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The Politics of Preschool

Photograph by Getty Images

There is so much about being a preschool mom that I just don't get. And just when I think I am starting to understand the other mothers, something happens that knocks me back to square one, feeling like I will never get them.

I was stunned that, during my first PTA meeting, we spent over 20 minutes talking about "the drama" around field trip chaperoning. I braced myself for a horror story about a child getting injured or a bus running off the road. The drama, however, had nothing to do with the kids.

It was about chaperoning.

Because the preschool classes only go on two field trips every year, chaperoning opportunities are very scarce. And since there are so few opportunities, the competition to be chosen as a chaperone is fierce. Apparently, it has gotten ugly in the past. Think Best Buy on Black Friday.

Just get ready, mothers warned me.

For what? I wondered.

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Eight weeks before the fall field trip to a working farm, the head room mother emailed an "action plan" for chaperone selection. This action plan was designed to avoid the heartache and bitterness that polluted last year's process. Under the new fairness regime, all parents had three days to put their hats in the ring to be considered for a chaperoning spot. Then, three names would be selected out of a bag by a committee of three mothers, according the guidelines that followed in the bullet points. Honestly, there were more guidelines for this process than for the Electoral College.

Once the official call for volunteers went out, every single mother wanted in—including me—because I was afraid I would regret it if I didn't. And more importantly, I was trying to fit in.

But I can't pretend to understand the big deal. Sure, it might be fun to see my daughter learn to churn butter or watch piglets nurse, but it also might be fun to stay home or get a pedicure while she's visiting Green Acres.

On the day of the drawing, I happened to be standing in the school hallway as the committee gathered. I was shocked that a handful of mothers came to the school solely to watch the drawing. They said they didn't want to miss the big reveal—those three coveted names that would be shepherds for the outing that was still 3.5 weeks away.

Is there going to be a PricewaterhouseCoopers accountant coming to verify this? I joked to myself. Maybe all the energy it took to get into this school drained all my competitiveness, because I seemed incapable of getting worked up about this.

It might be easier to become a finalist on American Idol than a chaperone for the preschoolers.

In light of my ambivalence about chaperoning, I felt a tremor of guilt when my name was chosen. Half the mothers patted me on the back murmuring their envy, while others dabbed tears from their eyes. I joked to one of the mothers that I would sell my spot on eBay to the highest bidder, but she didn’t laugh. I think she was one of the criers. Now I'm half afraid that someone will pull a Tanya Harding and try to injure me so I will be bedridden and unable to chaperone.

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Who knows? Maybe when I step off that bus with all the little 3-year-old preschoolers in tow and watch them—as a class—marvel at the wonders of a working farm, I will finally get it. I will understand why other mothers cried when this chance slipped away from them. In the meantime, out of respect for all the broken-hearted mothers, I will stop joking about it. At least at school.

Maybe someday I will understand why the preschool moms wanted a chance to chaperone as badly as those contestants on American Idol want a chance to sing before Simon Cowell. Come to think of it, it might be easier to become a finalist on American Idol than a chaperone for the preschoolers.

Have you seen a similar frenzy in your school for the chance to chaperone? Are the parents in your school eager about volunteer opportunities? Have you seen anyone cry when she was not selected as one of the chosen volunteers?

Help me. What am I missing?

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