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In general terms, parents night offers a little shop talk and a study in contrasts


It was dark and stormy on parents night, so I dropped off my wife and a car-pooling parent at the front door of the school. As I drove off to park the car, I was tempted to keep going. To roll down the hill and not stop until I found a cozy establishment that offered a big-screen TV and tall beverages. I was tempted to "cut" parents night at my kids' school.

Such behavior, I learned later, would have been an improper use of my time and would have demonstrated a poorly developed sense of responsibility. That might have been one reason I didn't skip.

Another reason is that as a trained parent, I knew the drill. On FTC parents night, an autumnal event at schools throughout the state, a large part of the evening consists of simply showing up. Teachers and parents get to look at each other and say to themselves, "So, you're the one!"

Parents night is not the time to discuss your educational theory that if all children were to master the principles of basketball's 1-3-1 zone defense, the world would be a much better place. That you can do in teacher-parent conference, if your wife will let you.

Instead, this is the night you sit in your kid's desk, a tricky proposition when your kid is small and you aren't, and meet the teachers.

When I greet new teachers, I try to figure out what they are thinking as they mentally connect me with the kid in their class. Are they thinking, "So, you are the father of the gifted child?" Or are they thinking, "Have you considered transferring your child to reform school?"

It is hard to tell. Teachers rarely tip their hands. And when most parents, the well-trained ones anyway, meet a teacher, they don't blurt out, "So, you're the one assigning all that homework and making me miss 'Seinfeld.' "

On this night, parents and teachers don't speak in particulars. We speak in generalities. And generally speaking, what we are working on in middle school these days is developing the ability to budget our time and improving our sense of responsibility. We are also working on keeping track of stuff.

For example, the school year is young and already our family has experienced the switched book bag situation. It works this way: At the end of a school day, your kid and another kid mistakenly grab each other's book bag.

The kids don't discover the mix-up until they each arrive home, are separated by at least 20 miles, and are trying to study "for the big test." Tired parents end up driving the kids to a meeting point, where the bags are exchanged.

We are also familiar with the I-left-my-desperately-needed- sneakers-in-the-locker routine. This situation often requires an after-hours' visit to the school gym, which may be locked.

And we are acquainted with the search for the elusive lunch card, last seen in the back seat of somebody else's car, maybe.

These and other issues were probably discussed in a general sort of way at parents night. I confess that as I scurried to six different classrooms I was not retaining a lot of the educational fine points.

I do recall that the gym teacher reported no fifth-grader to date had taken a shower.

On the drive home, the skies opened. As the car moved through the deluge, my wife, the car-pool ing parent and I discussed the yield from shop class. This year, shop class has given our home a maze, a wooden bow tie and a bird house.

We already possessed at least one bird house, made by a previous graduate of shop class. We are building a collection.

So this weekend, if the weather permits, I will be outside, up on a ladder, nailing down the proof of my kids' education.

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