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Here Be Mobsters! 13 Ways of Looking at New Jersey, Part 4

November 4th, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized

800px-Red_autumn_leavesOh, It’s Such a Perfect Day. I knew what was coming. Two weeks ago, at a backyard birthday party for a newly anointed 4-year-old girl, I met a number of Nora’s classmates, and her teacher. Mrs. Hicks asked me if I’d be the class’s Helping Parent anytime soon. Yes, I replied, right after Election Day. (The Helping Parent is part of the deal: They keep our kids’ tuitions relatively low, and we come in once every 12 classes to help the teacher get through the day.) Mrs. Hicks all but rubbed her palms together at the prospect: “I love it when the dads are the Helping Parents,” she told me. “I try to make sure we do an extra-messy project.”

A hazing ritual. Fun! Would I be exaggerating to say I was nervous? That I was up at least once the night before, anticipating my 2-1/2-hour workout? I would not. I even worried about whether I’d need to stop at the dry-cleaner on the way home. I remember once seeing a photograph of Damien Hirst and David Bowie “collaborating” on a piece of Hirst’s spin art, not unlike what I imagine Mrs. Hicks and my daughter putting together. Hirst was in the trenches, covered in paint, while Bowie had daintily pushed up the sleeves of his now-ruined black Prada jacket, trying to suppress the annoyed expression of someone who wanted to murder a photographer who’d suggested he do a painting with Hirst for a photo session.

Anyway. That’s how I came to be at home yesterday, avoiding my commute and preparing to work my ass off. Mrs. Hicks got right down to business, gathering a dozen 3- and 4-year-old kids to scoop up red maple leaves off the ground and create “leaf people” (orange glue, magic-markered limbs, googly plastic eyes). Not that everyone created leaf people, or had to—although I noticed that nearly everybody drifted over to the table eventually, even Nora, who’s much more given to the performing arts than the visual. The no-pressure aspect of the class seemed like a good approach.

And ultimately, the class time went much quicker and more smoothly than I’d hoped for. I admit I get a kick out of being called “Nora’s Daddy” (or, occasionally, “Nora’s Mommy”—I know, it’s confusing) and the kids were really sweet. I witnessed no high-calorie tantrums, no altercations, no Def Con 1s. And Mrs. Hicks was, of course, a cool-headed pro. “I’m not a referree,” she explained to me on the playground. “I don’t mediate.” And that seemed like a good strategy. Whenever I found myself involuntarily lunging for stray jackets and plastic cars, Mrs. Hicks would shake her head. Note to self: You do this a lot. Stop it.

So we didn’t even have an extra-messy project, and I didn’t have to drop my shirt off on the way home. But the lesson of the day was really more a refresher, and it went like this: My wife does this every three weeks without breaking a sweat, and almost without comment. She organizes herself to prepare as Helping Parent, and she got me organized for it, too. And when she’s not the Helping Parent, she’s the helping parent (small caps) all day, every day, with a kid full of liquid kinetic energy.

These jobs, teaching our kids both formally and organically, are hugely undervalued in our society, even when they’re paid gigs. I’m actually not sure whose job is tougher, Mrs. Hicks’s or my wife’s: the 2-1/2-hour wind sprints four days a week, or the slow, loping everyday marathon. But I never doubt, every evening, when I return home from intense workloads and stupid commutes, which of Nora’s helping parents had the tougher day.

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