If you ever want to feel the true weight of your dreadful parenting skills pressing down upon you, spend the day at a pre-school. I promise you will learn a lot about your shortcomings.
Every so often I am called upon to attend lessons with my daughter and her classmates at the Marilla Cuthbert Academy for Unspeakably Charming Children (or MCA-UCC for those of you who insist upon academic abbreviations — you know, for the bumper stickers).
As a cooperative pre-school, the MCA-UCC relies on parents to take turns in all tasks relating to upkeep, maintenance and the supplying of wholesome snacks. Helping children struggle into painting smocks and elaborate costumes to fulfill their wildest dreams during their child's "Special Day" is just a bonus.
The MCA-UCC is a place where all the children stand in line, take turns and play with wild restraint. When they forget and play with abandon, the teacher sings a reminder that children are to use their "walking feet," or turn on their "listening ears," or sit on their bottoms.
It becomes clear how reinforcement and expectation becomes part of any behavioral outcome. No one ever says "No." Instead they say: "We don't throw toys." "We don't eat paste." "We use indoor voices."
Such wonderment must be experienced first hand.
As a parent whose experience with tantrums has resulted in chocolate for dinner, no hair washing for days and more television than the FCC censors have ever seen, I can tell you teachers of small children are genetically different from the rest of the human race.
Whereas, I have one tiny gladiator to wrestle into a coat, she has 10.
Kids who develop hearing impairments at home as soon as you remind them to wash their hands after using the potty, or wipe their feet at the door are happily obliging the kindly headmistress. Eventually, everyone at school starts using their listening ears and their indoor voices. The accounting alone is enough to make you nominate her to a high-ranking
position in the United Nations.
I've been through the Special Day drill twice so far this year, and each time I feel as if I need remedial intervention.
When one kid in my charge dips his hand into the paint and drags it across his paper, she zips over with a paper towel, apparently observing with the eyes in the back of her head, and reminds us "We use brushes," in the same jovial tone.
Oops. My mistake.
"I'm just going to hang this over here," she sings as she relocates artwork I've hung right above the walkway. "Otherwise you're going to get painted. And we wouldn't want that."
"We use one puzzle at a time," she reminds as I sit with pieces from at least six puzzles strewn between three puzzlers.
Oh. ... I didn't even think.
I sit in awe as the three children I've just spend an unsuccessful 20 minutes trying to costume in elaborate dancewear, disappear into the main playroom. Not one -- not even my own Ittybit -- heeds my beseeching to come back and reverse the process. I panic. Snack time is fast approaching and if it takes 20 minutes to untangle them from the plumage there will be trouble.
"Um… Miss Cuthbert?" I stammer apologetically. "I can't get the kids to take off their costumes."
With a knowing look, she conjures the magic words: "Oh, girls, when I ring that bell you’re going to want to be ready for snack. And that means you'll have all the play clothes put away."
And wouldn’t you know, before you can say "abracadabra" all three are back in the dressing room, tugging off their costumes and handing me their shoes. Proof, I have to believe, that teachers have supernatural powers.
Hopefully some will rub off on me.