Monday, October 15, 2007

A Raggedy, Rambling Post About Girls, Moms, and Some Other Stuff

I tried to write a post about race and class in the first grade, but it collapsed, because after I listed all the ways the girls self-segregate by race, I came up with a half dozen examples of cross-race friendships, and when I self-consciously admitted that E says mean things about the girls of color in her class, I realized that she quite likes the girls of color from her class last year, and her best friend is a Chinese boy, for goodness sake, and as I thought about it, I realized that the birthday party which inspired the post had seven white girls and four girls of color and they all played together gleefully. So the kids are more complicated than the ideological mother allows them to be (OK, in not writing the post, I guess I am leaving them to their complexity).

The one thing, though, that I did not manage to disprove for myself is the fact that the white, middle-class girls whose moms are active in the school are all friends--my line was going to be "and thus power perpetuates itself" and then there was going to be something else, I think in a different sentence, about "despite self-awareness and the best intentions," and then the kicker was something about how the only way to really address white privilege and racism in the lives of one's white kids is to put them in environments where they are distinctly the minority, and we weren't willing to accept the ramifications of doing that in the East Coast Big City area, so basically we have to live with our inadequate choices (I mean, we can do other things, but that's the bottom line).

But back to the girls and their moms. Or rather, back to the moms.

I don't tend to engage with the blogosphere, but lately I've read a couple of bloggers complaining about unwelcoming moms, especially unwelcoming PTO moms, and dozens of commenters agreeing (and a few commenters offering alternative interpretations). And I'm thinking, too, about being accused of being a Queen Bee mom by that person who used to know me. And then there's this Jane Dark post which raises a point I've always wondered about: if everyone was an outsider, where are the insiders? which is relevant, though the connection may not emerge sufficiently clearly.

My thoughts are certainly in part defensive. I'm sure I look like an alpha mom. If that person who used to know me saw me at my kids' school, she'd probably be satisfied with her foresight. If you saw me at school, you'd probably hate me. I'm friends with the power moms, and I call the principal by her first name. I bake from scratch, and I run the theater program. I'm always chatting with someone, and my nice white middle-class daughters have lots of friends and get good grades and are beloved by their teachers, who also call me by my first name. See, you have met the enemy, and she is me.

But here's how I feel a lot of the time: shy and terrified. And here's how I know so many people: because I found a really cool project to get involved with, and because I stood outside school before the bell rang, and sat on the sides of fields, and you see the same people over and over, and eventually you smile, and then you make idle chat, and then at some point you realize that you know each other.

B, the PTO treasurer? I used to think she was totally mean and scary, but enough tee ball, enough soccer, a few necessary emails about school business later, and we're not drinking buddies, but I know that she's a nice person who just wants what I want: happy kids and a good school.

Or take J. J is a bonafide PTO mom. She organizes the carnival, last I heard she was vice-president and she's probably president by now, she even hosts luncheons. But she's also one of the coolest people on the planet: she's into Sylvia Plath, loves to hike, can drink all of us under the table, and is totally shy. I mean, come on Dawn, you're the scared-of-the-PTO type: isn't J the best??

I think a lot of it comes down to the difficulty of entering new situations. There may be some people who just love entering a room full of people who all know each other for the first time, but I am not acquainted with any of them. Basically, it sucks. Their familiarity seems across the continental divide from your alienation, totally unachievable. But the fact is: they were all new too, once, and then they kept coming, and eventually they weren't new anymore, and they understood how things worked, and had their own roles, and maybe they weren't best friends with everyone, but it was OK. My prenatal yoga class? Totally terrifying the first time I went: all these hugely pregnant moms who not only knew each other, but knew what a downward dog was. Fast forward four months, and there I was hanging out after class with all the other nine-month-pregnant fat chicks, while the still-svelte five-monthers eyed us with wary terror.

I've entered two schools and two Hebrew schools, and each time I've been terrified and alienated, but in three of the four I found my place, and in the fourth, the fact that I didn't has as much to do, I'm sure, with my ambivalent lack of engagement as with the power mom posse (who were good friends with a lovely friend of mine, and I'm sure would have been fine if I'd had the energy). I have totally failed to find my place in some important professional situations, remaining terrified, alienated, and angry on the sidelines, but, again, my ambivalence about those situations was so powerful it was probably radiating off me, signaling "Crazy woman in your midst. Stay away."

I'm not saying all moms are angels. I'm just saying that a lot of the hostility toward the figure of "the PTO mom" is a manifestation of our own anxieties and insecurities, and it is within our power to rewrite our high school scripts.

That's all.

1 comment:

chanie said...

good points.
i'm wondering if this is sort of like any sterotype - once you get to know individuals, you realize they are more complex and interesting than the box they are normally put in.
and, people probably think of me as the typical pto mom too, but that's mostly come about because i have to hang out at school so much because of my daughter's medical issues. it means i know the teachers, the kids, and what's going on in class. but i'd rather be reading or painting.