I had to go to the public school yesterday. Another time I'll blog about the details of why and the "horrors" of the whole experience, but for now, I just want to comfort every parent who has ever spotted a "perfect" family and felt inferior: maybe it's all a farce.
Knowing that I had to make this little trip with all six kids in tow, I made sure that everybody was dressed decently: not Sunday best, but nothing was dirty, stained, ripped or mismatched (and that is quite a feat for an early Wednesday morning).
I brushed the girls' hair (a really big deal).
I had my three oldest get the books they were reading for history. I had my three youngest select picture books of choice. Naturally, one child had to pick a coloring book and then wanted to lug the big bucket of pens, pencils, and crayons along. I told her to select 5 crayons; she picked 5 colored pencils. Whatever.
I sat the girls down and talked to them, and then a bit later called the boys to attention (they love drill and ceremony and know I'm serious when I call them to attention and deliver "marching orders"). I explained that public schools do not tolerate barbarians. I laid out my expectations in the sternest terms: speak only when spoken to, no yelling, no running, no arguing (with each other or me).
I told them they were to sit quietly and read their books the entire time we were there. This generated arguing on the part of one child (unnamed) who felt that this was tyrannical. (S)he felt that reading for a bit and then doing some other activity should suffice and that (s)he was perfectly capable of good behavior without a specific task to keep her/him occupied. This is the exact reason I explained my expectations clearly, in advance. Said child was sternly reminded of her/his call to obedience and told that this was absolutely not a situation where any flexibility regarding the terms of behavior would be granted.
And then we went, and they sat, and they read, and they spoke when spoken to and not otherwise, and they were, in all ways, perfect. Model children. Beautiful.
Even the baby was perfect: she kept walking out the office to stand in the hall and had to be brought back in; she had a temper tantrum in the conference room because she was bored and upset that she had to stay with me and not her siblings; and she emptied my purse and got really, and loudly, mad when I took all the coins away from her. This is perfect because she behaved just exactly right for her age which proved that my children were normal and not robots or extraordinarily passive-submissive types.
I was beyond proud of my kids.
And then, immediately upon leaving the building, they started fussing with each other, jostling over who would get in the car first, whining about being hungry and thirsty, complaining about my proposed snack upon our return home, arguing over the need to do schoolwork after snack, and crying because somebody in the back row kicked the seat in their row and it "hurt."
Grace period: over.
So, the next time you see immaculately dressed children sitting perfectly still and behaving in such an exemplary manner that you are tempted to judge yourself an inadequate parent, consider the possibility that it is all a show. And although I can't speak for the Smiths or the Joneses, I will say that if the last name is Reitemeyer, we're just faking it.