There have been two previous occasions when my children have been babysat by someone other than their grandparents. For the eleven years that we have been parents, Mr Pict and I have organised our lives so that should one of us have a commitment the other would be home to care for the children. We, therefore, have never needed much in the way of babysitting but have always gratefully accepted offers of a child-free night from generous grandparents when they have been around to provide such a service. Those two previous instances of non-family babystting were as follows: the first was when I had to go and chair some very important hearings only to discover that Mr Pict had double-booked himself at work and could not, therefore, be home to care for the four boys which necessitated me enlisting the help of a member of staff from the preschool the kids attended and she watched over them that afternoon so that I could make my commitment; the second was when Mr Pict was having surgery some distance from home and my friends all banded together and organised themselves so that they could, in a sequence involving three hand-overs between them, care for my three oldest sons so that they did not have to miss a day of school or accompany us to the hospital. To summarise, therefore, both times were emergencies and there was no fun social evening involved.
Last night we hired a babysitter for the third time. We employed the teenage girl who lives across the street who had done a wonderful promotion of her services by welcoming us with brownies when we first moved into the street and proffering cookies a few times since. The boys were initially resistant to the idea but soon accepted and tolerated the fact that it was going to happen whether they liked it or not. They were indeed good as gold for the babysitter and were more compliant about bedtime than they usually are with us. Good result.
But what were the Pict parents doing with their child-free evening? Dining out at a restaurant with heavy flatware, pressed linen napkins and menus printed on cartridge paper? Watching a critically acclaimed play at the theatre? Going to the cinema to see a movie aimed at grown ups? Well, of course, the title to this blog post has already given it away: our child-free evening was spent at the local Middle School. Let down? Us too.
The reason for our evening excursion was that we had been invited to the Middle School our oldest son will be attending from September to hear various members of staff explain how things operate in that school and at that grade level and to take a self-guided tour of the building. Children were not to attend, hence the need for a babysitter. Technically one of us could have stayed home but Middle School is a new venture for both of us as parents and the “two memory banks are better than one” principle also persuaded us that we should both attend.
Mr Pict had been to the school before – to learn about their math curriculum – but I had only ever driven past it. I must admit, therefore, that the fabric of the building was disappointing. It is definitely the poor cousin out of the schools in the school district as the elementaries are all in decent condition and the high school is brand spanking new and shinily impressive. I would guess the building dates from the 60s as it has that sorry, ill-conceived, municipal feeling to it that certainly buildings of that era in Britain are prone to displaying. I wonder if perhaps it was an era where people were trying too hard to be avant garde and take wildly different approaches from architects of decades past and reinventing the wheel and making it worse. The building was an absolute warren of corridors that wound their way around weirdly shaped communal spaces and specialised rooms including a central library that was essentially a tube running through the middle of the building. Mr Pict and I got lost despite clutching a map. Our oldest son will definitely get lost. The bathrooms looked beyond shabby, like you might catch a rare or even previously undiscovered disease should you be foolish enough to sit rather than hover and squat. The type of toilets that had me training my bladder to contain itself between 8am and 4pm every school day when I was in High School.
However, it is not a building that determines the quality of a child’s education and that, of course, was the focus and the priority. The classrooms were spick and span and the student work on display was of an encouraging standard. The list of clubs available was fantastic as we could identify several our currently apathetic tweenager would want to join. Most impressive, however, were the staff members who spoke. Of course they were saying persuasive and encouragingly positive things about the school and what our child(ren) would experience, learn and develop there but there was also something to their tone and manner of presentation that testified to commitment and passion and drive for success that would filter down into the students in their care. As a parent who knows very little about the American education system or each grade’s curriculum (but is furiously trying to gen up) and who has never been in a Middle School, I left feeling informed and positive about the quality of education my child(ren) would receive there.
A waste of a “date night” it might have been, therefore, but it was not a waste of a night.
Next time, however, we are going to dinner.