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The Rumble Turns Nasty

March 1, 2010 Leave a comment

So, The Rumble on the Preschool Moms List got nasty over the weekend. L. took her ball and went home.

In a fit of pique, she resigned as room parent, quit the mailing list, decided that she has “better ways to use [her] time”, and is now thinking about homeschooling next year instead of dealing with the moms.

Apparently, things got really heated on Thursday, when they were all in the tight little knot in the parking lot. (I talked to L. on IM the other day.) Basically, P. said that she was worried that a pedophile might find a FB photo of her beloved little boy and then stalk him. All the moms agreed, in a massive mental 180. (Most of them were all about putting pictures on the web at the beginning of the year.)

Now, I reiterate that parents have the right to control their child’s images.

I also agree with L’s point that they are all completely over-reacting and that every internet expert agrees that no one is going to stalk young children online. The article that P cited in an email, in fact, states as much:

“Research shows that there is virtually no risk of pedophiles coming to get kids because they found them online,” said Stephen Balkam, chief executive of the Family Online Safety Institute.

However, P was citing the quotes of the paranoid moms, whose fears make up the bulk of the article. That’s a … problem with modern journalism. They play up the fear and then devote one paragraph to debunking it with one line from one expert.

So, L. is right in that P is being a fearful and ridiculous mom, and her fear is going to impact L’s son’s therapy.

However, P is right in that she has the right to control her child’s image. And L is wrong in that she could have approached this in a much more reasonable fashion, calmly and politely, without shoving “the truth” down everyone’s throats.

This is actually a lesson I’ve struggled with over the years. You can get what you want by being stupid and nice instead of being smart and logical (and not nice). I prefer being right and smart, but I’ve learned that people don’t like having their fault pointed out. Yes, I know, it shouldn’t have taken me 30+ years to learn that.

Now, my concern, the aspect of this that most directly affects me, is the conversation in the parking lot on Tuesday morning. I’m going to have to walk a fine line here — these are what I think of as “consensus moms”, the kind of woman who really wants to agree with everyone and for everyone to agree with her. They regard anyone who does not agree as a threat and an attack on their parenting styles. And I’m not quite capable of lying and agreeing with them, while throwing my friend L under the bus.

But I’m not willing to tilt at windmills with L. either. I don’t actually care about most of these women, so I don’t care if they are stupid and do stupid things. (If these were my friends, I would try to explain the facts, while still respecting their right to be crazy.) And I have a healthy fear of The Herd. If these women, en masse, decide that I’m a bad mom or a threat to their fragile sense of self, then that could impact my child significantly.

And hell, it could impact me. I’ve been on the wrong end of a herd attack way too many times to dismiss their power. (L is pretty disdainful of it, as are many geeks.) I know that when a herd of “consensus girls” turns on someone, it can get brutal — even fatal. I’m not a 15 year old girl, so I’m well past the point where getting attacked and ostracized caused me to be suicidal, but I like sending The Child to her preschool and they could make that difficult. We don’t travel in the same social circles, for which I am grateful, but Boston’s a small city and I can’t be sure that they or their husbands will never bump into me or my husband, professionally.

I’m going to go for deflection and redirection as a strategy — talk about the earthquake in Chile, mention my Aunt in Law in Hawai’i and the fact that she was in danger because of the tsunmai. The Olympics and the Closing Ceremonies are good diversion techniques, too.

I have other thoughts on this, but The Child is driving me up a wall so I’m going to stop now.

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Rumble on the Preschool Moms List

February 26, 2010 Leave a comment

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.

Looking at my Google Reader

September 11, 2008 2 comments

And wondering what it says about me.

Once in a while I need to just update my Google Reader subscriptions. Not friends/momblogs, those are pretty much set. But the other stuff that I’m interested in. I sometimes wonder what exactly someone who doesn’t know me would think, looking at my list.

