Politics & Policy

Snapshots From The End of The School Year


“Sign here, please.”

”Wow! Mummy, what’s in that? It’s gigantic!”

“I don’t know–”

“Can I see? Can I see? Can I see?”

“Let’s open it! Can I open it? Hey, I’m opening it!”

“Hurrah, children, I think these are the home-schooling books for this summer–”

“Here, we can slash it open–”

“Ack, where’d you get that knife? Better let me–”


To: Pre-Kindergarten Parents

From: Your Class Parent

Re: End-of-Year Teacher Gifts

Well, summer is almost here, and it’s time to decide what we want to give our wonderful teachers to show…


A faint voice rises up four flights of stairs: “Muuuummmmy…. I neeeeeeed youuuuu!” A woman apparently wearing a soccer ball under her blouse straightens a trifle wearily and heads downstairs to the ground-floor bathroom, where a platinum-haired three-year-old waits cheerfully for assistance. Assistance is rendered. Mother and daughter are just washing their hands when, from four flights up, comes another voice: “Muuuummmmy…. I neeeeeeed youuuuu…!”


To: Nursery Parents

From: Your Class Parent

Re: End-of-Year Teacher Gifts

Hi everyone! With the end of the school year quickly approaching, we’re raising money to…



A boy in a blue zip-up shoulder-to-knee sun-blocking bathing suit intercepts his mother half-way up the stairs. “I’m Oceanic Man!” he cries through the blue ski mask that obscures his features. “I can break tidal waves in half… with these!” And he holds up his hands, instruments of death, and tears dramatically at an invisible tsunami. “Snerggh!” The mother smiles, and resumes the climb.


To: Second Grade Parents

From: Your Class Parent

Re: End-of-Year Gifts

It’s that time again! I wanted to organize just a few details about the gifts for our…


The soccer-ball-wearing woman finally gets to the top of the stairs, pauses to catch her breath, and walks into the fourth-floor bathroom, where a golden-haired five-year-old waits cheerfully for assistance. “Oh, no,” says the woman, looking at the empty spool that is supposed to hold lavatory paper. “Don’t worry,” says the child. “You don’t understand,” the mother replies in a voice from the crypt. She turns; thuds all the way back downstairs to a storage cupboard, extracts a roll, and then, very, very slowly, climbs back up four flights of stairs to assist the child.


To: Fifth Grade Parents

From: Your Class Parent

Re: End-of-Year Gifts

The year has gone by too quickly! Now it’s time for everyone to pitch in to buy…


“Wow!” everyone breathes, as I cut the cardboard and pull out a magnificent and glossy box decorated with snippets of fine art.

“It’s your Phonics Museum, Violet,” I tell her, to the envious tongue clicking of the others. “You’re going to learn to read and write fluently this summer with the help of these beautiful paintings. See? Here are the flash cards–that’s a painting by Winslow Homer, darling, and–oh. Wow. Oh, dear. Help.”

“What’s the matter, Mummy?” Molly asks worriedly.

“It’s just–this.”

From the box I extract a soft-cover book an inch thick, the alarming title of which is: KINDERGARTEN TEACHER MANUAL. Seeing it has the effect on me that a police cruiser appearing in the rear-view mirror might have on a midnight reveler who shouldn’t have had that last glass of champagne: I am, in short, simultaneously sobered and terrified. For in all my excited fantasies about home-schooling, a plank which, indeed, to throw metaphors about madly, I have already walked and am, as regards two of the children, now splashing around in cool, unfamiliar seas, I somehow never thought of having to use a TEACHER MANUAL which is broken into LESSONS and REVIEW DAYS whose daily instructions, if I am to make sense of this great box of mysterious flash cards, game boards, books, and CDs, I am really going to have to follow. And reading instructions with an eye to following them is not, as regular Swamp readers will know, one of my strengths.

“Aw, cool! What are these?”

“Those,” I tell Paris, closing the Phonics Museum with a powerful sense of periodontal surgery postponed, “are biographies of famous Americans for you to read this summer.”

“Abraham Lincoln, Pocahontas, Ben Franklin, oh, wow, Buffalo Bill–!”


… $10 per child…

…as much as you feel you can contribute, maybe $15 each?

… we are asking $10 from each family…

…. If everyone pitches in $12, we can buy the teacher a…


The principal stands at a podium before serried rows of uniformed students, and beams at a group of children at the front wearing civilian dress. “Now,” she says into the microphone, “We’ll hear what each of the children celebrating their summer birthdays today will do to make our school better!” She hands the microphone to the first child in line and smiles encouragingly.

“Uh…I will help people with their homework?”

“Very good. Help others with their homework.”

The next child is barely audible. “I will help people when they fall down?”

“Help people when they fall down. Excellent. What about you?”

A plosive voice blasts into the sound system: “I WILL HELP PEOPLE WHEN THEY FALL DOWN.”

“Aha. Well, that’s laudable. Next?”

“I will help people…when they…fall down?”

“Quite a lot of falling down at our school, apparently,” the principal says, amused. “And what about you, young lady?”

“I will try to set a good example to younger children.”

“That’s very important, setting a good example to younger children. Good girl. Well, happy birthday to all of you. Let’s have the whole school sing–”

In the audience, one mother passes another and asks, sotto voce,

“Is she one of yours?”

“Yes,” I say.

The mother nods sagely. “Good job.”

“It’s not me,” I have to admit, shaking my head. “It’s her.”


To: First through Eighth Grade Parents

From: Your Class Parents

Re: End-of-Year Gifts REMINDER

Don’t forget, we need everyone’s contributions by the end of the week in order to get presents for the teachers in time to…


Ten minutes after getting home from school, Violet reappears in the kitchen and announces herself with a dainty little, “Ping!” She is dressed in green leotard, green winter scarf, green tulle skirt, and carries a green crocodile puppet. “I,” she says grandly, “am the mint fairy. Ping!”

Phoebe trots in behind her, resplendent in blue: blue shirt, blue ballerina dress over the top of it, blue elastic band on her wrist, blue paper bag over one arm, and blue-and-white engineer’s cap. “I’m the water fairy!” she cries, and waves her arms like a hula dancer.

My husband and I are dutifully admiring them when Paris strides in wearing a large deerskin vest, khakis, and brown belt slung over his shoulder, bandito-style. “What are you,” I remark, “the dirt fairy?

No, ” he says, scornfully. “I’m the imp of the trees. Obviously.”

Then Molly arrives, her arms laden with some of the heaps of homework that’s being piled on the children in the last days of the academic year. She takes it all in at a glance, and puts her books down on the table. “I,” she intones regally, “am the white rose queen, and you must all obey me.” And to frank parental amazement, the other three instantly bow their heads and waggle their arms worshipfully in the air.


To: You Know Who You Are

From: The Class Parents, Grades 1-8

Re: End-of-Year Gifts LAST CHANCE

Listen, if you plan to help buy presents for our hard-working teachers, we really need the money NOW. Please put payment, cash or check, into…


The woman with the soccer ball stomach sits alone at her desk. In the corner of the room sits a Heap of Reproach, being, of course, the Phonics Museum and a pile of handwriting workbooks that she is only short weeks away from needing to deploy. She thinks of the terrifying TEACHERS MANUAL that awaits her. She thinks of her children’s schoolteachers. The e-mail reminds her that this is her LAST CHANCE. She takes out her chequebook, and is beginning to write a series of numbers when from the top floor of the house, four grueling flights of stairs above her, comes the inescapable cry: “Muuuummmmyyyy…. I neeeeeeed youuuuuu!”


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