After Tall adamantly declared he did NOT want me ever volunteering in his school again, I did what any mother would: I volunteered at Short’s school instead.
I showed up at the office for whatever type of helper job they would throw my way. I’d had a long chat with Sammi beforehand and she’d already warned me:
“MOV, they always need victims, I mean volunteers, to help on the playground at recess. What time did you tell them you were coming?”
“Oh, I dunno, around 11 AM? I didn’t want to have to go in too too early.”
“Yikes,” she gulped, “For sure they will have you on the playground.”
Oh, Sammi. Sammi, Sammi, Sammi. What did she know?
Apparently a lot, I reminded myself as I found myself on the black-top distributing kickballs and jump-ropes. Indeed, as I had walked up at 11 AM to the security camera/ intercom system and buzzed, smiled, and waved, I could audibly hear the Office Lady say, “Oh, God, it’s you.” This was followed by a shuffling of papers, and then a long
time before she buzzed me in. In her defense, it was very likely that she had been on an important call with the President of the United States. Or not.
“Hi!” I chirped in my best chirpiest chirpy voice as I approached her desk. “I’m here to volunteer. I’m Short’s mom, MOV and—”
“We know who you are.” She looked up at me and sighed.
“Great!” I smiled, trying to show off years of orthodontic work and unsuccessful teeth-bleaching. “Well, then I guess I will just head down to Room Four, because Short—this is so funny!—is convinced that he’s in fourth grade because the room number is—”
“Change in plans!” said Office Lady, “You’re going to be on the playground.”
Office Lady had one of those demeanors that said, “This is how things are done.” Her demeanor did not say, “There is room for negotiation,” or “That’s a cute story about Short and by the way he’s my favorite student at this school,” or, “Maybe you would rather volunteer in art because that is super-fun.” No. Her demeanor said, “Office Lady dictates how it’s done.”
I was very very worried at this point that if I did not comply with Office Lady’s instructions, my son might be kicked out of the school (it is, after all, a public school). I nodded at her and asked for the keys to the kickball storage unit.
Once on the playground, things were actually pretty easy. The kids ran around, and every once in a while, one would come up and ask for assistance in tying a shoelace. Even though my own shoes were slip-on types and I favored Velcro closures for my own sons, I was more than happy to oblige.
The Playground Director walked up and introduced himself.
“So glad you could stop by today!” he beamed at me. This was a complete 180 from the vibe Office Lady had given me. Either Playground Director had not spoken to Office Lady about me yet or he was being sarcastic. I chose the former.
“Well, of course! I’m glad to help out anytime! I even know a couple sporting-type recess kind of games, like, uh, hopscotch and … kickball? so if you need more, uh, more detailed and specific type of help, you know, with recess-type activities or things of that nature, I can help. Really. Let me know what you want help with.” I smiled wide.
“Gosh, that is so nice! I wish more parents would come out and volunteer more often like you. Hey, if you really mean it, what would be the most help today is if you could call the classes in, one by one, on the megaphone. I hate carrying this thing around, and that way, I can play a quick game of basketball with some of the kids.”
I nodded enthusiastically and took the megaphone out of his hands.
“Have you ever used one before? Let me just explain how—”
Happy to take the opportunity to let Playground Director know that I was a former flight attendant and had been taught to use a megaphone in an emergency, I said, “Sir, I am a former flight attendant and have had been taught to use a megaphone in an emergency.”
“That’s great, but this one might be a tad different, so let me go over—”
Really? He had to explain the megaphone? There was an on-off switch and a volume control. He seemed very intent on explaining it to me, and then I realized he was surrounded by kindergartners all day, so he was used to explaining things. I swallowed my pride and listened to a 10-minute tutorial on megaphones.
“… and then be careful here, on this part, because see? the back where the batteries go in is broken, so they fall out sometimes. Just put your hand over that part. I used some duct-tape, so I think you should be good.”
Even though he was finished, I was relieved when a small girl approached Playground Director to ask to go to the school nurse for a band-aid. He took her little hand and walked her to the school door.
I walked the opposite direction with my megaphone. I got to try it out a few minutes later when the teacher for Room 22 came out and wanted my help.
“Room 22!” The megaphone did a fantastic job amplifying my voice. For a split second, I considered using one of these at home. Where did they sell them? Why did United Airlines not give me one as a souvenir when I quit?
“Room 58! Line up, room 58!” Why were these room numbers so out of order? Were there 58 rooms in this building?
I was really getting the hang of the megaphone. Kids seemed to like me, and a couple more wandered up for shoelace assistance (word must’ve gotten out on my crucial skills in this area).
“Room 17! I said, Room 17!”
Out of nowhere, a siren like an air raid went off. The teachers, students, and other volunteer parents froze. This must be the real deal. Not a drill, but a real fire. Why did I choose to volunteer on the one day when there was a fire?
It was so obvious that it wasn’t planned. Children covered their ears and cried. Some had dropped to the ground and put their hands over their heads, most likely mimicking what they’d been taught to do in a real emergency. I looked around for the source of the siren. It had to be coming from the cafeteria area. I glanced around for Playground Director to tell us all what to do next. People were actually looking at me like I was possibly in charge (must’ve been the air of authority with the megaphone). And that was another thing: Playground Director would surely want his megaphone back to call everyone. Where was Playground Director?
No one was lining up. The noise was deafening. Where were we supposed to go? Who would save the children? Who would help us?
It dawned on me that the siren noise was coming from my megaphone, too. That is so weird, and so technologically advanced, that the siren could come from the cafeteria and they could somehow wire it (remotely?) to the playground special equipment. The noise was way too loud. I tried to turn it off, but it the switch was stuck and wouldn't move. I fumbled to turn down the volume. Still shrieking. I struggled to take out the batteries. They fell out in a heap, and the noise stopped.
All the noise.
I was the source of the noise.
There on the side of the megaphone, it said in teeny-tiny letters “Siren function.” I had accidentally hit the siren function.
I shot Playground Director the look of death. After all his explaining, he had never once mentioned anything about the siren function.
He laughed at me as he walked up. “Well, that’s one way to get their attention.”