The days are getting shorter, leaves swirl about the ground, and scare crows are popping up on porches. It all means one thing.... It's time for parents everywhere to be tormented by at least three different FALL FESTIVIALS.
Last night, Bert and I tag-teamed our first of many for this fall season. As I battled my way from one end of the football field to the other, and back again, I witnessed many other parents in misery, and felt certain I was not alone in wishing there was an adult beverage booth. I would have gladly forked over 10 tickets for a stiff drink. At first glance, the field full of game booths and sugary snacks looked like a happy place, filled with frolicking children and doting parents. However, closer observation would reveal the festival was like a war scene from Saving Private Ryan, only instead of fighting Nazi Germany, it was a war against an angry mob of school-aged zombie like children. Filthy, sweaty, red-faced, hot, sticky children, covered in cotton candy, with Sunkist stains down the fronts of their shirts, all whining so loud it sounded like whales communicating, making even Caillou seem like a trooper... "Buuutttt MOOOOMMMMYYYY!!! I didn't get to do the fiiiissshhhiiinnnggg booth YET! Waaahhaaaaa!!!"
After two hours of pure madness, one parent wises up, conjuring a fool-proof strategy, he drops the last twelve of his purchased tickets into the pocket of a kindergartner passing by. Whispering into her ear, "Here! You won all these extra tickets! Congratulations!" With his plan executed perfectly, he celebrates, announcing to his own children, "Oh, NO! We're all out of tickets. Time to go!" As he high-fives his wife behind the backs of his crying children, the kindergartner, who had just hit the jackpot, runs excitedly up to her own Mother squealing, "That man over there just gave me all these tickets! Now we can play even more games! YAY!!!" Her mother, exhausted from standing in line to play 84 different games, and then forced to carry a million tiny trinkets and pieces of cheap candy, with no bag to hold all the plastic prizes, cramps in her biceps from juggling all the crapola, making sure not to ever mix up her daughter's winnings with her son's, because then there would be even more whining, and her ears simply could NOT handle that, as her ears were already growing numb to the sound, she slowly turns her head to find the enemy she had just encountered. Eyes glowing red, she zooms in on the guilty but desperate Father, who was trying to leave as quickly as possible. The Mother of the thrilled kindergartner, who was now forced to stay another hour to fight in the land of the little zombie kids screams into the night in the direction of the victorious couple, "WHY?? WHY DO YOU HATE ME?? WHAT DID I EVER DO TO YOUUUUU???" Her voice trails off, as her five year old drags her down the hill to the bounce house, with a line 200 kids deep.
Kids everywhere, hyped up on Sunkist and cotton candy, which is basically crack cocaine to children, run rampant, screaming at each other, like a bunch of Veruca Salt's, "HEY KEISHA! What all did you win??" Forcing Keisha's Mom to drag over all the loot, so the children can compare, then whine some more, "Buuuutttt, why didn't I win a tiny little parachute maaaannnnn??? Well, she said she won it over at the riiinnnggg toss boooottthhh!! I waannaa goooo there!!!!" The two moms exchange apologetic glances, then Keisha's mom tries to pull a fast one, "It's okay, darling! You can just have Keisha's little parachute man." She whispers, since Keisha is now in a world of her own, watching her tutu fly in the air as she twirls so fast it's dizzying just to watch. Keisha's mom laughs to the other mom, "I'm sick of toting this stuff around!" and gets a lack-luster, "Umm, thanks?" in response.
A father passes by, two small children each hanging from his legs, their limp limbs dragging the ground, refusing to walk to the car, they both hold tight to his pants screaming in unison the entire way, "PLEASE! PLEASE! PLEASE! TAKE US BAAAACCCKKK! WE WANNA JUMP IN THE BOUNCY HOUSE AGAIN! WE WANT ANOTHER SNOW CONE!!! PUH-LEEEAAASSSEEEE!!! WAAAAHHHH!!!!" Another, smaller child is riding on his shoulders, also screaming and crying, "But, Daddy!!! I didn't get to play the balloon dart game!!!! And I want ONE MORE BAG of cotton candy!! But, but, but I've only had THREEEE!!!! Waahaaahaaa!!!" The father walked, without breaking his stance, keeping his focus on the parking lot ahead, he was heard chanting to himself, "Keep your eyes on the prize. Keeps your eyes on the prize. I can now see our van. Keep your eyes on the prize..."
