Last night I attended my third Open School Night of the season. By the grace of God, this was the third and final installment of Open School Hell. Next year I may not be so lucky. If we play our cards wrong (and, if the past is any indication of future stupidity, we very well may) I will potentially face four or even five such glorious community gatherings. Don't get me wrong. I love my kids' schools. I truly enjoy the company of my fellow parents. And I appreciate the hard work of my kids' teachers. But the novelty and charm of Open School Night wears off quickly in bulk.
Of all the uninformed decisions I've made in my life, having four children must be pretty darn close to the top of the list. I am not saying that I made the wrong decision. I would do it again without a moment's hesitation (ok, maybe a teeny tiny moment). In fact, I'd count it among the ranks of my very best decisions (including escaping New York, attending that Devo concert against my parents' better judgment, changing my mind about playing rugby after my buddy returned with a broken nose from the first practice, going West young man, buying a house in Silicon Valley before the Google IPO . . . ). But my decision to have a forth kid was unquestionably uninformed. I just didn't do the math. 4 sets of friends with weekend birthday parties. 4 little league teams, AYSO teams, karate lessons, music lessons, school plays, chorus concerts. 4 little bodies to share all illness, one after another (God forbid they should all get sick at the same time and just get it over with -- and God forbid just one of them should skip any illness involving vomiting). And, above all else, 4 Open School Nights!
I don't know if this is the case throughout the nation but in the Bay Area, Open School Night is more like a telethon than an academic endeavor. After meeting the teachers and seeing the classrooms, the conversation quickly turns to fundraising. Parents, teachers and principals stand up and pitch their wares -- wrapping paper drives, candy drives, eScrip (the perfect fundraiser for Silicon Valley; all you have to do is shop and you make money for your school). Each new opportunity to help raise money for the school is promoted with the flare that only a former Vice President of Marketing for some high tech company or other could bring to the task. Banners are unfurled. Balloons are launched. Slogans are employed ("a sweet way to help the school" "let's wrap up school funding and put a bow on it" "do your part or you will be marked as a miserable free-rider, scorned by the community, and your children will be appropriately ostracized in the playground" stuff like that). And demonstrations are employed to great effective. I particularly enjoyed the principal carrying out the leaning tower of 20 some odd boxes that had been wrapped with A SINGLE ROLL of the fabulous fundraiser wrapping paper. And while I don't know if the dropping of the 20 some odd boxes that had been wrapped with A SINGLE ROLL of the fabulous fundraiser wrapping paper was in the script, it was an excellent touch ("there are so many here it is too much for one little old principal to handle..."). But if none of those ploys work, the schools resort to good old fashion begging. "We're looking for 100% participation. The amount doesn't matter, just the fact that everyone gives what they can." "And what's the recommended amount this year?" "Ideally we would like to see each family donate $470 per child." Holy crap. There goes that 4 kids thing again. $470 is a lot of cash to supplement the public schools but $1,880 is, well, four times as much.
If you aren't a fan of wrapping paper or chocolates or giving away your hard earned money for nothing (nothing except the better education of your precious children, but who cares about that), the schools are incredibly flexible and accommodating. They will find something that you're willing to buy for the benefit of the school if it kills them. Thus, the advent of the school auction. This year I will be attending 3 school auctions. Next year perhaps 4. That pretty much wraps up my Saturday evenings for the Fall. The auction festivities goes something like this. Go to auction venue. Get plied with free alcohol to lubricate the evenings transactions. Commence silent auction bidding to get warmed up for the real event (silent bidding includes the less expensive items like a weekend at the Ritz, a Joe Montana autographed football, or a foot massage from the principal). Once every is sufficiently versed in bidding on things they don't really need or even necessarily want, and once the alcohol has had sufficient time to impact the better judgment of the attendees, the live auction begins. The live auction is all about playing on the brutal competitiveness of the Bay Area and about the raw demonstration of obscene wealth. It is a blood sport and it is big fun. A week in someone's Hawaii house will go for tens of thousands of dollars. Use of a private jet is a big crowd pleaser. Dinner with a movie star -- big cash. Breakfast with a university President -- big cash. Lunch with the CEO of a fortune 500 company -- ho hum (no one's going to admit they couldn't set that up with a simple phone call). When all is said and done, the kids' schools will raise hundreds of thousands of dollars at these charity auctions and I will likely be the proud owner of a half dozen tickets to random events (like the San Jose Sharks and Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat), a night away at some third rate hotel, and, if I'm really lucky, the latest Tivo box. Imagine what I'd come home with if I drank.
I suppose it could be worse. I'd rather go to a charity auction than a charity ball. And at least I don't have 5 kids. Then I surely wouldn't have time to write this. I'd be stuck at yet another Open School Night.