The Playroom: Mothers Against May

Author: Maraya Steadman '89, '90MBA

1. A salamander is an amphibian.

2. Salamanders have bright colors that reveal if they are poisonous or not.

3. Some salamanders eat worms and other small animals.

I am standing outside my children’s school waiting for dismissal, waiting to carry home three facts about salamanders written on the back of a diorama. The diorama is just one more project assigned this month that we finished way past bedtime the night before it was due.

It’s a perfect day — a slight breeze stirring the trees, 73 degrees, sunny. I should be at peace, grateful, full of joy as I soak up the sun, the children’s voices and the gift of greeting my kids after school. I’m not.

I hear a friend talking to her son about his bowling score. Her son runs off, and she walks up to me. I query, “Seventh grade bowling trip today?” She growls and answers, “I’m starting Mothers Against May.”

Yes! I’m in! I’m in for MAM. I’m not Mom, I’m MAM! MAM because the last weeks of school, the last weeks in May, are more than moms should have to deal with.

This May was the May of the peanut-free pancake breakfast for 120, three all-day school picnics, a diorama of a plastic salamander in its natural habitat, bowling field trips, a zoo trip, end of year ceremonies for Girl Scouts, confirmation kick off and, this year, my fourth grader has final exams.

My son’s school has integrated Spanish into the school curriculum. After three years he can’t count to 10, say “see you later,” recite basic colors or identify his elbow. I would be concerned, but he has maintained his A+ average in Spanish since third grade, indicating that he may not be able to spell “green” in Spanish, but nobody else can either.

We are also cramming for the states and capitals final. You would think I would have seen this one coming. I had to know states and capitals in fourth grade, his father had to know states and capitals in the fourth grade, his sister had to know states and capitals in the fourth grade, but we just didn’t get it done. No matter how hard we studied the Midwestern states this winter, somewhere between spring break and the last sleepover, he seems to have forgotten about Bismarck, North Dakota.

He’s also got his final math exam which he’s already prepped me for by telling me he can’t study for it and it’s just to see what they learned this year. By the results of our other cram sessions this week, I’d say “not much.”

The teachers insist they would never give fourth graders final exams, which is why they schedule them all in the same week and call them “Review Tests.” They also insist they make studying for these Review Tests easy, which they’ve done by sending home five-page study guides. It’s all starting to run together in my brain, " Hasta luego, Bismarck, North Dakota. My elbow is green.”

I’m sure there are good reasons — which smart people with degrees and research credits can explain — why we are lagging behind every industrialized nation in the world in education. I can come up with a few good reasons of my own. When kids are in school they don’t need a picnic, a pancake breakfast or a popsicle. They don’t need to go bowling or to the ballet, the zoo or the animal shelter. And they will do better learning Spanish through volunteer work, or they can learn it like I did, from the ATM machine at Costco.

The good news is the educators blame the parents, so it’s not my kid, it’s me. It’s my fault for not drilling states and capitals into my fourth-graders brain on the way to practice. But I was too busy making pancakes, searching the playroom for a plastic salamander and trying to teach my first grader to spell “because.”

Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. Her website is Email her at