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Keeping Them Firmly Out: From Show and Tell to Parents’ Weekend

by Fiona Farrell

[originally published 11/15/19]


What happens in the kindergarten classroom stays in the kindergarten classroom.

This was five-year-old me’s favorite maxim. Why? Because it kept my parents on a short leash. And boy, was I convinced they needed one.

I would wake up and tell myself I don’t need my and my fellow ragamuffins’ every move being scrutinized by big scanning Adult Eyes! I am in kindergarten to be free, and to relish in my freedom!

For the most part, I got what I wanted. Kindergarten was like Lord of the Flies.

But there was always one day a year when, unfortunately, my parents’ leash grew dramatically in length. This was the dreaded day of Show and Tell. For some stupid and bogus reason, parents were invited to this estranged ceremony.

When the fated day came around, there, as always, was my faithful old mother, fitted into a chair that was much too small for her. I’d try not to make eye contact with her and just focus on my pet rock, Addison. But, of course, who was my mother not to indulge in some (quite unnecessary) rock-inquiry? S

he asks me, in a very patronizing way, what Addison eats. Come again? Addison is a rock. She doesn’t eat. I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and scream Do you know anything about rocks? Do you know anything about how the world works?

But I kept my cool.

Eventually, after my presentation of Addison, my mother departed. I was left in my natural habitat again, where my routine for living would go uninterrupted by the infringement of Outsiders. Except, something didn’t feel quite right. Man, why was there a little tempest in my stomach? Who was I to know.

Maybe college isn’t quite like kindergarten. And maybe Parents’ Weekend isn’t quite like the fated day of Show and Tell. I’m in Ohio now, I’m no longer five years old, and Addison is no longer with me. Tisk tisk.

Aside from these crucial differences, though—and, alright, maybe just a few others—Show and Tell and Parents’ Weekend possess certain uncanny parallels that should not go unignored. We have all worked hard to construct our own comfortable nooks—-the catch in their comfort, though, being that no one else from the outside can enter them. Not on Show and Tell day, not ever. College me believes this just as much as kindergarten me did.

Just as my five-year-old self pretended that my mother was not in the room by refusing eye contact with her, I pretend that my parents aren’t “really” there on Parents’ Weekend by...not looking at them? Well, it gets a bit tricky there. Instead, I employ another handy trick, the oldest one in the book. I lie, or fib, or sometimes only innocently exaggerate a little, about my lifestyle here as a means to separate myself from them.

In their eyes, this is a lifestyle in which I, ever-possessed by a most serene rationale, have a full handle on my entire academic, social, and emotional trajectory all at once. In which I am having fun but certainly not in the excesses that often precede recklessness. In which there are not stink bugs inhabiting my room (they’re gone now) and majoring in Philosophy will definitely get me a job after graduation. In which I do not think three hours of sleep and five cups of coffee is basically eight hours of sleep because three plus five equals eight. In which all of these things, among many others, do not constitute the fabric of my daily life at Oberlin.

After the success of lying comes the obligatory entertainment: of course, this is what lies at the heart of Parents' Weekend just as it did Show and Tell. I must produce some sort of spectacle so they don’t lose their damn minds and start questioning how rigorously I’ve been caring for Addison then or myself now. What’ll it be? There’s nothing more entertaining than knowing your child won’t starve, right? I bet. So, it’s the obligatory trip to The Feve, where the old and young become one, or maybe even Lorenzo’s, if you prefer going behind The Feve to The Feve. Then, maybe, take them to one of those lecture series? Really there is no better time than now to learn about neuroscience or 18th century feminists. Just as long as the lecture isn’t being led by one of my professors. Oh, but they’d like to meet one of my professors? Okay, but as long as it’s the one whose classes I’ve been doing the reading for.

Add some ambiguous interactions with housemates or a regrettable trip to the ‘Sco and they’re gone. And, once again, I’m left with a baby tempest in my stomach.

When my mom inquired of mini-me what Addison ate, I laughed as politely as any five year-old could and responded with a neutral “I don’t know, I’ve never seen her do it before.” I did not erupt in ire and exclaim “No! What do you think she is??” When my parents dutifully remarked on the condition of my housing standards, I smiled tightly and replied with “I’ll be sure to Swiffer tomorrow.” I did not turn red and scream “This is how I live, mom!”

Which might have been for the best. But what would’ve happened if I did?

Something bad, for sure, in either case. Nonetheless, the remarks would have been truthful ones. And maybe, if I started telling the truth a bit more, allowing myself to act candidly but not, you know, aggressively, then I would not always leave the Outsider with a colossal pit in my stomach. Whether this pit comes from guilt or sorrow or something I’ve been eating for over a decade, I don’t know, but I do know how to get rid of it: letting in a little.

While I cannot relive the Show and Tells of yesteryear, perhaps next Parents’ Weekend, I will do more than throw the Pavlovian dogs a bone; perhaps I will answer their questions with genuine thought and candor. They don’t need to know everything, but a little would never hurt. The nook is in need of some solid redecoration, anyway. Even if it’s on the off chance, they might be able to help.

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