From Chicken Soup for the Mother of Preschooler's Soul

Mommy’s Help, Er

Never give in, never give in, never, never, never.

Winston Churchill

On the first day of preschool, I gave my child two pieces of advice: Always wash your hands after going to the bathroom, and keep your fingers out of your nose. In hindsight, I wish I’d added a third: Never volunteer Mommy to be a classroom “helper.”

Halloween was just days away when I received a phone call from Kate’s teacher. My four-year-old had raised her hand when the teacher asked whose parents would like to help with the party. Could I please bring paper products?

It sounded easy enough. I purchased an adorable set of Halloween plates with matching cups and napkins. The day of the party, I proudly spread them on the classroom table.

“Where are the spoons?” asked the mother-in-charge-of-the-party.

“Spoons?” I rummaged through my sack, searching for the “missing” party supplies—and a passable response. “I . . . uh . . . thought I was supposed to bring paper products.”

After watching twelve children slurp and lick applesauce from my adorable paper plates, I spent the rest of the afternoon wiping twelve adorable chins and dabbing twelve adorable—but stained—costumes with my once-adorable napkins.

Ignorance, however, did not remove my name from the helper hit list. Another request came—this one with more specific instructions: purchase six cans of juice for the holiday punch, chill and deliver them to the preschool one hour before the party. If I successfully completed my mission, I’d be given the privilege of pouring.

I bought three cans of red and three cans of green juice and delivered them to the school the next day, wearing a jolly smile and a colorful holiday sweater to camouflage any spills and splatters. Ho, ho, ho.

Without mishap, I helped distribute treats and then headed to the punch bowl, expecting to see a lively red or green brew. Instead, I faced a murky brown concoction and disapproving stares.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Even most four-year-olds know red and green make brown,” one mother frowned.

“I thought the children would like a choice,” I muttered.

“Choices lead to fighting.”

I spent the afternoon pouring brown punch into colorful cups while listening to twelve children dare each other to drink the “reindeer diarrhea.” I knew I’d never be asked again to help with classroom parties.

But that didn’t eliminate calls about special projects. A desperate mother pleaded for an extra pair of hands to help the class make cornhusk dolls. No sewing, she reassured me, just a little gluing. At last, something I could handle: Elmer and I went a long way back.

I entered the school, full of confidence and was guided to a table and, uh, armed. At least, it was shaped like a gun, complete with barrel and trigger. Was this a way of saying I’d better do a good job—or else? Then I was handed some cylindrical tubes. Ammunition?

“It’s glue. For the glue gun.” One mother demonstrated and explained, “Wait for it to get hot, then gently squeeze a drop onto whatever you’re sticking together.”

I dripped and drizzled enough glue onto the dolls to fossilize them. Within the first hour, I had glued two kids to each other and my purse to the floor. After gluing the son of the mother-in-charge to the blackboard (by accident, honest), I was dismissed.

Somewhere, I’m convinced, there’s a handbook titled: Unspoken Rules, Regulations and Codes for Parent Helpers. If only someone would tell me what’s in it.

There’s so much more for me to learn. That’s why I called the mother-in-charge and told her to sign me up as a helper for the rest of the year. Her response?

“Ever consider homeschooling?”

Patricia E. Van West

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