After I pinkie swore that I would not cramp her style, and that she didn't even have to talk to me if she didn't want to, she relented and agreed that I could, indeed, be the preschool helper.
Let me tell you something about me and children. I think kids are pretty awesome. But I don't think I've ever been a kid in my entire life. When I was about five, a boy asked me to play doctor, and I, not understanding that "playing doctor" is a game of exploration and titillation, told him he had esophageal cancer and needed chemotherapy. I spent my childhood mostly around adults and teenagers. So, I've never related to children very well. The idea of spending three hours in a room full of eighteen three-year-olds is a terrifying prospect to me, like unto staring into the untempered schism.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that preschool is not the nightmare void of madness I'd expected it to be. There was a lot of snot. And a bathroom accident. Those things, I suppose I should have expected. I ran a paint station, where the kids painted a picture of a tooth with a toothbrush. It wasn't terribly hard, and it definitely helped that I had a little girl who sat next to me, prompting me with, "You forgot to talk about the root of the tooth," and "You can't say deciduous, he won't know what that means." I learned what kind of toothpaste and toothbrush every kid had. I'm actually astonished that there are toothbrushes for so many different characters, although I doubt the veracity of one claim, as it came from the same boy who insisted that he'd once killed a cheetah.
Slowly, the kids would just open up about something crazy and totally unconnected with painting or teeth. One boy told me that his mom is mean, then went on to describe said meanness, which I assure you, to a three-year-old, was horrific. Games where put on shelves, high up, where they cannot be reached. This cruel and unusual punishment was inflicted upon the poor child for simply being naughty! I assured him that his mom wasn't mean, she was just doing her job, because there have to be consequences in life. He nodded sagely, as if understanding every word, then said, "What's consequences mean?"
A little girl opened up about her struggles with thumb-sucking. She talked the way people talk in drug counseling: "I know I can't, because see, my teeth keep going backward, and I know they put the cream on my thumb that tastes so nasty, but I feel like I'm going to just start sucking my thumb and I can't help it!"
Another boy expressed his frustration with mothers the world over for their choice in favorite Star Wars characters: "Moms always like Han Solo best, because he's handsome. Luke is better!"
By the time snack time had rolled around, I had started thinking to myself, "wow, kids have just as many problems as we do." While it might not be as hard to quit sucking your thumb as it would be to kick heroin cold turkey, that kid was struggling with the same emotions of any addict. And the kid who who couldn't understand why anyone would like Han Solo when Luke Skywalker is clearly better... how is that different from grown ups arguing over politics on facebook?
So, my daughter and I have reached an accord, because now she realizes that mommy isn't going to cramp her style at school, and I don't dread next month's helper day quite as much as I was before this one. I think I might actually look forward to it.