for less!” the instructor goes on.

“How about we just grass over the highways?” I suggest.

Cheery nods slowly, her mouth neither open nor closed, her expression blank. Isaac runs to me to deliver a purple ball, then dashes off collect the red one, too. I have enough time to forget the conversation. And then…

“Did you say ‘grass over the highways’?” she asks.

“Yes.”

Again a slow nod, her mind searching for something familiar to hold onto. And then…

“There’s a lot more traffic in my neighborhood lately!”

I turn from the non-sequitur like one turns from a private argument in a public place, out of politeness. Isaac leaves me the red ball and reclaims the purple. We read a few books, balance on the spongy bulging mats, and then…

“Would you like a handout on the Top 12 Foods?”

I make no move toward the Xeroxed pages. “Top 12 Foods for what?” I ask.

“The Top 12 Foods,” she repeats, unwilling to relinquish ground on this one.

I grab up Isaac and hold him upside down, causing him to giggle uncontrollably.

When Isaac starts rubbing his eyes, I pack up our things. I’m almost out the door and then…

A gasp. Cheery smacks her open palm flat against her left breast. “I’m not wearing my nametag today! I’m Charlene.” She sticks out her hand. “I’m Kitty,” I say, taking her hand and somehow forgiving her her cardinal sin.

“See you next time!” she sings. The notes catch in my ears as I step out the door and noisily onto the gravel parking lot.

2 comments:

judy said...

Ouch. Truth again. Damn, girl!

Anonymous said...

Oh come on Kitty, the Garden Party was a lot of fun. We made bubbles, wore funny flowered hats and listened to a raw rendition of Mustang Sally. Isaac would have rocked!!
rock on,
jerry

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