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March 20, 2009

Open House Disrupts My Home

Mail.google.com I've attended two Open Houses two nights in a row and am particularly struck by the lack of point of both. While I'm happy to support my children and their respective Los Angeles schools, Open House seems to be an exercise in simply wasting my time.

I attended Sylvia's (my older daughter in middle school) with higher expectations. In other words, I was happy to go. I haven't spent much time at Sylvia's school this year, other than Back to School and a fundraiser "carnival" night, and there are no parent-teacher conferences at the middle school level so it certainly didn't feel like a waste of time at the out-set. The actual event, however, left me feeling tired and used.

We went to her first period classroom, where parents were crowding the sign-in sheet, and lining up to speak to the teacher. I overheard one parent asking how their child was doing, which I found surprising given that the room is filled with the child's peers and parents. It didn't seem an appropriate environment for a parent-teacher conference, which is what the teacher told this parent. I'd met the teacher before and I had no specific questions for her so I was going to skip the line. Sylvia had other ideas. So I stood in line and tried to come up with a question...and came up with nothing. When it was our turn, the teacher asked about Sylvia's lunch (which had gone missing earlier in the day). 

We went to the book fair, where Sylvia had thoughtfully set aside a book she thought might be of interest to me. She was so excited about it that I spent $27 on a book that (shhh!) I didn't really want. Oh, well. Worth it to make my daughter smile, right? And then, of course, I bought more books for the girls...as soon as I could get to the head of the line and the woman before me finally moved out of my way long after she'd finished her purchase.

Then it was off to her other six classes that went the same as the first class. I wracked my brain for conversation that wasn't too deep. I oohed and aahed at projects that I've already seen since she made them at home, and glanced at projects clearly made by other students' parents.

I learned nothing about the curriculum as I had at Back-to-School Night in the fall, I learned nothing that I couldn't ask Sylvia in the comfort of my home. I'd worked all day, and I just wanted to go home. An hour and a half (and $50) later, we were able to leave.

The next night was Riley's Open House. Open House in elementary school is slightly easier since we only had to visit 2 teachers, and one garden. Riley's classroom seemed even more stifling than the night before. The kids were bouncing off the walls with excitement. Of course, I wouldn't have missed this opportunity to make my little girl so happy. At the same time, if Open House didn't exist, would either of us miss it?

The Book Fair was extremely intense. Thankfully, they were having a 2-for-1 sale so this one wasn't quite so costly financially; however, it took even more time as my social butterfly of a daughter flitted about, greeting everyone she knew (or thought she might know) - and amusing me with her genuine surprise to see them. "Yes, honey, it is amazing that one of your classmates is here for the very same reason we are!" And there were people, of all ages and sizes, everywhere! I don't enjoy large crowds so I was getting more and more tense as we were wading through it all. Riley continued to duck and skip among the throngs without focusing on picking a book. Finally, she was in my vicinity long enough for me to tell her that I was getting in line, and if she didn't have a book by the time it was my turn, she wasn't getting one. Sure enough, she found a book.

Fifteen minutes later, it was my turn to pay for the books, and the girls knew I had to get out of there.

Each night, only one of them was free from homework so we were getting home hours later than usual, with neither of them in the mood for homework. Dinner was also a challenge, given that the hours of each Open House was smack in the middle of dinner time.

I try really hard to keep our weeknights free, to maintain a routine, and get us all to bed at a decent hour with all of our responsibilities done. I also try to be an involved parent and support the schools. Open House, however, seems to be an activity designed to make our family life more difficult.

Since coming to this conclusion, I've spoken to some colleagues that have school-aged children and discovered that some have simply stopped going, and a few private schools don't have Open House. I don't think that so long as my daughters still want me to go, I could stop going. I just wish I didn't have to give up time and the sanity of our routine to make my daughters or the schools feel supported.

This is an original LA Moms post. When April's not attending Open Houses, she writes at her personal blog, It's All About Balance.


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