“You know who’s going to come to school next week?” Zachary asked in the bath last week.

            “No, who?” his father replied, only about two-sevenths paying attention because he was attempting to scrub tofu out of Benjamin’s hair.

            “The grandparents!” Zach announced.  Suddenly, he had J’s full attention, or, rather, I did.  My husband turned around and shot me a look about eight paragraphs long.

            “I told the teachers,” I muttered as I zipped up Lilah’s pajamas, then louder to my son: “Baby, it’s Grandparents’ and Special Friends’ Day.”  Despite my reminders that we would be providing a special friend in lieu of a grandparent, it seems that the teachers had been advertising only the first half of the title.

            J took over.  “Grandma and Grandpa aren’t going to be there, Zach.  You get a special friend.  Andrew is going to come to your school.”

            Zachary got a four-year-old look on his face.  “I don’t want Andrew,” he snapped.  “I want Grandma and Grandpa.” 

            Benjamin perked up, turning away from his Nemo toys.  Someone had said his favorite word.  He began a monologue about people and his school and visits and the Grumpy Lizard and GRANDPA.  He’s really into Grandpa, but we’re pretty sure he’ll be thrilled when he realizes Wanda is going to be visiting his class.

              The conversation had aftershocks over the next few days, when every time we mentioned that J’s best friend and his family were coming for the week, Zach would start in about not wanting Andrew.  Once they arrived, of course, he was reminded that Andrew is the only person he knows who never gets tired of conversation, so Zach was too busy talking his ear off to remember that this was an also-ran.

              Still, when you were the kid without a mother to show for Mother’s Day or a father to come in for Father’s Day, you get kind of sensitive.  They don’t call these events “Guardian’s Day,” believe it or not, and it always felt like the school plays and assemblies and graduations were events specially designed to remind me that there weren’t any adults who gave a fuck about my existence.  So, forgive me for hovering, but I am trying my damndest to be everything for these kids, given that they are short on extended relations and those we are still speaking to live a very long way away.  And, when I rustle up two friends to cover Grandparents’ and Special Friends’ day, I’d appreciate if you didn’t start applying White Out to the second half of the title.

             I might have been a wee bit testy yesterday when Zach’s teacher asked me, “How many people are coming in for Grandparents’ Day?” because I read the fine print.  Andrew may be thirty-five years younger than all the other visitors in the preschool this morning, but I can assure you he is a very special friend.

29 responses to “Reverberations

  1. Please tell me you reamed out the teacher… 😉

  2. My kid’s school calls it “Grand Pals Day” which I love. Anyone can be a Grand Pal, and sometimes his Godfather comes to it.

    When my daughter was in jr high and high school my problem was the Father Daughter Dance. She had no father figure that would go or that she would agree to go with. I would encourage her to go with one of her grandfather’s, who would have been delighted. Once I almost got her to agree to the high school event by asking her 6th grade teacher, a man she adored who also would have gone. But she never went, not once.

  3. Wow, I’d have thought that schools would be a teensy bit more aware that families come in many varieties by now. ( I second Ashley’s comment!)

  4. Huh. Even back when I was a kid my school had abandoned these things. I don’t even think we did anything like it in elementary. Even though I was lucky enough to have family close and have them be just your average dysfunctional — I honestly don’t know that they would have come to such a day anyway. I could never get my parents to come to my athletics (paltry thought they were).
    I agree, in today’s day with so many types of families and so many of them disbursed, it just seems a recipe for disappointment.

  5. I agree with Nicole – I’m extremely surprised that schools are even hosting events called “Grandparents’ Day” et al because so many families are spread out all over creation and they come in so many shapes and sizes.

    I think “Bring Someone Special Day” would have been perfect.

    And I also hope you gave the teacher some polite but chilly guidance. 😉

  6. Wow. I had no idea there was a grandparents day trend. I agree the name only serves to stir up issues. I love Grand Pals Day. Whoever came up with that has a great heart.

