Angie and I took the day off yesterday and headed to our oldest grandson’s school for their annual “Grandparent’s Day” celebration. For those unfamiliar with the concept, Grandparent’s Day is a special time when student’s grandparents are invited into the school to spend time with the kids, eat lunch, and then divest themselves of their life savings at the Scholastic Book Fair, which by happy, pre-planned coincidence, just happens to always take place on the same day.
If you never had this event at your school, or if your therapy sessions have been so successful that you’ve completely blotted out your own childhood, then please allow me to set the scene. Elementary schools are like regular schools, except someone didn’t read the label and put a dry-clean only building in the dryer. So everything is shrunk and inexplicably yellow in color. There are lots of cheerful posters up preaching various gospels of thought about problem solving and rules. Everybody and everything is clearly labelled. The children are led in group recitations of homework, or things written on the board. And once a day, for no clear reason, everyone goes outside and runs around screaming at the top of their lungs while the teachers blow whistles and point a lot.
If you’re looking for the shorthand version of all that, then just picture a cult populated by miniature sociopaths. Congratulations, you’re home.
Angie and I managed to show up to this year’s shindig five minutes late. (Somebody replaced the downtown section of I-75 with a parking lot and forgot to tell us.) Because of our tardy arrival, there was no one posted to point us in the direction of our grandson Dalton’s classroom. Instead, Angie dove into the office while I stood alone in a hallway full of children trying my damnedest to not look like someone their parent’s warned them about.
Once Angie returned with a room number, we dashed directly down the wrong hall, where we were able to confirm that the hallway signage was correct, and the room was in fact not there. Having reassured ourselves of that, we spotted a teacher and asked for directions to the room we were looking for. That conversation went something like this:
Angie: “Could you please tell us where room 106 is? We’re running a bit late.”
Teacher: “Room 106? That’s Mrs. Pond’s classroom!”
Angie: “Yes, that’s right. We’re looking for our grandson’s class. His teacher is Mrs. Pond.”
Teacher: “She’s in room 106.”
Angie: “Right… 106?”
Jaime (whispering): “Lord, whatever I’ve done to deserve this, I’m so very sorry.”
Several minutes later, having forded several streams and lost young Sally to Dysentery¹, we arrived at Dalton’s classroom. It was everything I like to see in a modern classroom. Colorful, well-lit, lots of technology available, and not a student in site. While that pleased me to no end, Angie insisted that the entire experience would be infinitely better if we were actually in the same room as Dalton. So we headed out into the wilds again.
By this time, Angie was more than a bit concerned that Dalton would be in full-on panic mode that we hadn’t come. Visions of tears, broken dreams, and college rejection letters tumbled through her head. And that’s why, when we finally stumbled across Dalton already eating lunch in the cafeteria, his greeting to us was so much more meaningful: “Oh, hi.”
Having located young Dalton, we were immediately descended upon by his teacher, the one and only Mrs. Pond. She introduced herself, praised Dalton, and then did us a solid by assisting us with cutting in the lunch line. The photo above is my tray from said line. I received that Technicolor wonder of modern chemistry for the low, low price of $3.50.
After some solid research time, and conferring with several universities, I was able to confirm with Dalton that the Tater Tots were in fact supposed to be orange. It seems they are Sweet Potato-Tots. Based on taste alone, I would have ventured a guess closer to something in the wood paste family. Having gamely tried all the foods present, I pressed Dalton for details on whether they were being punished for something. He assured me that this was not punishment, but something he called “lunch.” I remain skeptical.
Following lunch, Dalton led us over to the book fair. The Scholastic Book Fair hasn’t changed much from when I was a kid. Rolling metal carts full of the literary equivalent of those sugar-packed kids breakfast cereals. Lots of speciality erasures and bookmarks with corny catch phrases. A variety of novelty pointers that will have a half-life of 5 minutes or less once they hit a classroom. Prices that would make an upscale jewelry house blush.
In an Internet age, where instant comparison shopping is the norm, the Scholastic Book Fair lives in some kind of time bubble that makes them immune from the Amazon.com’s of the world. After all, you can’t very well look at your grandkid in front of all the other kids and tell him he can’t get something there. Grandparent peer pressure, what a concept.
And to add insult to injury, Dalton’s parents have taught him to be a thoughtful, caring child. That tactical blunder meant that I had to buy books for his brother and sister as well, so that they wouldn’t feel left out. I swear, where do parents come up with these crazy ideas?
In the end, we were at Dalton’s school for about an hour. We got lost twice, ate something that may or may not have been food, and bought $15 worth of books for about $50. But we showed up, and at no point did we forget which kid was ours, or what his name was. If that’s not a grandparenting win, I just don’t know what is.
¹ – An Oregon Trail joke. Either you get it, or you don’t.