There I was, a parent chaperone on a weekend retreat with my daughter's Girl Scout troop, when I got slammed, my worst ever. It was a Mrs. Plooster slam.
"Slamming" is my term for the moment when my memory does a fast reverse then an immediate fast forward. First there's the flash of child-me watching some adult do something as I silently swear, "I will never do that when I grow up." Then comes the fast forward to the moment just past, when I, as an adult, have said or done that very thing.
I think these moments are stored in our memories like classic silent films in a dusty Hollywood vault. We never know when these memories will emerge to be played, and when they do, we are always caught off-guard. Just one more thing to keep us ever-humble and ever-aware of the great circles of life.
When we're young adults starting out in the world, these slams are much less frequent and often of the pleasurable variety. "Here I am at work, with my own desk and my own responsibilities!" you think, smiling, as the image of nine-year-old you sitting in your mom or dad's chair at work rolls across your mind's silver screen.
When you get your first job, you may recall this scene and feel a sort of victorious satisfaction, but only because you've just joined the work-force and you don't know any better.
Once we become parents, however, it sometimes seems as if we're slammed on a daily basis. Every parent knows the moment of admonishing a child, finger wagging, saying "you should have known better," when suddenly you stop mid-sentence, wondering how you grew your mother's finger, or realizing your face is contorted in the exact same way your father's used to.
Then one day you head out to the grocery store in sweats, white gym socks, and loafers, and you remember cringing when you were 11 and actually had to accompany your mom to the grocery store when she was dressed exactly like this.
So, my worst slam ever? My Mrs. Plooster moment? It began as I was cajoling the Girl Scouts up the mountain, once again the parent who'd said yes when asked to volunteer. I wasn't in the habit of doing everything that people asked of me, but I did a lot, especially school-related things. I was just beginning to wonder if my daughter had reached the age where she'd rather I didn't volunteer so much. But she seemed more than happy to have me along on this particular outing.
Chatting happily about this and that, I'd told the girls, by way of incentive, that they should collect Douglas fir cones along the way and I'd tell them an old legend about the cones when we reached the top. At the summit, I told them the story. They seemed to like it. Most of them. I think.
As we hiked down, I pointed out different kinds of rocks, different lichens, and told a cute story I'd learned 20 years earlier while working as a naturalist in California about how to remember that a lichen is made up of an alga and a fungus. As a few girls listened, a couple of the popular girls came over to see what we were looking at. They looked at each other and smirked, and I got slammed. I was Mrs. Plooster!
Mrs. Plooster was the mom who went on nearly every field trip, who always helped out in the classroom, who was the troop leader for the Girl Scouts, and who baked a cake for every fund-raiser. I even have a foggy memory of Mrs. Plooster at some assembly, dressed in lederhosen, singing a song in German.
Mrs. Plooster was an institution unto herself. When she chaperoned, she was not going to waste her time by just coming along for the ride, by gum. She was going to impart some information, some manners, and make the whole darn education thing more meaningful if it killed her. I'm sure that wasn't her attitude, but that's how we saw it. We traded amazing treasures to get on anyone else's bus but Mrs. Plooster's.
And now I'd become Mrs. Plooster. I finished my story and walked in silence. The girls chattered happily among themselves the rest of the way down the mountain.
A strange thing happened as I hiked in silence. I started to run some of those old classic films in my mind in their entirety. True, there was Mrs. Plooster trying to tell us still more about the painting that the curator in the art museum had already droned on about for 10 minutes. But then later in that same field trip, there she was tenderly guiding Jimmy S. to the bathroom after he'd thrown up in the middle of the museum cafeteria.
Another old clip showed Mrs. Plooster in the back of the bus on the way home from the zoo, maintaining discipline with an iron will. But as the film in my mind played on, there was Mrs. Plooster jumping into action when some poor lady crashed her car into the school bus, literally causing a dent the size of a half-dollar in the bus while nearly one whole side of her car had fallen off. Mrs. P. made sure all the kids were fine, then went out to comfort the lady who was hysterical at having hit a school bus filled with children.
In another old picture, I saw Mrs. Plooster telling everyone not to run on the school grounds. I remembered thinking, "Who made her principal?" But as the film whirred on, there was Mrs. Plooster picking me up after I'd been running and had tripped and scraped my knee on the gravel-strewn asphalt. She took me to the nurse's office with nary a comment about the broken rule.
By the time my Girl Scout chaperone weekend was over, I'd thought a lot about Mrs. Plooster. And myself. At one point in my contemplations, I'd decided not to volunteer so much, and when I did, to just be there and not be ... so ... well, Ploosterish.
But then I realized just how valuable Mrs. Plooster had been. She was the mom who was there for her daughter, there for all the kids, there for the teachers, there for the school, there for the community. Kids can be miniature Tom Sawyers, not having much respect for someone who's working hard on their behalf.
So instead of vowing not to become Mrs. Plooster, I vowed to keep being myself, which means I'll keep being there, not all the time, but regularly. I'll just draw the line when it comes to climbing into lederhosen. And maybe just by being there, if I'm fortunate, one of these kids will grow up to get slammed with a Mrs. Wrenn moment.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society