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.