Friday, March 7, 2008

If You Were a Good Mom, You'd Have an Ulcer

Last night, there was a little, informal, get-together at Elise's school about preparing for kindergarten. That's more than a year away for us given a late birthday and all, but I figure it's a good idea to start collecting info sooner rather than later.

Well, I'm here to tell you that I'm waaaaaay too relaxed, and probably negligent. That's right. We have been figuring on public school, and even our neighborhood school. It's decent and getting better all of the time. We are working on making sure Elise has the skills and mindset necessary to succeed when she gets to elementary school. We'll check out the school and the classrooms as the time approaches, get involved with the school and volunteer for stuff and I figure that's a pretty good start. Such slackers. Feel free to exclaim your dismay that we are so negligent.

As a dear friend pointed out, these sorts of meetings tend to self-select for the neurotic so I feel mildly better. Nearly everyone in the room was agonized about the idea of their precious snowflake walking down a hall to a bathroom with only a buddy for company. And how will they get in all of their extracurriculars? There sure are a lot of schools to tour, so get in there quick since there are waiting lists for the best ones. Because anyone in their right mind would gladly pay $26K/year to be confident that their progeny are getting the very best. Of course, we're all too clever to really think that an expensive school would be the ticket, but if we could afford it we'd be there in a heartbeat...

I am pretty confident in our approach of "letting" Elise be a kid and our commitment to public education. But every now and then I wonder if I am a complete slacker for not letting it keep me up nights. I can't help but think that so many people can't be happy unless they're in a panic. I also can't help but think that the discussion would have been vastly different at a lower-end childcare center. This place isn't the most expensive by a long shot, but it's not the cheapest ever. Spending time among people who are newly accustomed to having some surplus money almost always leaves me feeling like I'm unambitious or at the very least not trying hard enough.

Is it possible to be educated, value intelligence and intellectual challenge, make a decent living and not be a nutjob? So far, in The Valley of Hearts Delight I've found two moms who lead me to conclude that the answer is yes. And more than I care to count who prove the very opposite with every fiber of their beings. Forget the whole business of beating each other up for either going to work or staying home-the next battleground of motherhood is a race to a nervous breakdown. Whoever gets there first wins, apparently.

Oh, and speaking of the home/work battle... One of the moms was worried about how to get her little darling to all of the little outside of school classes they like so much what with aftercare and all. I piped up and suggested making friends with a stay-at-home mom and saving a bit on the childcare bill while giving the kids a chance to play together. Collectively, the room sniggered. Seriously. A few comments about Stepford Wives, and the idea was dismissed as if it had never been uttered. My take on this is that many of the women these working moms identify with economically are wealthy to the point of stupid and are probably not approachable or desirable as friends to share in childcare. Fair enough.

However, it annoys me to no end that these people have spent months and maybe years of their lives agonizing over the education of their kids, but won't even consider spending some of that same time and effort to be part of a community, except in a superficial way. Get to know another family with a mom who'd take my kid after school?! Perish the thought! I'd rather just leave 'em at aftercare and gripe about the cost of it and the lack of wholesome stimulation! From my perspective, it's the Ronco Oven method of childrearing-set it and forget it. At the end of the day, it feels better to pay a fee, know where you are in the pecking order, and not actually interact with anyone. Sure, it can be tricky to negotiate friendships and all, but exactly what is it that people are trying to accomplish with this strange form of independence? It's all rationalized with not wanting to impose, but the real sentiment is more on the order of not wanting to feel indebted.

And it feels so good to be able to reject an entire lifestyle out of hand, because that immediately validates one's own life choices. I see this both with at-home moms and at-work moms, and it's just plain stupid. If nothing else, it serves to keep focus squarely on parents where it belongs, rather than on those pesky ornaments/accessories known as kids. All of which takes me right back to the beginning of this little rant. The "best" parents are the ones who can demonstrate the most neurosis surrounding every aspect of their kids' lives.

So, let's hoist a glass of that Old Janx Spirit to these winning parents. For those interested in a little friendly competition, I should warn you that, like Zaphod Beeblebrox, I usually play to lose.


Anonymous said...

Oh the tales I could tell about parents at private scools. We at my school are a liitle confused about whether we are still a sort of hippy-dippy crunchy granola school as we were 20 years ago or a school for the financially gifted so we have a wide range of parents. There is the painfully honest, if misguided, mother who declares that one can be a good professional or a good mother and she has chosen the former (more schooling required, you know)so she has hired a decent nanny and lets it go at that. (Actually she has a wonderful nanny who goes above and beyond over and over and over again.) We have your crazed mothers who still hold their darling little boy's hand as they walk him in to school in 8th grade, carrying his designer back pack for him, of course. We have the mother who wants her child to go to fancy, sleep away camp (at Harvard or Stanford or Yale) but will, naturally, move there with him so that he won't be lonely--he's only 12, you know. We have the parents who hardly notice their kids and those who hardly notice any child but their own. ("We told the children that this school was made just for them. Please call it the "[fill in child's name here] School" when you talk to them.") And we have lot and lots of wonderful parents who volunteer when needed and step back when they are in the way, who support their child's education financially but also emotionally and sanely. You will meet them all most everywhere you go. It's a lot like high school or even kindergarten--you have to pick and choose your friends to find the very, very best. Good luck. You are doing this mothering part very well--I am impressed. Let the others see what a cool person you are and how great Elise is and they might just change their ways. (But don't hold your breath on that one.)

Niki Naeve said...

Wow. That's all I have to say.