  7. Ouch, my heart.

    Like everyone else I’m surprised that a school would still be doing something like this.

  8. yeah, these schools live somewhere in the freaking 50’s. Get with it folks-not every one has the old fashioned definition of a nuclear family.

  9. You had every right to be testy! Society has changed and it is time that schools start acknowledging that! Also there is no such thing as a textbook family structure ,we are not all products of a picture perfect life!

  10. Our school has Doughnuts With Dad and Muffins With Mom, and you’d really think that, these days, they could ease up on the assumptions about families.

    I love the idea of Grand Pals. I think you should suggest it for next year. Even if it is a little late to help right now. Frustrating.

  11. One more thing: If a child has two dads, or two moms, do they have to forgo either muffins or doughnuts? You know? Doesn’t seem fair for them, or for the kids who maybe only have one parent.

  12. my son’s preschool had teddy bear picnic with dads (or any other male roll model) I suppose it was better because they just called it teddy bear picnic, but i felt bad because my hubby almost didnt get to go, he was out of town on business and flight got cancelled, but he ended up making it back in time….I think it would have been rough on my son if he hadn’t made it. I undertand that schools just want family involved and participating, but I agree the language needs to be changing.

  13. I’m surprised too. I can empathize with the extended family thing, and nobody needs to have that rubbed in. The teacher ought to be more aware, but the school/daycare ought to have more sense that such a silly day. And if they must have a person day, why not just have it be “Special Person Day” and leave it at that?

  14. Even children who are close with their grandparents often live far away, so it surprises me that the school played that up. Our daycare refers to Mother’s Day and Father’s Day as “Special Person Day”, and while initially I might have scoffed a little I quickly came to see how much sense it makes. Really, they’re little kids, let’s avoid creating issues for them.

    I know for myself, not really having a father in my life or any other adult male of significance, I always hated the ‘Father-Daughter’ events. I’m sorry to hear that things aren’t better yet.

  15. As a teacher who works at a school with a Grandparents Day, Father Visiting Day, and several Mother Visiting Days scattered throughout the year, I would like to chime in. I am not surprised that these days exist within the school calendar. In “touchy-feely” terms, these are days during which children can share a place and an experience that is very special to them with loved ones. And in terms of marketing, these “special” days are fund-raising tools for private, and possibly public, schools. They highlight the school’s programs and create a special connection with possible donors. (I imagine that this will horrify some readers to consider these days in such terms, but it is true.) Regardless of what these days are called, I think that they are important, and I, for one, love them.
    Emily, I totally understand where you, personally, are coming from, and like Zach, my grandparents lived far away, in a different country in fact. I understand how much he misses them and wants to be like the other children in his class who can share his day with his grandfather or (awesome) grandmother. Sadly for him, this time it wasn’t possible.
    I cannot imagine that when his teacher asked you how many grandparents would be attending, she meant to hurt your feelings or offend you. And I am also sure that you did not “ream her out” as two people who commented earlier wished. We would all have to admit that “Grandparent and Special Friend Day” is a bit of a mouthful. It is what it is, and she should probably have asked everyone simply how many *guests* would be attending. I think that we all need to realize that sometimes people say things without meaning to offend. I would cut the teacher some slack.

  16. Yeah. We got stung on Grandparents’ Day too. Feel for you there.

  17. Actually, I was pretty annoyed with the teacher. It wasn’t just a mistake; it was a mistake after she had already been told TWICE that Z would not have grandparents there and that it was a sensitive issue. This leads me to believe that she had been referring to it as “grandparents’ day” all along, despite what the title is and what i had told her and that she had been feeding Z’s discomfort…

  18. Caroline, I’m sorry, but I have to chime in here.

    The idea that even a slight majority of children have the designee available for highly specific days is, unfortunately, not the modern reality for most families/schools these days.

