Well, How Did I Get Here?

Last night was Bingo Night at the kid’s school. This is no small event. Picture 400 people, families with small children, all crammed into the school cafeteria, sweating and screaming and tearing at each other to get door prizes, or to have a chance to win raffled off items like gift cards. This is my 3rd rodeo. It gets more insane each year.

Honestly? I kind of love it.

It goes pretty late, kid-wise. They always have it on an evening when there is no school the next day so kids can stay up late. So everyone is overtired and full of junk food and there’s a lot of noise. Someone’s husband is the DJ and bingo barker who reads out the numbers, and the teachers all man the tables to draw numbers or check winners’ cards for accuracy before releasing them to the toy table, where they pick out a glow stick necklace or mini-candy bar or temporary tattoo and race back to their table, as the game goes on, and we need to get these kids used to GAMBLING FEVER.

You get like 10 bingo cards to work one at a time. Every three games or so, they stop bingo and go into dance party mode, with the bingo caller-dad acting as DJ, and the kids all get up and get some energy out. It’s already warm in there, what with the pizza and all the people and the nervous energy of people trying so hard to win, and the dancing makes it sweaty-hot.

The PTA hosts this, of course. It’s another fundraiser, and they excel at trying to make things fun while taking your money for pizza or raffle tickets. I think they probably spend more than they make on events like this, but with everyone on PTA and so much of the teaching staff volunteering to help, hopefully there is some profit. They’re also raffling off a car, which I hope to win, because mine is a piece of shit that’s on its last legs. We’ll find out about that at end of the month.

The kid only won one game, and I didn’t win any, which is fine. But he got a little piece of candy and felt victorious, if only for a moment.

At one point, they were playing that song C’mon Ride the Train and one of the crazier, more fun teachers, Mr. T, was leading hundreds of kids through the aisles in between the tables in a human train, formed by screaming, sweating, laughing kids and tired-but-happy teachers. This guy has been teaching for almost 30 years, and he’s a camp counselor all summer. He must really, really love kids. I admire him.

I took a slow look around at one point, scanning the room and looking at every detail. The cutely decorated walls and doors that one of the PTA mom handles. A bunch of PTA moms manning the pizza and snack station. One of their daughters, across from me, growing bigger right before my eyes, now that I’ve known her for three years. Other PTA moms manning the raffle table booth. The teachers up at the front, handing over bingo balls and checking kids’ cards. Families with little teeny kids and babies who were red-faced and laying on the chests of dads or grandmas or grandpas. Moms dancing while holding an infant. Empty bags of Cheetos, deflated juice boxes. Pieces of broken crayons and ripped up bingo cards that tell the disappointment and frustration of loss. Candy wrappers and paper plates with half-eaten pieces of pizza. And me and my bony kid, hanging out on a bench, marking our numbers. I ran my hands around in a circle on his back, his little bony shoulder blades sticking out. I tried to memorize what it felt like, his body still small and lean under my hand, as he is growing so quick, it feels different every time I get such an opportunity—and those are more and more rare. I ruffled his hair and thought how he needed a bath. I hugged him to me, and then made him get up and dance with me and didn’t care what we looked like. I never thought this was what it would be like. I couldn’t have imagined it. It’s sensory overload and totally insane. I’m sure most people who knew me when I was young would have thought that I hated such a scene. They didn’t really know me, not the real me, anyway. I used to babysit some kids when I was in high school, which probably most people didn’t know, and the kids loved having me sit. I liked playing with them and felt proud taking care of them, getting them fed and cleaned up and tucked into their cute little rooms.

I tucked the kid into his bed as soon as we got home, so late for him. He crashed so hard he looked like a cat, face down on the edge of the pillow. I had a glass of wine and thought about the evening.

This loud, crazy world. It is mine. I am glad to be here.

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