Mark and I are so going to rock the nursing home scene.
I know it may be a bit premature to get fired up about this now. But if our Bingo skillz are anywhere near as on-fire as our knack for winning raffles, we’re going to DOMINATE those oldsters.
Here’s the thing: Last year at Kate’s preschool auction we were ready to dart out the door early. The school was providing childcare and we had one hour of babysitting left. This compelled us (and some friends) to want to bee-line to a bar to guzzle as much booze as possible in that remaining window of freedom. (What is it about being a parent that makes you want to drink like a frat boy sometimes?)
So we’ve got one foot out the door. Quite literally. And we hear the auctioneer bellow, “Now wait a minute folks! We still have the raffle drawing for the instant wine cellar!”
With a dramatic flourish he sunk his hand into a glass bowl. He withdrew a stub, looked at it, and scrunching up his face he muttered into the mic, “I’m so bad at pronouncing these names.”
And Mark and I looked at each other. Because we knew.
Yes, thank all that is holy and bad for my liver—we won! (And the guy actually did a commendable job of pronouncing McClusky.) Yup, we took home more than four cases of vino that night. All different kinds, and all pretty good stuff—each family from the school having contributed a bottle.
I’ve found that many things labeled “instant” are not as good as their slower alternatives. Instant coffee, instant rice, instant mashed potatoes. But an instant wine cellar? Now that’s a good thing. Trust me.
A couple months ago, I dragged Mark by his ear to Kate’s elementary school auction. He’s not a fan of those sorts of big, canned social events. Here we were on a Saturday night having spent $40 a ticket to come to the school’s auditorium—a place we schlep through every weekday in far less fancy attire. But we bought the tickets and gussied up because private school is kinda like going to a chiropractor. Your back is never totally better. And private schools never have enough of your money.
So anyway, they had a silent auction, a live auction, and, I noticed as I stumbled across the dimly lit prom-like room towards the bar, a raffle.
I diverted my wine mission, and sashayed over to the raffle table, heady with optimism and the cheap pinot I’d been drinking. I requested two $25 tickets, and proclaimed to the mom-volunteers workin’ the table, “I’m gonna win.”
Oh it’s so BORING being this lucky. Yes, yes, we won AGAIN. (Yawn.) I mean, it’s nearly at the point where it’s just unfair to the other naive, hopeful raffle ticket buyers who we go up against.
But get this: This time there was no physical prize. Mark wasn’t making several trips back and forth to the car heaving heavy boxes of wine into the trunk, or worse, cramming in some over-sized blindingly-colorful classroom art project. This time we won something intangible, something experiential, something that would make our daughter get a taste of power she may never cleanse from her mind’s palette.
We won that Kate, our little kindergartener, was going to be principal of the school for a day.
Brilliant! We were beaming. You would’ve thought they’d awarded us Neiman Marcus matching his and hers hot air balloons.
The real principal emailed me a couple weeks later to set it up. “Would April 28th work for Kate?” she asked. I wondered what she thought Kate might have planned for that day, other than circle time, chasing the boys around the playground, and singing rainforest-themed songs.
Let me see… No meetings with heads of state planned. No bereaved families to visit. No fundraiser luncheons.
April 28th? Why… yes! She’s available!
At drop-off one morning I bumped into the principal. She suggested that Mark and I brainstorm with Kate about what she might like to do for her day at the helm. “Let me know what she comes up with,” she said. “Then I can pick out some of things that’re realistic for us to put in place.”
We hadn’t yet mentioned this whole thing to Kate. Why, her teacher suggested, get her all hopped up about it when it was still a ways off? (That poor woman is painfully aware of Kate’s relentless tenacity when she wants something to happen NOW.)
Our brainstorm with Kate at dinner that night was an off-the-cuff chance to bounce around ideas. But minutes after introducing the concept to Kate, it seemed like she’d been planning for it for a lifetime.
She started spewing out ideas at a staccato pace. And what was dazzling was how damned realistic and implementable all her plans were.
“I want ten extra minutes of recess. For both recesses.”
“Pajama Day for the whole school.”
“Extra long reading time.”
“I’d like for everyone to be able to make postcards. Oh! And to send them to people they love.” (No surprise, this coming from Ms. Hallmark herself.)
If she’d hooked a laptop up to a projector and started reading from a PowerPoint presentation I wouldn’t have been surprised. The gal was apparently made for this job.
She was ready.
