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Rumble on the Preschool Moms List

I know I haven’t written in a long time — more on that in some other post — but I’m in the middle of a brouhaha that needs airing. Both because of the complex issues surrounding it — issues of parenting in the 21st century, of information and privacy and safety. But also because it’s gotten so frigging out of hand already.

Let me preface this with the fact that The Great Valentine’s Day Kerfuffle of 2010 set the stage for this. More than 50 emails went into a serious and multi-week debate about whether or not the kids should give each other Valentines for V-Day. (And WHEN did that start getting called “Happy Hearts Day”?) I laughed and moaned — it was my fault because I asked for a class policy on V-Day after getting caught out in last year’s class.

At the beginning of the year, as part of the pile o’ paperwork involved in preschool, one of the things we had to sign was a release allowing the school to take photos and use them in promotional material or whatnot. I signed — what the hell, right?

In the first weeks of the year, it became clear that one of the moms had NOT signed. It was N., and she admits, a little sheepishly and little defiantly, that she has “a weird thing” about not putting her kids’ picture on the internet. Okay, we all shrugged. It’s a quirk, we can deal with it.

The teachers mostly took the brunt of that — they had to keep N’s kid out of the way if any photographer came to take photos. Didn’t affect anyone’s life but the teachers, so we went on.

I need to also tell you about L., one of our class moms. L is very intense. There’s no other way to describe her. She’s an older mom with way way too many post-grad degrees (two masters and a law degree), an in-your-face attitude, and excellent hair. She also has twin sons, one of whom has Autism Spectrum Disorder. She’s very proactive — one might even say aggressive — in advocating for her son. Of which I approve, though it’s a sometimes exhausting. Her son has a therapist who sometimes comes to class and who often uses digital photos of the class in his therapy. (He’s an awesome kid, btw, and very similar to The Child in so many ways that I have to talk myself out of little fits about The Child having ASD, sometimes.)

She is, I think, my favorite preschool mom this year. I should say that, too.

Last week, the head teacher came out and handed out a new form for us to sign. (Sometimes, it seems like motherhood is mostly about managing paperwork.) It was a new EEC statement regarding policies about digital images of preschoolers. One of the moms — P., who is nice and sweet but coddles and smothers her son a bit — declared, in front of the other moms that she was going to say no. I didn’t even notice, really.

To be wholly honest, I didn’t read it as carefully as I ought to have. I had other things on my mind (like the new Kim Harrison novel! Yay!). At the library, a few hours before the form was due, I asked L. to borrow a pen so I could sign it.

Well, I got an earful. Turns out, many of the moms were taking P’s lead and going to refuse to allow photos. And L was PISSED! It was going to affect her son’s therapy! It was going to completely strangle the cute photos we could post on the mailing list!

I agreed that it would put a lot of restrictions on what seemed like an important part of her son’s therapy. I also agreed that it seemed a little silly, given that any stroll through Harvard Square generates thousands of digital images of your child. I also agreed that it seemed impossible to enforce among the population that most moms are worried about — the casual pedophile. (The school is on a farm that anyone can pay $5 and get onto. They kids often encounter total strangers with cameras and cell phones. Short of the teachers tackling everyone who pulls out a cell phone, the only people that they could enforce this upon would be the folks visiting the school, all of whom have been checked out via CORI forms.)

Then I left, handed the paper to the head teacher, and heard from her that there was a major block of moms who were saying “no.”

Again, I didn’t give a damn. It seemed silly, but the parents have the right to control their child’s image. And in the 21st century, controlling your online image is a good idea, an excellent idea, in fact. (Hence the theoretical anonymity of this blog.)

When I walked out of the preschool a little early (never mind why), I was startled to see all the moms in a huddle in the parking lot, with L. holding forth. I didn’t hear much, but “I hear what you’re saying. I don’t think you hear what I’m saying,” and “I just want to protect my child!”

Ooooakaaay…. time to get the hell outta Dodge. I dashed to the car before I could get caught up in the conversation. I describe the situation, with some humour, to the Husband at dinner last night. We discussed the various permutations of the arguments and actually had some interesting thoughts on the issue. But I figured it was majority-rule, case closed, let’s move on.

The morning, the emails started. L sent out a lawyerly, bullet-pointed … screed, I guess is the best way to describe it. She mentioned a meeting on Tuesday and how she wanted to get her arguments in now, rather than taking up the whole 30 minutes. She talked about her son’s therapy, how important having photos of his peer group was, etc. etc.

I thought about it for a minute and decided that I remained weirdly apathetic. I really didn’t care one way or the other — both sides had valid points. So I decided to do something I don’t normally do — I suggested a compromise: to allow some people, like the therapist, to take photos after he’s signed a form that promises not to release the photos online.

I also pointed out that anyone with a film camera wasn’t covered, so there’s a giant ass loophole. Then I added, “I have no dog in this fight, I just want to point out that this isn’t an all-or-nothing situation.”

(I also did something stupid. I sent a note, privately, to L., saying that I hoped my emails had helped her case and that it might shift some of the more sheep-like moms. Change one mind and you’ll shift the whole herd. That was unkind, impolitic, and sadly, true. But I still shouldn’t have committed it to pixels.)

Then one of the other moms wrote a pretty aggressive email about how “we all thought about what was best for our child and we have the right to make this decision and I don’t think any of us are going to change our minds!” Well, that ratcheted the heat up.

A few more emails went back and forth, all polite, but then P. (the coddling mom), sent out a supposed-to-be-soothing email about how we need to be calm and not use words like “paranoid” or “reckless” to describe either side in the debate. Since no one has used those words in the general debate, you gotta wonder what’s been said in private, huh? That also ratcheted up the tension, but killed the thread to everyone.

What I find most interesting about this is how much effort this is all taking. More established preschools have policies on these things, but since ours is a new preschool (with a wishy-washy, half-assed head teacher), it’s very much a consensual democracy. Which is nice, in theory, but exhausting in practice.

Anyway, that was a long post after a long silence. I’ll let you all know how it turns out.

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