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'Can Other Moms Help Me in the Classroom?'

Q: Dear Kim,

I didn't sign up to be room mom for my kid's class. But the other moms bailed, and I ended up doing it with a couple of other people. But no one will respond with ideas for the class parties, etc. I feel like I am doing this all by myself. It's so hard to build community when no one wants to have a conversation. We just moved here from the Midwest, and my child is only 3. Is this how it is in California? What do I do?

Signed,

Midwest

I feel like I am doing this all by myself. It's so hard to build community when no one wants to have a conversation.

A: Dear Midwest,

I just spent two-and-a-half hours sitting cross-legged on the floor surrounded by a million little pieces of my son’s LEGO collection.

He asked me to help him sort them by color before we put them in the brand-new LEGO storage drawer that Santa brought, and since he’s on school vacation and he looked up at me with those teddy-bear-brown eyes and even said “Please,” I said yes. I thought it would be a nice activity we could do together. Plus, it included one of my favorite activities—organization!

Now I have three broken nails, and my fingertips feel as if I tried to dig my way out of Alcatraz bare-handed.

When I decided to have kids, I didn’t sign up for this.

What I mean is that I didn’t sign up for this, exactly.

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But by having children, I opened up my world to the infinite possibilities that parenting would bring into my life: from wiping poop off someone’s butt for far more years than I had anticipated, to watching my older son win a spelling bee and hearing my younger boy say I am the best mom ever because he loves something I cooked. And yes, even shredding my fingers to help sort teeny tiny plastic toys with very sharp corners.

So even though you didn’t sign up to be room mom, long ago you signed up for the possibility of being room mom, and somehow fate was triggered this time and you got suckered into it. I feel for you, Midwest, and I hate to tell you this, but it happens everywhere.

I knew a lady like that once—in California.

She walked around with a half smile and glazed-over eyes. She didn’t snap out of it until her daughter transferred to another school.

Here’s what you need to do:

1. Take over. If nobody wants to have a conversation, you’re going to have to do what you think is best, aren’t you? Inform the other parents that you’ve made a decision and you’re moving forward. It’s not worth the aggravation or all the extra time to pull answers out of the other parents. You’ll probably catch some flack because there’s always a heckler. But hey, where was that parent when you were looking for suggestions?

2. Ask the teacher. You’re the room mom because you felt bad that nobody else was doing it, and you want your kid to enjoy the school year. You might as well do your best. Consult your child’s teacher—she will know what works best in the classroom. Better yet, have the teacher get the kids all amped up for the class activities, so they’ll tell their parents and beg them to contribute or get involved. It seems like a dirty trick, but if it gets results, who cares?

3. Quit while you’re ahead. Your child is only 3, so you’re getting an early taste of what this gig is like. If you hate it, don’t ever volunteer again. In fact, leave the room when you see the PTA reps coming. And whatever you do, don’t suggest anything or voice an idea as it comes into your head, because the next thing you know, you’ll be the captain of that committee.

To be perfectly honest, I was actually surprised to see that your child is only 3 and the class has a room parent. Maybe that’s because I completely ignored any messages that had anything to do with “helping out in class” when my kids were in preschool. Those few hours a day away from me were sacred time I used to return to something resembling a normal human being after the 24/7 parenting of babies. I suggest you treat preschool similarly, because once you leave that flexible world and enter the rigid, activity-filled environment of elementary school, your life will never be the same.

Do you have a dilemma that’s too big for your friends, but too small for a therapist? Send it to me at mommecs@bermanbraun.com, and I may choose to answer it in next week’s column. I’ve got your back.

MORE: We Can't All Be PTA President

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