Correction to This Article
Earlier versions of this story incorrectly identified Margaret Dabney, the first- grade room mother at Pointers Run Elementary School in Columbia, as Margaret Badney. This version has been corrected.

Mom to the Max

On the go: Margaret Dabney and daughter Kaitlin.
On the go: Margaret Dabney and daughter Kaitlin. (Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)

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By Jennifer Frey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 5, 2006

Okay, coming into the homestretch here. You can do this. Not a problem. This is the mantra, the one you stick to when you're filling 10 water balloons at 6:30 a.m. for field day festivities or frantically hand-stitching 18 homemade storybooks together for the first-grade "authors' tea." Not a problem.

Find some parent to man the temporary-tattoo table at the kindergarten beach party? Solicit hundreds of dollars to pay for the rock-climbing wall at the annual school summer bash? Get up and make a healthy breakfast for the bus driver before the resident first-grader stumbles downstairs looking for her chocolate chip Eggo? Not a problem, not a problem, not a problem.

Margaret Dabney remains calm. "It's starting to wind down now," she says with conviction. This is what she tells herself as she plunges into choreographing the grand finale of first grade at Pointers Run Elementary School in Columbia. She's got the no-sweat thing down pat, just like the mom with the limbo pole problem and the mom with the rock-climbing wall financing issues and the mom in charge of Bus Driver Appreciation Day.

At this point, the daily planner may as well be labeled "Diary of a Mad Room Mother," and that job embraced so eagerly in September now seems as worn down and melted as the last periwinkle in the crayon box.

In these final crazy hat/crazy hair/crazy socks days of school, the backpack is stuffed with so many multicolored fliers -- pink for camp day! Blue for the summer party! Gold for the teacher appreciation luncheon! -- you need a personal concierge to keep track. (And keep track you must, or risk discovering, at 9 p.m., that you need to dress your child in medieval garb and send "medieval food" for 12 to school. Tomorrow. Who knew Henry VIII was partial to chicken drumsticks, deviled eggs, and carrots with ranch dressing?)

And for room parents, it's not just what you have to do -- it's how much you have to beg everyone else to do. Who wants to rinse out and redistribute 27 serving dishes from the class picnic? (Learned the hard way: Not everyone considers those disposable plastic containers . . . disposable.) Even the simplest tasks need a diplomat's touch, lest the express-lane parents take offense at the cupcake appeal addressed to "bakers and fakers."

"I'm lucky," Dabney says. "It's usually pretty easy to get parents to volunteer here. But I have friends who are in schools where they can't get the parents to do anything."

She need not say another word. Besides, the soundtrack in her own head is demanding attention.

Okay, find out if the six families who have not yet contributed to the end-of-the-year teacher gift fund (deadline: today!) are AWOL on purpose or AWOL because that request got buried in an avalanche of school-related e-mails. Only the e-mail is down because of a storm last night, so no chance to send on an e-mail reminder. Have to call. Tactfully, of course. Then, better check the gift registry in the office to get ideas.

Gift registry? Yes, very convenient. Each teacher fills out a form with likes and dislikes and favorites and wish lists and -- voilà! -- class moms are suddenly privy to the fact that Mr. Jayne's favorite color is blue and his favorite store is Old Navy (banana-leaf Bahamian board shorts?). Ms. Eulitt collects lighthouses (not sure where exactly to purchase one of those, but good to know). Ms. Frankel can't live without meringue cookies. Mr. Ehrman's fantasy item for his classroom? A La-Z-Boy recliner. (Sorry, try again next year.)

Pat on the back. Did remember to send Erin with a towel, her favorite books and a stuffed dog in honor of the "doggone good" reading program day. Bought the sprinkles for Kaitlin's ice cream social on Wednesday. Bought the dry-erase markers for the gift basket the teacher's making for the intern, wrapped them, got them in the backpack this morning. Gotta remember the quart of cut vegetables for Camp Day. Camp Day! Need more parents to monitor the jump-rope zone. Teacher appreciation scrapbook. Done. That's a big hurdle. And those bound books for the authors' tea? Now that was a project.

For those, Dabney made the trip herself to the fabric store to choose patterns for the cover, then begged volunteers to type up the students' individual stories, sentence by separate sentence, on sticky-backed paper to affix to the bottom of each page. Apparently, she didn't beg hard enough. Why did I end up doing nearly half of them myself? Then there was the whole sewing-them-together thing. I can't sew. I'm an accountant. Thank goodness Julie finally bailed me out.


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