It's a maddening place to be. And as I walked through the war zone, I started to ponder, just who, what, where, why and how does all of this pure punishment for parents come about?? I had a little day dream and saw a quick glimpse into my future...
I was sitting on a clean couch, in the crisp white living room, at the home of the PTA President, who is dressed to the nines. Calling order to the meeting, she stands up and introduces me to the room filled with perky, organized looking moms, "Everyone! I would like you all to meet our newest PTA volunteer, Mrs. Hudson. (And she pronounces Mrs. like mis-res, because she's old school like that.) Everyone claps a soft golf-clap and mouths words of welcome to me from across the room. I stammer back to them, "Umm, thanks. Umm, well to be honest, I'm not really all that sure why I'm even here. I guess after years of playing the ' Sorry, I've-got-a-ton-of-children' card, I finally felt guilty and decided to join the..." But, I'm interrupted by Madame President who seems displeased I have spoken out of turn.
Clearing her voice, she looks down at her leather bound planner and reads, "Mrs. Hudson will be chairwoman of the Fall Festival Planning Committee!" Everyone claps again, and I slump down in my seat, choking back tears as I remember how much I despised attending the festivals in years past. I nervously raise my hand and ask, "Umm, well, do we HAVE to have a Fall Festival? I mean, can't we just ask all the parents in the school system to donate $20 per child and get it over with already? I know the children have fun and all... and I hate to sound as if I don't care about the children experiencing fall traditions but..."
Interrupting again, Madame President laughs so hard she embarrasses herself with a slight snort as she tries to stifle her giggles and says, "Oh, isn't that just adorable?! She thinks the Fall Festival is about the children!" Everyone erupts into laughter once more. "Oh, sweet Mrs. Hudson. You've got a thing or two to learn about the PTA... First of all, we're not as perfect as you think. Our organizational skills only returned recently as our children are all old enough to tie their own shoes and wipe themselves. And you see, all of us are best friends with a teacher in the school system, have a family member who is a teacher, or is a retired school teacher, hence the name, PARENT-TEACHER-ASSOCIATION."
Trying to give them a chance, I resist the urge to bolt out the door and never look back. Madame President continues, "So you see, our close relationship with these wonderful teachers, who are molding the minds of our future leaders, is why we work so hard." Still not fully understanding, I suggest, "Okay, so you want to have a humdinger of a fund-raiser on their behalf. That's great. But, why can't we at least have it during the cooler months? The high was 97 during last year's festival. The firemen who were there on exhibition had to revive several of the parents who were chasing after their hyper children, and nearly had a heat stroke! And, if we're going to pass out pure sugar snacks and soda, couldn't we at least have an adults beverage stand? I think it's only fair if we allow the adults some refreshing hydration that will also serve as a coping mechanism."
Feeling proud of my well-thought out new booths for the festival, Madame President intercedes,
"Mrs. Hudson, you didn't let me finish. You see, it's really not even about raising funds. It's more about getting revenge... on the teacher's behalf. Picture if you will, a room filled with the same children you witness at the festival... but there's only one parent to 18 of the little monsters. Now, after a day of battling those kids, imagine calling the parents for back-up in the classroom, only to hear, 'So, you're saying lil' John-Parker misbehaves sometimes?? No, way. Not MY child? Are you sure you're actively engaging him? Well, he's good at home, so it must be YOUR problem!'.... As you can just imagine, the teachers love to watch the parents of these little monsters they teach daily, get a dose of their own medicine.
Feeling slighted, I question the conspirator, "But, what about those of us who DO support the teacher, and do our best to discipline our children when she calls and requests help??"
Without remorse, she looks off into the distance and quietly states, "So, we have a few innocent casualties. The innocent are grossly outnumbered by the guilty. It's all worth it in the end. The good war must continue to be fought..."
Snapping out of my daydream, I take a long-hard look at the Fall Festival Battle Field once more, and hope that I'm one of the innocent casualties of the night. Bert and I exchange glances that agree, it's past time to go. We lose our last few tickets in a near-by trash can, and start the long, hard walk back to our van, five screaming, children in tow. We congratulate ourselves on our survival skills, and whisper plans for missing the other 14 festivals that are always held in our town during the fall.