The joy and agony of being a class mom

Author Laurie Gelman delves into schoolyard politics in her funny new novel.

headshot of author laurie gelman on beach
Photo: Michael Gelman

No matter where you live, being a “class mom” is the same (mostly miserable) experience. At least that’s what Laurie Gelman, former YTV PJ, early-show entertainment correspondent and cohost of The Mom Show, discovered when she spoke to friends all over Canada and the United States on the subject. Not that some of us don’t enjoy the power that comes with getting to schedule everyone’s volunteer days, but the prestige of the position is ultimately outweighed by the horror and humiliation of having to beg for muffins for the class party on a semi-regular basis and having every class email you send scrutinized and, ultimately, misunderstood. Gelman delves into the ups and downs of the job in her relatable and funny new novel, Class Mom, about a kindergarten class mom who handles her unfortunate appointment with confidence, sarcasm and good humour. I talked to her about schoolyard politics, extramarital flirting and the art of letting go.  

I’ve been a class mom, I am co-chair of the parents’ council at my kids’ elementary school and I’m entering my sixth year doing communications for my youngest daughter’s preschool (she isn’t the oldest kid at the school; she is my third to go through the school). Let’s just say I really identified with your book.

You are a saint.

Like Jen [the main character in the book], I tend to be very sarcastic and facetious. I spend a lot of time worrying that I’ve inadvertently offended someone. Is this something that plagued you?

It happened constantly. Once I raised my hand and said “Who is the allergy kid?” and everyone gasped. Apparently, you’re not supposed to ask that; it’s just known that someone in the class has allergies. I was so embarrassed. But I’m always offending somebody. I mean who doesn’t have a moment like that?  

book cover for class mom by laurie gelman
Photo: Henry Holt and Co.

A lot of books in this genre focus on mommy wars, particularly working parents versus non-working parents. In your book, it wasn’t an issue. Was this intentional?

I get so tired of those mommy wars and the PTA mom being so awful, making the cool, hip moms feel bad that they’re not baking cupcakes from scratch. I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced that, but I’m also tired of that story. I wanted to write from the perspective of a PTA person who is actually a cool person.

Jen makes such a lovely group of friends at the school. Was that your experience as well?

You have to be so careful when you become friends with the parents of your kids’ friends. If something happens between your kids and your kids aren’t friends anymore, it can create a real rift in the friendship, depending on how strong the friendship is.

My friends with older kids tend to talk about missing drop-off and pick-up. Have you had a similar experience?

Pick-up was a big social time because all the mothers would be there—and, yeah, you get the pulse of the school. You get all the gossip, and there is always some mom that knows everything—it’s really impressive. You get to watch your kids walk out of school and see if they’re smiling or sad. Who are they with? Are they walking by themselves? Why? Why don’t they have their jackets on? There are a million things that go through your head. I miss that because I don’t get the immediate feedback I used to.

A dad tied up with rope
Volunteering in the classroom: Not for the faint of heart

I’ve always secretly hoped that you don’t see all the high school parents at pick-up because they’re hanging out in the school lobby.

You know what we do now? We get together on our own. We’ll have a 10th-grade dinner so that the parents can still connect. It’s only once or twice a year, but boy you learn a lot at those dinners.

Your kids are now in their teens. Do they still like hanging out with you?

They do. I can’t get over it. I love hanging out with them. But this is a very busy time for both of them in their social worlds. They always have things to go to. My 13-year-old will say, “Oh, I’m meeting K.K. downtown for dinner.” “OK, how are you getting there?” “She is picking me up in an Uber.” They have that going on. Because they aren’t suburban, they aren’t tied to when I can take them someplace.

I won’t even let anyone else drive my kids anywhere!

Let me just say that it’s the hardest thing in the world to let them go. You have to make yourself do it. You have to trust the universe that they are smart, savvy and aware. If something happens, they have their cellphones, and we have GPS on their cellphones so we can track them. Separation works both ways.

I feel like having younger children is easier than having older children because I always know where my kids are, none of their friends drive, and if I’m annoyed that they consumed something behind my back, it’s because they managed to find my chocolate stash—not the leftover painkillers from my episiotomy.

Having little kids is easier, which you don’t always know because they’re such a pain in the neck sometimes. I used to say I’m changing my name to “Dad” because, you know, it’s always “Mom! Mom! Mom!” But as they get older, they’re much more independent and you lose control of their schedules. It’s harder, but in a lot of ways it’s easier, too. You watch them become grown-ups—independent, smart young men and women.

In the book, Jen runs into an old high school crush and I was so anxious. Do you think flirty texting is OK when you’re married?

I’ll tell you something that nobody else knows: When I handed in the book for the first time, they said, “We love this and this is great, but her marriage is too perfect. You have to do something to mess up her marriage.” That was so hard because I’m not a flirt—I’m about as interesting as a pile of dirt when it comes to talking to other men. I have no game. I struggled for four months to put that plot in. I’m a very happily married woman. I don’t have a lot of friction in my marriage and I really like that, so I wouldn’t be looking elsewhere anyway. It was really hard to me to do that—to mess up that marriage.

You’re married to Michael Gelman of Live with Kelly and Ryan. Do you find it hard to be married to a famous person while trying to keep your own identity and be known for your own success?

He truly is the wind beneath my wings—he always wants to push me to the forefront. Though it’s no fault of Michael’s, you become the woman who is pushed aside because “Excuse me, ma’am, I want to get a picture of Gelman and Kelly.” My purpose on the red carpet is to stand aside so that they can get photos of the celebrities. Before we had kids, it would bother me because I was on television as well. I just wasn’t as well known, and I would get pushed aside. But once we had kids, they became my priority and it really is fulfilling enough.

My work priorities changed after I had kids. Did you choose to take a step back after your kids were born?

I had just had Misha and I was the pop culture reporter for The Early Show. I was interviewing Jude Law—which should have been the highlight of my day—and I asked him a question. Then my boobs started to hurt and I thought, Did I pump before I left the house today? Then he stopped talking and I hadn’t heard a word he said and I had nothing—no comeback, no follow-up question. I thought, This isn’t working. If Jude Law can’t keep my attention, then something is wrong. I went to my boss and said I really want to do parenting stuff. Unfortunately, I’m not a parenting expert; I’m just a parent. My boss told me that they use experts for those segments. Shortly after that, I was offered The Mom Show in Canada, which was very lucky because that was the most fun five years I’ve ever had.

What make someone a parenting expert anyway?

A couple of degrees in related fields, but now with relaxed journalism standards, I think anyone could write a book and become a parenting expert.

But you wrote a book, so now you’re an expert!

At last! I’ve met my goal.

Read more:
Sorry, kids—I’ll never be THAT mom
I‘m too awkward to make mom friends

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