Sending our kids to a cooperative preschool meant we went to monthly parent meetings and sometimes we had a parent educator. I remember that we had one named Fran and another one who was Not Fran. I don’t remember if this story is about Fran or Not Fran. Fran had short hair and a dry, academic way about her. Children seemed like unwanted and unexpected carbonation in her drink as they bubbled about the classroom, her fingers twitching in reaction. As irritated as Fran seemed by the presence of children, she seemed even more undone by parents, especially those with a lot of questions. Not Fran had a mop of curly hair and warm eyes and a sultry overnight radio DJ voice. Not Fran liked to say understanding things about parents and children having clashing personalities. Both were prone to silences and somewhat grave. They attended every other parent meeting and we received parent education from them. I was a coop preschool parent for many years, something like seven or ten, and I remember well only one parent education lecture.
This one evening, I had had a long day. My youngest child was only a couple of months old and had had a whole set of shots that day. He was still nursing so he came along to the parent meeting. That evening, he was uncomfortable from the shots, and very fussy. We did our regular meeting business about upcoming field trips, snack schedule, and changes in classroom procedure, and I had to step away from the group to attend to my cranky infant. Finally, I got him quiet in my arms and I tiptoed back to the group.
The parent educator, Fran or Not Fran sat forward on the sofa, her knees tightly together, her materials in a messy stack on the coffee table in front of her. Parents sat all around her, in the living room chairs, on the sofa arm, in dining room chairs they’d pulled in.
Fran or Not Fran was speaking in a quiet monotone on a subject that had everyone’s attention. All eyes were on her. She was methodically explaining that the technique she proposed relieves stress for both kids and parents, makes for more fluid communication, and models emotional resilience. Because I hadn’t heard what the subject was, I was having trouble following her. She droned on for a while.
When the parents started asking questions, I tried piecing together what she was talking about. I took my attention from Fran or Not Fran to the other parents. They were concerned, serious, reflecting on the topic. There was not even a half-smile to indicate the topic of discussion: they were talking about using humor in parenting.
I did what I always do in awkward situations: tried to be funny. Just to get things rolling, I asked, “I’m sorry. What are we talking about?”
Fran or Not Fran turned to me, saying gently, “Using humor in parenting.”
“Oh,” I said. “Does it come in a refillable pump spray?”
No one laughed. The other parents looked confused. Fran or Not Fran looked mildly annoyed.