How to be a class mom

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A new book is a reminder of the experiences one NYC mother had with other school parents


  • In the class mom days: Merkl with son (left) and daughter(right). Photo courtesy of Lorraine Duffy Merkl

Back-to-school is only weeks away, and for many NYC mothers it will be their child’s first academic experience.

Whether you’re a 9-to-5er, freelancer as I was, or SAHM (stay at home mom), you will be expected to be a participating parent in your school community. One way to do that: class mom.

With my son Luke, 22, I held the post in nursery school and first grade; for my daughter Meg, 19, it was third and fourth grades. It’s no wonder I read with interest Laurie Gelman’s new novel, “Class Mom.” (FYI: The Manhattan author set the story — much of which is told via unconventional class emails — in Missouri, because, according to her interview on “Live with Kelly & Ryan,” she was tired of people beating up on Upper East Side moms.)

Although most parents appreciate the efforts of the class mom, it takes only one to turn the job into what main character “Jennifer Dixon” acknowledges as “thankless.”

I’d love to tell all the newbies that Gelman exaggerates for comic relief, but alas her book is an all too real trigger of my own experiences with:

Allergy Mom: Class mom catches a break if the school has a no-nut policy that makes all parents responsible for being hyper-vigilant about no PB&J lunches and packaged snacks with nut ingredients. If, however, the school has no such policy, when class mom organizes parties, she is expected to echo relentlessly this mom’s demands that the other parents be mindful of what treats they send in, or a child’s possible lethal reaction will be on whom? Class mom.

Busy Mom: She always has tons to do (unlike the rest of us), so there’s no time to volunteer. There’s always time though to advise class mom on how to run the latest event. On the back end, she’ll make it known how much better things coulda-shoulda-woulda been if she’d been in charge — an impossibility, of course, because she’s (all together now for the back of the house) too busy.

Socialite Mom: A member of café society — in her mind, she keeps up appearances by declaring everything class mom has chosen for the parent cocktail party — from hors d’oeuvres/beverages to music/decorations — “basic.” To class mom’s face, however, that term is substituted with the passive-aggressive “cute.” A cheese cube sighting has her one plastic wine glass away from transferring schools.

Boho Hippie Chick Mom: With her flouncy skirts and peasant blouses, she’s as relaxed as a broken-in pair of Levi’s, as long as class mom is sensitive to her beliefs that the contributions for the toy drive be gender non-specific, an alternative menu of vegan fare also be offered at both adult and child functions, and there be no “violent” games, like Whac-A-Mole, at the class booth at the school carnival. If not, peace and love means war.

Rabble Rouser Mom: She views class mom as a champion who wields Game of Thrones-like power over the administration, and who will get her suggestions (aka better way of doing things) addressed. When explained that this is beyond the scope of the volunteer position, but she herself is free to discuss matters with the principal, this mom questions the point of having a class mom, if the person’s not going to do anything. (Organizing events, assisting the teacher with scheduling, and being everyone’s go-to when there’s a question, apparently doesn’t count.)

Plain Inconsiderate Mom: At teacher gift-giving time, class mom puts the call out for funds to buy a group gift. Because many don’t pony up til the last minute, the item is usually purchased in advance and class mom gets reimbursed. However, there are those who choose to opt out of the purely voluntary activity. This is fine — if their intentions are made known upfront, as opposed to on the eve of the presentation, meaning class mom not only makes her own contribution, but is then in the hole for that of the thoughtless.

Despite the many personalities as well as requests (often made a dinnertime), this is a coveted position that has people like Jennifer and me making repeat performances. If I had to do it over again, though, I’d make sure my missives were as feisty and acerbic as hers.

Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of “Back To Work She Goes,” that has a SAHM re-entering the workforce.

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