Saturday, April 25, 2009

Who Parents the Parents?

One of my favorite blogs struck a nerve with me this evening, and I tried to post a comment. It ended up being longer than any blog post I've written in months. "Hmmmmmmmm..." So I'm posting it here instead.

For some background on the ramblings that follow, please visit A Reluctant Mom. I'll wait here.

You've read it, right?

That is one crazy playdate. Kids are easy-it's figuring out what the heck to do with their parents that's hard. I know this because I'm a parent and I'm pretty sure I have exasperated a hostess or two in my time. So, from my heart, RYD, here's my response.


RYD, you're too nice.

"I'm sorry, I am not prepared to accommodate more than one friend this afternoon. I'm sure the girls will be disappointed, but if this afternoon is not going to work for you we can certainly reschedule."

"Please don't put shoes on my clean tablecloth!"

This woman sounds like "one of those" who lives in chaos by choice. She probably doesn't even realize she's such a drain on everyone around her. In her past life, she probably wouldn't have put shoes on tables or invited herself for an afternoon.

You may well be one of the few people who sets boundaries with this gal. She was probably not sure what to do with specified start and end times. (Wow, it sure is hard to do playdates at RYD's house-she has rules!) She's found a way around your rules so she can stay in her comfort/chaos zone.

I can't imagine you'll be letting her so much as look at your doorstep any time soon, but if you do, stick to your guns! It's good for you, it's good for her. And if she trash talks you with the other moms, I'll bet you anything they'll all be secretly wishing they had your gumption.

As for the racism, well, words fail.

I was raised in a deliberately colorblind household, which I think was a well-meaning mistake. Imagine my surprise when I moved out of blindingly white Montana to a more normal part of the country. I thought people were people, but the first time I was called a honkey it knocked me back and gave me more existential angst than 3rd grade generally merits.

Fast forward and my kiddo figures kids are kids. But one day she notices that her best friend (recently adopted from Nepal) has darker skin and hair. As does my cousin. My girl tends to be especially fearful of anything in her environment that is different. She was pretty anxious when she first discovered this difference between herself and two of her favorite people in the world.

So we (duh) talk about it. "How do you feel about that, Kiddo?" I asked. Turns out, she was worried that darker skin meant her best friend was seriously ill. And it made her nervous to play with her friend because she didn't know if it was contagious. Dunno about you, but I'd NEVER have guessed that in a gazillion years.

Not one to rest on my laurels, I've been encouraging both the noticing and accepting of racial differences. Our favorite activity? A generic princess coloring book from the dollar store. It is now the most ethnically diverse collection of princesses ever assembled. And we've decided that they are ALL beautiful. I think it's important to keep fun activities like this on hand (or at least in mind). Teachable moments and all of that.

Chaos Lady might be the biggest racist in town, or she might be inept. "Never attribute to malice that which can equally be explained by stupidity," as my hubby's favorite saying goes. If she's wallowing in that chaos and self-manufactured helplessness in the face of small children, chances are she's just never devoted gray matter to values training. She probably doesn't think she can. Or she's a hopeless bigot.

So you can avoid this gal because she's obnoxious. Or, you can avoid her for the reason that really gets at you. She's inept. This is not your problem-it's hers!

This reminds me a lot of playing in band in high school & college. You never want to sit next to the underachiever in your section. Some of their attitude and poor habits rub off no matter what you do. I remember my head getting fuzzy about half-way through, and then irritability and inability to concentrate would set in. There's something about the aggressive underachiever that sucks everyone around them into stupidity. I didn't really get the connection until my best friend explained to me about how that works on married couples. Don't hang out with the ones who have unhealthy relationships-it'll rub off. It's not such a stretch to apply the same principle to parenting. Not that we're all one bad playdate away from shoes on the table or teaching racism in utero, but over time that sort of thing can really muck with a person's sense of normalcy.


RYD said...

SWE, I agree with everything you have written here. But hear me out: I wasn't trying to be nice, I was just in too much shock! I honestly don't know what to say or do sometimes when people are so far out of center they border on crazy. I bit my tongue on the tablecloth and regret not saying anything, but I just wanted her out of my house. She may be stupid (I actually think she is) but I pruned her as a friend months ago (not even for being racist because i didn't know she was until that day). The problem is our kids genuinely love each other and beg to see each other all the time. This is the second time I've allowed it in five months (the first was a drop off at her house). I will not make an effort again, but I have to keep my daughter's happiness in mind. This is a tough one for me, SWE. I just wanted you to know I am with you on this one.

SWE said...

I'll mail you privately about my "too shocked to say anything" ~weekend~. Oh yes. That incident left me so angry at myself for being so much the pushover that I'm now overly sensitive. Dunno what I'd do if our kids had more than a passing fondness for one another.

Is there neutral territory where you could meet? Maybe with the promise that when the playdate is over your daughter gets to do something she's just crazy about. That way there's no heartbreak when you have to flee in terror/self-defense.

Now we (and by that I mean me) just need to find a way to react to these creatures in the moment so that the misery doesn't last a second longer than it needs to.

Anybody out there have suggestions/recommendations?

Niki Naeve said...

You have distilled so much of this into such clear thoughts, and may I even say great writing? I love the thing about how your little one thought people with darker skin may be ill - how that may only make sense in 4-yr old world, and the only way you're gonna find out it by asking! I remember being that age and noticing people smelling different, and if someone had explained certain hair care products to me I may have functioned a bit more diversely. ..

Linda said...

Well written heartfelt comments, near niece.

Let me say that you will meet many more crazy moms (and dads) as you raise your darling daughter. As the Germanic/Swedish mother of your darker skinned cousin (who spent many years wishing she looked more like mom than dad. Go figure, she is stunningly beautiful if I may so with no motherly bias whatsoever.) you probably are going to just scratch the surface of the racism issues. I had one mother tell her 5 year old (in front of me and my 5 year old) that she did not have to ever play with "that kind of girl". Let me point out that we had never met before. I did not encourage future get-togethers. A child who Jaya seemed to like a bit in kindergarten caught me off guard entirely when Jaya used a word this little one did not know. The girl turned to me and said, "Now I know what my mother means when she says N****** talk funny." Oh, the pain. Where to begin with that.

True confessions, though. I knew that dark skin was not a sign of illness but when I first met you and had a 6 month old of my own, my first thought while bathing you was that you might be ill. You looked so darn pale. At least I thought that through before suggesting we tote you to a doctor.

Some of these things are just plain ignorance. It is your job in raising the next generation is to do your best to squelch the ignorance and show everyone better ways to function. The parents are rarely worth even trying to educate. You can just keep them from your child and help guide their children when you can.