this is ground control to major mom

I’m not a helicopter parent.  I’m a spaceship parent. 

And I’ve discovered that this is the very reason I can’t seem to make myself fit in with the other first-grade moms when, on occasion, I visit my daughter’s classroom.  I’m pretty sure they think I practice some form of “detached parenting.”

This was first pointed out to me, rather blatantly, when I opened the door to my daughter’s pre-kindergarten class on the afternoon of her end-of-the-year party.  My husband and I had been sharing a car for months at that point (though we worked in two different cities) because the Jeep was waiting for its refurbished engine, and so I had asked a colleague for a ride.  I had arrived just a few minutes late, and my then-four-year-old was crouched by the window, searching for something outside.  She jumped up when she saw me, yelling, “I told them you were coming,” as she ran at me across the classroom.

I told them you were coming.  And they hadn’t believed her.

It was then that I learned I was the mom who didn’t show up enough.

And two years later, nothing has changed.  I feel the sideways glances and I know they’re thinking, “Oh. That must be Georgia’s mother.”  I see the moms of two of her classmates at the splash park downtown in the summer and so I do what I think I’m supposed to and make an attempt at small talk (I really hate small talk). They entertain my questions with terse replies, and when I walk away, they continue the conversation I (clearly) interrupted.

I’ve tried.  I promise, I’ve tried.  Hell, I joined the PTO Board, for chrissakes.  But when I showed up to the first meeting, I was egregiously underdressed in my jeans and flip-flops, and so I stood by myself in the kitchen, drinking a beer, and thinking that I should have chosen the wine or rum punch.  Yep, probably the pretty, sherbet-y rum punch.  And then I saw a group of moms from Georgia’s class, so I decided to join them.  I asked questions that I thought were harmless, small talk questions, but quickly came to the realization that I was the only mom who didn’t know the names of every student in the class.  That I was the only mom who didn’t know that Alex was the “new kid.”  That I had no idea the Assistant Principal had left abruptly and had already been replaced (I got some wide-eyed looks for that one).  And when the conversation turned to how many spelling words the kids were supposed to use in their sentences this week (all twelve? only five?), I had to turn away.  Because what I wanted to say was, “Why don’t you just ask your son?”

It’s not that I’m detached. It’s just that I feel like her schooling is her thing.  Not mine.

But I can’t help thinking that if everyone else is a helicopter, then the spaceship has to be wrong.  And, sometimes, I feel that parenting is all about proving to everyone else that what we’re doing is right, about measuring ourselves against others, and using our kids to do that.  So at the end-of-the-year party for kindergarten, when no one was really talking to me (except for the lesbian couple who, I’m sure, got sideways glances, too), I busied myself with my toddler and my three-year-old (and, come on, even though I didn’t have a babysitter, part of the reason I wanted them there was so that I could say, “Look! My hands are full!  I can’t be here all of the time!”).  But I know all of those other moms were looking at me as my daughter won every award, certificate, or trophy given.  Perfect attendance.  Citizenship.  Perfect score on her standardized math test. I tried not to react.  But inside, I was saying, “See?  See?  I don’t hover, and I’m still a good mom!”

And that was just plain stupid.  Because my daughter was the one who won those awards. Not me.

What’s good to know, I think, is that we’re all a little neurotic.  And none of us knows what we’re doing.  What we do know is that there’s more than one way to do this.

I can’t be the helicopter; I can’t drop into her classroom whenever I want because I have this job that I have to go to.  And, fortunately or unfortunately, my work hours are inflexible and coincide with my her school hours.  I can’t be in her classroom all day because I have to be in mine.  (Although, sometimes I’m pretty sure my students wouldn’t notice if I wasn’t there.  And they’d probably even stay in their seats that day.)

So I don’t always know what she’s doing at school.  I don’t always know exactly what she’s learning.  I don’t always know exactly how she’s behaving.  And I have to be okay with that, because I make myself crazy enough with everything else.  When she does well, how do I know how much praise is too much?  How do I know how much praise is too little?  How do I show her that I’m proud without making her think that hard work is something she’s supposed to be rewarded for and not an expectation?

How do I know if I want her screened for the accelerated academy?  And then, if she is screened, what if she doesn’t get in?  What if she gets in and doesn’t succeed?  What if she feels like I’m pushing her to be one of those kids?  What if, what if, what if . . .

I know this:  I have to trust my child.  I don’t need to be in the classroom, criticizing the teacher (and, trust me, it’s so easy to criticize a teacher when you’re not a teacher).  I have to believe that my daughter will tell me if something is wrong.  And I have to believe that she will make good choices.  And, if she doesn’t, well, then she’ll learn something from that, too.

Because, really, my goal as a parent is not to raise the smartest kid with the highest test scores.  There will always be someone smarter, anyway.  Instead, I’d like to raise a kid who’s confident enough to be independent, who feels good about who she is. I want to raise a kid who practices tolerance, who doesn’t talk badly about the boy with two moms.  I want to raise a kid whose heart stays big enough to house compassion.

Even if it means the other moms think I’m lost in space.

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12 thoughts on “this is ground control to major mom

  1. I enjoy reading about the thinking you are doing about all this mom business. Some of us hovering types had the same angst as you do. There’s lots of common ground here. I find that strange and funny at the same time. In the end, love and feeling loved is all there is. It’s the final mark of success.

  2. I’m still at the part where there’s alcohol at the PTO meeting. Wow. You guys must have a lot of volunteers! It takes me a long time to make friends, fit in. I just keep trying until I do. I am able to volunteer in my kids’ classes and know the kids’ names and a lot about what they do. Sometimes I feel like the other moms give me the sideways glance! But I don’t care. I do it because I like helping the kids. Maybe your daughter’s next class will have some really awesome parents you can connect with. It sounds like you’re doing everything right.

    • Yeah, I’m pretty sure the beer was only for this first meet-and-greet night, but I’ll take it! 🙂 I’ll definitely keep trying, though I realized recently that, because of this whole “accelerated program,” she’ll be with the same kids through the fifth grade. I probably should have caught on to that earlier, but geez! I didn’t even know there was a parent night tonight until she told me yesterday. Good Lord. If your children were in my daughter’s class, I think we’d get along just fine . . . 🙂

  3. I’m sure I’ll be a spaceship someday too. Spaceships are way cooler than helicopters, anyway. They go further 😉 As a teacher, I prefer spaceship parents. It’s nice to have room to do my job but know support exists at home. Spaceship parents aren’t absent, they’re trusting. Kids need space and trust, too. Not to mention the fact that children of helicopter parents are often less mature and less independent than their peers, see it all the time!

  4. Funny how even though we’ve come so far with women getting to choose and be who they want to be, we still have this mommy competition and judging going on. This seems like the ongoing battle between working moms and stay at home moms, a new updated version. I think it sounds like you’re on the right track there, Hang on and continue being just who you are!

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