    If you live in an area where the opposite is true and most children do have grands or dads or moms or whatever readily handy to come and be a part of the day, then that’s nice, but it still doesn’t address the our society today: we are in a global village here. We need to address the ideals of family that a growing number of children experience; i.e. grandparents are not close, extended family may not be close, good friends are considered family, same-sex parents, etc.

    Also, it wasn’t the first time the teacher had been asked or notifed about the term and Zach being sensitive. If “Grandparents and Special Friends Day” is SO hard to say, then obviously, another, shorter, inclusive and appropriate term, such as those suggested above, should have been used.

    It’s not about killing traditions or persecuting teachers. It’s about being kind to children.

  19. for the record, caroline is one of the best and most sensitive teachers i’ve ever known and she’s dealt with her fair share of insensitive teachers. i think she was just trying to explain why these traditions still exist. the reasons make sense, but as coco says, a shorter and easier term (just cut out the “grandparents” part!) is in order.

  20. Not a day that ever existed when my son was at that sort of age and you can see why – fraught with difficulty all around. So many families live in different places, so many grandparents missing one way or another. From 6 onwards I only had the one grandparent and I would not have been exactly thrilled to see her turn up at my school. I agree with the commenter who suggested the grandparent bit could easily have been dropped and ‘special person’ would have been much easier for everyone to comply with.

  21. Oh man, that hurts. I think it’s nice to remember the grandparents but that’s so fraught with hurt making an issue of it. With you on the Special Person suggestion.

  22. Wow, that’s really crappy. There are probably a lot of kids without grandparents – I’m surprised that sort of insensitivity is still around, actually.

  23. Caroline, I just re-read and realized my comment tone was perhaps overly harsh. I apologize.

    I absolutely agree that having days for family to visit is wonderful. I just get very frustrated when days are still named for a tradition we adults may have grown up with, and the tradition is lovely, but today it leaves out whole groups of kids.

  24. i too am surprised the schools don’t just go with “special persons” day or “grand pals” and leave it at that.

    when i was a kid i would have loved a grandparents’ day, as my grandmother was the precise person i was sure gave two shits about me, but instead, we had an archaic Daddy-daughter thing which i had no one to bring to and which always hurt.

    i’m a teacher, and am pretty shocked that schools are relying on these outdated designations of family for fundraising, as being inclusive is likely to net more money and make fewer kids feel hurt.

  25. it’s rough. MQ even has 4 great grandparents, but they all live far away, and we have to settle for special friends, too. I’m sure it’s must harder considering your family history.

    Keep fightin’!

  26. Its surprising to me that the school wouldn’t be a little bit more careful about not alienating kids. I mean, especially in this day and age where families are all so different! Many, many children don’t have their mother or father available, let alone a grandparent in the sidelines ready to come to school! They should have done something different. For instance, they could have talked about different generations, and maybe made cards for people at a nursing home or “adopted” grandparents at a local senior center for a day, or something like that.

  27. My wife teaches at an inner city school. Father’s Day is a particularly traumatic day – lots of acting out. She tries to turn it into “some man who matters in your life” day, but that somehow seems to only somewhat ameliorate the situation.

  28. I’m glad that they even had the “special friend” option. As a motherless child like you, I understand your sensitivity on this subject. I would frankly be shocked if very many grandparents lived in the same city as their grandkids at my eldests’ school. It just doesn’t seem to happen much anymore.

  29. My childrens school doesn’t have this, thankfully, as my boys only have Grandmas and they live in another country so it would be impossible to get them here.
    I would address it with the school director or equivalent, tactfully, but it is worth bringing to his or her attention, I’m sure your son isn’t the only one who couldn’t bring a grandparent and felt sad about it. Besides the non-traditional family aspect, important as it is, many childrens grandparents have passed away and this could be a painful reminder to them. The teacher should have remembered – or kept a list of the pals the kids were bringing. No offense intended to teachers, I’m a big fan of teachers and think they mostly do wonderful work but sensitivity to their charges situations is part of that work. I try not to be a pain in the neck at my kids school but I also try to speak up when things aren’t working for me or possibly for someone else.