Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Public Schools and The Working Parents

Well, I had the best intentions to begin writing much more regularly once I was back in Washington, DC and life became boring again. Alas, my relationship with the Portuguese language has proven to be much more time-consuming than I suspected. Plus, I began to cook more. And to clean and do laundry. And shop for groceries. And run dishwashers. And work out. And do all those mundane normal things people in America do. I can tell you this – I miss my life in Dhaka. I continue to plot my triumphant return.
Amongst my first interesting experiences here has been the enrollment of Son in public school. Neither I nor the Diplomat were raised in the United State and thus, we were woefully unaware of the way the system worked. As you would graciously recall, we landed in Arlington the day before school started in Virginia, both for us and for Son. We registered him for school on the first day of class. While we sat there, feeling like the most awful parents who could not find enough time in their lives to register their poor child in kindergarten in advance (like, I imagined, all decent parents would do), another couple came in and did just the same. I brightened up and immediately befriended them. Turned out, there were also a Foreign Service couple. I suppose last minute school registration goes with the territory.
The next day, while dropping Son at school, I noticed other parents who were walking around with thick yellow manila envelopes, which looked important. I timidly asked what that was. The school administrator was NOT amused. Apparently, there had been an orientation night and APPARENTLY (I swear, she capitalized the words as she spoke!) we had not attended. Totally crushed, I admitted as much. She took pity on me and bestowed upon me one fat, yellow envelope. I rejoiced and ran home to read it only to become even more terrified. It was SO. MUCH.INFORMATION! I had to fill out about 47 different emergency contact forms, various releases, activity sheets and promises for good conduct. Then there was the awe-instilling PTA – the parent-teacher association for those of you NOT in the know. I am still unsure what exactly they do but it seems pivotal. I immediately began desiring to be part of it but the Diplomat poured cold water over my earnest eagerness by pointing out that Son will be leaving the school in 6 months so there was really no point to go crazy. I was sad. I had so wanted to be on the PTA.
Then, a few days later, Son brought home the school calendar. While tearfully going through it (I was cutting onions and NOT crying because my baby was now in real school), I noticed things like, “Teacher planning day, school closed,” "parent-teacher conferences, school closed,” "Wednesday before Thanksgiving, SCHOOL CLOSED???," and finally – practically 2 weeks around Christmas “school closed.” Wow, um, wait, what now? Surely this is a cruel mistake. How about parents who work? What are we supposed to do with our kids on those days? Bring them to work? Tie them to a kitchen leg at home, with snacks around and hope for the best until we come back from work?
Not to worry, said the school – we got it covered (well, mostly). We will have alternative arrangements on those days. Phew, I said and relaxed. They WERE great alternatives – days with art workshops, soccer, theater, dance. Amazing – unicorns and rainbows, right? Not so much – apparently, the alternatives cost about $65 a day. Or more. If you want them, of course. Otherwise, you can always go back to the tying-your-kid-to-the-kitchen-table-leg plan. I politely asked Son’s teacher what other parents do and she suggested that he spend some time with extended family members (grandparents, she clarified lest I thought she meant a remote, old, batty, crazy aunt). Clearly, not practical for us. Good talk. Sadly, we are not allowed to take any leave during language training or we lose the per diem. So, YMCA, here we come.

Which naturally makes me wonder - just what, exactly, does our country imagine we should be doing with our children in such times. Let's say, for argument's sake, that families with 2 working parents have the option of one parent taking a vacation and not working in order to care for the child during the winter break. Then how about single parents on a small income? Are they supposed to be able to afford the $55 (at a minimum!) a day camp for a fortnight? It just makes you wonder...Where's the village when you need one.

Other than that, Son has been ecstatic at school and says that he has many friends, even though he can’t remember the names of anyone save for this one kid and I suspect that even that name is invented since Son seems irritated at me for asking for names on a daily basis.

In other news, our government shut down today. Good times. 


  1. Dear Diplomatic Mom, how many languages do you speak as today?

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  3. Welcome back to D.C.! I'm a big fan of your blog and love reading your posts! I'll be attending tomorrow's A-100, exciting times!
    Hopefully one day I'll be joining you in the FS :)

  4. I really enjoy reading your blog! Good luck with the school. I have a question--does the FS offer any etiquette training to spouses and family members of FSOs? I consider myself diplomatic; my spouse, not so much. How big of a concern do you think this is? Thanks in advance.

  5. Jason! Thank you! I hope A-100 was as exciting as one imagines it to be! And good luck on your own FS dream! (I use WAY too many exclamation marks...but life is SO exciting and exclaim-y!

  6. Dear anonymous, yes, the FSO does offer one such fabulous diplmacy class, called Protocol, which I have infamously reproduced here: http://diplomaticmom.blogspot.com/2011/03/class-in-us-protocol-and-etiquette-eat.html

  7. Hi,

    I really like what you have going here. Lots of information on a lot of subjects that I find interesting. I would like to tweet your blog and will be back again soon.Thanks!

    Apartment in Dhaka