And as she rambled on, and I started envisioning her in a smart, trim, gray flannel suit, I found myself getting annoyed with all her efficiency and pragmatism. She was getting a shot at doing whatever she wanted to for a day, yet everything she dreamed up was so drearily restrained. So maddeningly practical.
Like, get this. At one point she threw out: “I want the snack in the after-school program to be fruit salad.”
Have we really been withholding sugar from her so comprehensively that her idea of unbridled food glee is FRUIT SALAD? What about candy bars? Chocolate cake? What about a frickin’ make-your-own hot fudge sundae bar for God’s sake?
I emailed the erstwhile principal the list of Kate’s annoyingly-reasonable demands. Then, a few days before her rise to power, a school-wide email went out announcing Kate would be the temporary Head of School.
That’s when everything changed.
Yes, what came next was the adrenaline-amped dizzying swirl that comes with anyone’s sudden rise to fame. And as her mom—playing a minor role in Principal Kate’s posse—I was sucked right into it alongside her.
At the playground after school the next day swarms of children gathered ’round me, jumping up, waving their arms, and vying for my attention. “Kate’s gonna be principal tomorrow! We get extra long recess! Kate made it pajama daaaay!”
I pushed past the throng wishing I had a security detail, and entered the relative sanctuary of the building. A couple older kids were slumped against the hallway wall, backpacks slung over their shoulders. They looked up at me from their conversation and said casually, “Hi Principal’s mom.”
It was almost creepy.
In the arts and crafts room I finally spotted Madame Principal herself. She stood there like some hot molten core, the focus of all the energy in the room. She was surrounded by a pulsating ring of pumped up, over-tired, I’m-friends-with-the-boss kids. Some were Kate’s real homies. Others were clearly making a play to get on her good side.
And then one child called out in a scrawny voice, “All hail to Kate!” And I kid you not, they all joined in the chant. “All hail to Kate! All hail to Kate!”
Over the din the guy who runs the after-care program mouthed to me, “It’s like she’s a celebrity.”
Walking to the car later, my little principal reached to hold my hand and asked, “What does ‘all hail’ mean?”
I swear, this is the kinda stuff Michael Jackson must have gone through as a kid.
Anyway, in the same way that it’s cool for a bartender to know your drink order—how it’s nice when someone shows how they know you—it’s also validating and happy-making as a parent when other people show how they really know your kid. Which was how I felt when I told various friends that Kate was getting a crack at running her school for the day.
My dad let loose his famous, booming expression of affirmation: “Oh ho ho!” (No, my father’s not Santa. But he does talk like him.) Others imagined how perfectly poised Kate would be in the role. And more than one amiga said something like, “When she becomes president some day, she’ll say she got her first taste of power in kindergarten when she was principal for the day.”
I adored every implication that Kate has confidence, smarts, and leadership qualities. I mean, folks were probably just thinking about how she’s bossy as hell. But in a silly proud way I indulged in the jokes about Principal Kate being the gateway to President Kate. I imagined myself feeling how Kate Middleton’s mom must have on her daughter’s wedding day—watching in amazement at all that her little girl had grown up to be.
I can see it all now. She’ll no doubt appoint Paige to be her secretary.
I wish I could outline the activities of Kate’s actual day in power. I wish, like a fly on the wall, I saw exactly what went down that fateful day. But this is one of those stories that gets you to the part you’ve been waiting for and then it turns out there’s no there there. If you were at the movies you’d probably walk out feeling ripped off, left to form your own unsatisfying conclusions about what really happened.
Put it this way, if you’re able to get a reliable detailed account of your child’s days at kindergarten, you’re a better mother than me.
All I can say for sure is that I dropped her off at school that morning to more playground fanfare. She was clutching a clipboard with a sign on it saying ‘Principal Kate.’ And she and the rest of the kids pouring in for the day were in their PJs (which, I’ll note, dramatically reduced the professional effect we were going for with the clipboard).
I snapped a few pictures of her sitting at the principal’s desk, and left as she and the temporarily-overturned Head of School were discussing the merits of lunching in the staff room.
I can’t help but think that one day, the incoming White House staffers will be elated to have finally made it to the big league. After all their over-achieving, the glory and glamor will finally be theirs. But then, for President Kate’s inaugural dinner, she’ll insist that fruit salad is served for dessert.
[Insert that "waah waah" sound effect to indicate disappointment.]
Ah well, at least they’ll get to wear their PJs to work.