The last few weeks of the school year are a grueling gauntlet — a narrow, clamorous chute of activity that swallows every last hour of a family’s free time. Evening performances. Weekend tournaments. Early-morning muffin-and-melon affairs in Appreciation of Someone or Other. The only way to get through it all is to keep your eyes focused straight ahead and be impervious to distractions.
It’s like Zumba class or (from what I’ve been told) the urinals in a public restroom: You’re supposed to just mind your own shakey-shake and pay no attention to the person next to you.
And yet you have a friend—we all do—who is going to break this sensible, unspoken rule and invite you to her child’s concert/meet/ recital/play-off even as you’re scrambling for something clean to wear to your own kid’s ceremony/championship/potluck/musical. And when you don’t show up to her child’s event, because, let’s face it, you haven’t hit a grocery store in 19 days and your family is eating old trail mix for breakfast, she is going to judge you. She is going to raise her eyebrows, purse her lips unattractively, and be wounded by your conspicuous absence.
It turns out there are two kinds of parents: those who feel compelled to attend other people’s children’s events, and those who think that’s whack. I am so far in the latter camp that I didn’t even know there was a former camp. I have a friend who once asked me if I was planning to attend her son’s show, and I just blinked until the words “Why would I do that?” tumbled inelegantly from my face. She was stunned. We laugh about it now, but I wasn’t trying to be cheeky. I was honestly waiting to find out if there was some upside I was missing—like maybe they were doing a grand-prize drawing at intermission for a lifetime supply of homemade-looking cookies that you could bring to bake sales and take credit for baking.
I enjoy attending my own kids’ events. I do. I’m genuinely curious about what they’ve been working on. I want to be part of the roar of applause that makes them feel proud and gratified. And I like joining the postmortems about who dropped a line or got the foul or froze right in front of the judges’ table. But do I need to see other people’s kids run track or play piano or swim the butterfly or dance flamenco or sing “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”?
“I do feel an obligation to go — a social obligation,” confessed one mom I know.“I have gone when I did not want to leave my comfy couch or gardening project.” Social media has made it harder to keep up with all of the events, she said. “I get invited to a lot more things that I really don’t care to attend and that I wouldn’t otherwise have known about—or could have claimed I hadn’t heard about.”
Another friend of mine said she used to make an appearance at her friends’ kids’ performances — and then sneak out when no one was looking. But she actually learned to like it, and now she goes frequently and isn’t shy about extending invitations to her own kids’ shows.
“Would I expect it or hold it against a good friend if she didn’t make the effort? No,” she insisted. “Would I feel more warmly toward a friend and be more inclined to attend her children’s shows if she attended mine? Most likely.”
Well, fine. That’s just perfectly fine. But now that I know she’s tracking everybody’s comings and goings so closely, I think I should be honest: I am so not dancing next to her in Zumba.