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Tales of a Preschool Class Parent: 'I Want My $5!'

Our newest guest columnist is someone I know very well. In fact, Suzanne Rowland was my boss long, long ago when we worked together in New York City for The Associated Press. I think it’s safe to say she’s the funniest boss I ever had – and luckily for us, her sense of humor shines through in her writing, too.

I knew I should have listened to the little voice inside me. No, no, not my conscience, the other one. You know, the one that tries to stop you from doing stupid things? But I ignored it and … volunteered to be a class parent.

Sure, it looks calm. But these classrooms hide a lot of drama. Photo by barnabywasson on Flickr.I had good intentions … sort of. I volunteered in my 4-year-old daughter’s class mostly to avoid being swayed by the increasingly urgent pleas for class parents in my 2-year-old son’s class. (It’s hard to keep up with the 2-year-olds; they all still sort of look alike and I can’t understand a word they’re saying!)

And when I volunteered? Well, my daughter’s teacher clinched it with flattery. She immediately announced to her assistant teachers that The-One-They-Wanted-To-Ask-But-Didn’t-Want- To-Pressure had volunteered. I’m sure they say that to everyone, but I totally fell for it. I always do. Seriously, if you complimented my bathroom cleaning skills – which you most likely wouldn’t -- I’d probably come over and clean yours too.

Anyway, I started off like some sort of Stepford Class Parent, sending out a gushy email to all the parents welcoming them to the class or welcoming them back (it’s a class of 3- and 4-year-olds so some of us are in our second year) and collecting information for a master class list to help everyone plan playdates and birthday parties. I even thought about hosting a class party at my house!

Then it came time to plan the first get-together.

Through an email poll, the class decided to order pizza for the event. So we asked each family to contribute $5. Yes, you read that right -- $5 to feed their entire family dinner. Most people paid, but some didn’t and I was too nice (stupid?) to keep asking for their money so I just covered the difference.

Our holiday party? Same as above except a fellow class parent (there are two other volunteers) covered the difference.

The winter food festival? Same except the other class parent covered the difference.

Let me provide a little context. This Y is located in a middle-class to upper middle-class suburb of New York City and the parking lot is full of expensive cars. And while none of that means that individual families are not struggling financially, I think it’s safe to say that most of them can afford $5.

They just … didn’t pay.

I was prepared. I had change for a $10, change for a $20. (I did not have change for a $50. but I still don’t think that guy actually had a $50.)

If you’re like me, you never carry cash so I agreed to accept checks, even though I never go to the bank. But I did draw the line when a parent asked if I accepted Paypal because … um … because I don’t accept Paypal. And don’t even ask, I don’t accept credit cards or wire transfers.

Also, it’s easy to forget these little things, but somehow no one forgot to come to the event and feed their entire family dinner! Do these people have no shame?

I admit that I only have myself to blame. And I didn’t pursue the non-contributors – not even the mother who told me no fewer than four times that she was uncomfortable leaving the money in an envelope in a child’s mailbox. I confess that part of the reason I didn’t ask her for the money was because I wanted to see how many time she would bring it up to my face without actually handing over the cash.

But I have a plan to fix it for – I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this – next year! Yes, I have two more years in this class when my son moves up to preschool, and I have volunteered to be a class parent again.

Maybe that little voice inside me needs to get a little louder?

Suzanne Rowland has Gone West, but in her case it's west of New York City. And while geography can make a difference on some things, life as a working mom of two is crazy no matter where you live. A flexible boss and reliable childcare help her keep all the balls in the air while a sense of humor helps keep her sane.

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