Under Authors:

  • Tammy Pierce’s LJ — one of my all time favorite authors. Her LJ is a little ranty sometimes, but … well, so am I
  • My friend, M’s, author blog. I’ve got her house blog under friends/momblogs, but her blog about writing goes under authors
Under food, I notice they are all about how to eat sustainably, ecologically, and healthfully (and yummily!)
Under Homesteading
Under Science
Under random, which, upon looking at it, I could rename social studies
Draw your own conclusions, I guess.
What’s on your non-mom-blog Google Reader?
Categories: blogosphere

Soliciting thoughts on policy decisions?

September 5, 2008 5 comments

So, I guess I asked for it. I wrote about why I’m against abstinence-only education and one person took umbrage with my point. I rebutted her points. In her reply, she pasted a scree against birth control in the middle of her comment.

I started to shoot back a post, comment, whatnot about how much more dangerous pregnancy, birth, and motherhood are than birth control, to really sink my teeth into the issue when I realized…. it’s pointless. She’s not going to change her mind. I’m not going to change mine.

I really don’t want this pleasant little corner of the net where I ruminate turn into a screaming match between two irreconcilable views of sex, sexuality, and feminism. Honest debate I could stomach but we’re just hollering past each other here. So I want to cut it off…. this isn’t a ethics class, an op-ed page, or a modern issues workshop. It’s my blog.

Now, I’m in a position that is, for me at least, a little uncomfortable. I am a past journalist, with very strong feelings on censorship and freedom of speech. So I should, from that point of view, let her post stand and just move on.

On the other hand, this isn’t a paper, an official website, or any public organ of communication. It’s a private mommy blog about the difficulties of being a mother in modern America. One bare step above a diary. I’d rather not have her scree on my site for a variety of reasons.

First, the language she uses is more likely to attract trolls who are Googling for a fight. I don’t want trolls on my little mommy blog. (For instance, the single-most commonly read post on my blog is one about p**ing in my Spanx. It gets hit about ten or twelve times a day. I am a little squicked out at the idea that there are folks out there j*cking off to my funny little Spanx story.)

Also, the original author of the scree did include footnotes to the statistics, but she didn’t bother to include the actual footnotes so they are probably misleading as hell, and I dont’ like the idea of bad information being attached to anything with my name (even a semi-anonymous name) on my site. I know that the antidote to bad information is more information, but do I want to take the time to write out all those stats? Educating the ignorant is long, hard, and fruitless work. And again, that language is a magnet for trolls cruising for a fight.

Now, should I pull her last comment down and continue on my merry way, commenting on potty training, mommy cliques, and preschool? Or should I leave it to stand? This is my first serious policy decision and I’d like to craft one that will hold up as my blog progresses. Does anyone have thoughts about this? (Besides the young lady, not a teen, in question.)

Categories: blogosphere

Why I’m not voting for McCain

March 12, 2008 3 comments

And why you shouldn’t either.

I’m going to disregard the fact that he’s miserable on women’s reproductive rights. I’m going to dismiss, out of hand, the fact that he has a brutally awful record on environmental issues. I will ignore the fact that he’s said that he doesn’t know jack shit about the economy and that his educational policies are great howling voids of nothingness.

Instead, I’m going to quote an article in the Washington Post:

 WEST GLACIER, Mont. — If you’ve heard Sen. John McCain‘s stump speech, you’ve surely heard him talk about grizzly bears. The federal government, he declares with horror and astonishment, has spent $3 million to study grizzly bear DNA. “I don’t know if it was a paternity issue or criminal,” he jokes, “but it was a waste of money.”

A McCain campaign commercial also tweaks the bear research: “Three million to study the DNA of bears in Montana. Unbelievable.”

He’s against basic scientific research? He is so small-minded and viciously stupid that he doesn’t get why it is vitally important to understand as much as we can about an apex predator? More importantly, this politician and past soldier thinks he’s more qualified than scientists to figure out what scientific research needs to be done? He can’t squash his ego long enough to listen to people who know more about the subject than he does?

Or — and I think this is really the most likely — he’s pandering to the anti-intellectual streak that seems to dominate a lot of the Right.

No mother should be willing to elect a man who thinks that being smart is bad. No parents should be willing to vote for a man who uses his campaign to mock people who are dedicating their lives to saving the ecosystem and expanding the base of knowledge. (Okay, I guess this is about education and environment.) Frankly, the man shouldn’t scoff at his betters.

Cosmic Variance has some thoughts on this.  He (she?) is the one who brought the quote to my attention. They are much more expansive than I have time for right now (dinner needs to be on the table in ten minutes). But please think about it.

Because that’s exactly what he doesn’t want you to do. Think.

Categories: blogosphere, Politics

A drum in a vacuum

August 29, 2007 5 comments

If you’re not a sci-fi geek or physics type, you may not know that sound doesn’t carry in a vacuum, like outer space. The only noises you hear are those that you make yourself in your self-contained atmosphere. And the occasional crackly transmission over a headset or radio.

Much of my experience of motherhood has been like that. I’m out here on my own in the depths of soundless space. I’ve got The Husband and the Best Friend on radio, but it’s me who has the breasts and the no job and it’s me who is dealing with the nitty gritty of a baby from hour to hour. I read the manuals and I can consult with Houston periodically, but I’m a woman alone.

When I started this blog, I figured I’d be beating a drum, but it would be in that deep black vacuum. I was ranting and raving and getting the noises out of my head but I didn’t think they would go anywhere. You can not imagine my shock when people were actually commenting on my blog! (All thanks to Karrie’s link from her blog, I’m sure.) I was pretty sure that meant that they were reading my blog.

I wasn’t alone.

Or, if I was alone, I was alone in an outer space filled with other mothers making the same noises. We might be talking over tin cans, but we were talking. When I see everyone get excited about a blog entry like my “Doctors Bill and Ferber” one, it’s like I hit just the right note on my drum and we all felt it resonate. And it’s fantastic to know that I’m not the only one singing that song.

I will stop torturing metaphors well past the point of usefulness now and go nap. I just wanted to thank you all for letting me know I’m not alone out here.

Gone silent

August 17, 2007 5 comments

Sorry about the lack of postings. It’s been one of those weeks where there’s no real reason (other than the plethora of usual ones) for me to be exhausted, but I was. So, I was silent for a while. But now, finally, The Child is napping and I have plenty else to do, but no will with which to do it. So here I sit. And write, though I  write mournfully.

Because, in sad news for the mom-blog-o-sphere, “One Weird Mother” has gone silent for good. My life is a little more barren for its loss.

In fact, I would argue that all mothers, whether they know it or not, are more barren for its loss. We live in a culture where the meme of motherhood is poisonously sweet and fraught with impossible contradictions — where working moms feel the need to apologize for having a career and stay-at-home moms need to apologize for not having one. Moms simultaneously get berated if they let their kids eat Fruit Roll-Ups and watch TV and dunned for being an uptight control freak if they don’t. Science, cultural norms, and the latest studies all offer irreconcilable advice, and family structures are fraying without any institutions to replace them, leaving moms adrift in a sea of information and opinions but no real support.

In that climate, Karrie’s blog offered neither advice nor judgment, just a mental space where you could step back and observe the sheer hilarity and absurdity of motherhood in the 21st century. She was funny and honest and had a great voice that I’ll miss. When I read her blog, I never felt as alone as I do when I’m in a playground full of other moms who all seem to be in on the secret super-cool-mom handshake. I felt like Karrie would be there with me, hanging out on the picnic table, instead of clumped together in chick-lit flocks of slender giggles. In fact, I felt like she would be making fun all the ‘yummy mummies’ and their talk of pedicures and tennis bracelets and tofu shakes.

We need more weirdness in motherhood. More acceptance that weirdness is okay — that kids and moms are people as well as family units and that it’s okay if those folks do it differently than we do. Karrie was a champion of that, by sheer dint of her own, unique voice.

So take a moment to mourn “One Weird Mother.” And take a moment to promise to be a little more weird, in her honor. I know I will.