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.

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.

Catastrophic thinking

October 19, 2009 4 comments

My mother went on a trip to celebrate her anniversary last weekend. She and my dad rented mopeds and mom had an accident. She hit a boat (!) and flew ass over teakettle onto the street and shattered her wrist. I use the verb “shatter” willfully. She had nine screws and a plate inserted into her wrist this week during a surgery.

This is bad. Not tragic, but bad. It’s her right wrist, which is really bad, and she’s in pain, which is bad, but this isn’t the worst case scenario.

When I found out she’d been hurt and was going to have surgery, my brain immediately did what it always does. It went to the worst-case. I started making plans in my head to move my dad up to live near or with me if my mom died on the operating table. Why would she die from an operation on her wrist? Bad anesthesia, blood clot, MRSA infection, I feel like that’s awful but I can’t stop it. My brain always wants to lay out all the options and come up with a back-up plan in case it happens.

The flu, however, is freaking me the fuck out.

Not the badly misnamed “swine flu”. Though that’s part of it. See, the swine flu (h1n1 is just as inaccurate and harder to type, and the accurate ‘novel 2009 h1n1’ is just ridiculous to type, so I’m going with the imprecise but simple ‘swine’) isn’t nearly as bad as people were worried about. And that worries me.

Because sometime soon, not this year but maybe in the next four or five years, there’s going to be a bad flu. A real bad flu. One of those flu viruses that will kill 20, 30, 40 percent of the human population — stinting at no one. Rich, poor, young, old, third world and old world and new world… we’re going to die. A lot.

And we could stop it. But it would require some serious efforts on the part of our government and governments around the world and the swine flu mess has shown that those efforts aren’t going to happen. What’s more, the swine flu mess has fizzled (well, I’m not ready to say it’s fizzled, I think it’s going to get worse, as much as I hope I’m wrong) and people will be jaded. They won’t scream at the gov’t to enact the (complex, scary) measures necessary. Hell, they don’t trust the gov’t int he first place, so they won’t LET the gov’t do anything. They won’t even get the vaccine. (Oh my gods, don’t get me started on the anti-vaccine people. I’ve been up to my hips in them on the local moms email list and I’m just tired of them.)

And there’s not a lot you can do as an individual. That’s what makes me angry. I have a plan for almost any catastrophe. Atlantic tsunami, terror attack on Boston, blizzard, fire, earthquake, I’ve got a plan. Hell, I have a plan for the rebuilding of society in a COMWEC (complete collapse of western civilization).

But as an individual (without the resources to own and stock an isolated ski chalet, like Robin Cook) there’s not a flipping thing I can do about a real flu pandemic.

Okay, rant over.

Categories: Uncategorized

Holding onto sanity with both hands, hard

October 5, 2009 3 comments

So I just listened to a story on NPR that I knew I shouldn’t listen to. A young girl’s fight with the Swine Flu. It’s awful, don’t listen to it. It’s important, you should listen to it.

Every once in a while I hear stories like this and I get a glimpse into what life must have been like 100 years ago, when a virus or plague could sweep through a town in days and kill wantonly. The idea that my daughter — my healthy, sturdy, big, strong daughter — might die because of the flu…. it’s terrifying. I can’t imagine living with it all the time, every time someone sneezes, every time someone coughs.

I’m pro vaccine and going to get the Swine Flu shot as soon as I can, going to have my daughter get it. (I’d like my husband to get it, but we’ll have to see when shots become available for people without any risk factors. I’ve got asthma, so I’m in the earlier bunch.)

I know, objectively, that the swine flu is pretty mild in most cases. I know that she’s strong and healthy. But I also know that 60 kids have died and while more than half of them have had underlying causes, about a third were perfectly healthy. (If I start thinking about herd immunity, I get all kindsa pissed off, so I won’t even start.)

Anyway, I’m just trying to stay calm and remember that the odds are in my favor. And using lots of Purell.

A delicate situation

September 30, 2009 3 comments

So I haven’t posted in a while — more on that later — but right now I’m wrestling with something and I need to figure out sooner, rather than later, what the hell I’m going to do about it.

My mother’s sister is coming for Thanksgiving.

Now, my aunt is a deeply unhappy woman. She’s an alcoholic, got divorced a few year ago. Her best (only?) friend is in the final stages of a brutal bout with cancer and likely won’t live until Thanksgiving. She has bad health, no work skills, lives on money she gets from her daughter and my mom.

She’s from the South and has some strong feelings about gays, blacks, etc. etc. And she’s not afraid to say them out loud. She knows that sort of language isn’t acceptable in the Northeast, so she makes “jokes” and if you call her on it, she says to lighten up. (My folks won’t call her on it unless it’s awful and frankly, their attitude gets worse when she’s around.) I’ve noticed that whenever my mother spends more time with my aunt, my mother’s politics, already staunchly Republican, turn hard to the right.

There is a ton more — all Southern Gothic stuff — but you get the idea.

Then there’s my mom. My mom had the good sense to get the hell outta Dodge when she was in college and has lived in the Northeast twice as long as she lived in the South. But she is the baby of the family and the dynamics that build a family are hard to overthrow. Especially when one of your first priorities has always been keeping up appearances.

So when my aunt comes, my mother, who almost never has even half a glass of wine at parties, will pull out the wine bottles and have a glass with lunch, another a few hours later, and then two at dinner. It’s an excuse for my aunt to drink enough that she doesn’t need to sneak around and doesn’t get the DTs. But, of course, my mother insists that my aunt isn’t an alcoholic.

(At least, she did last time we talked about it. She changes her opinion at whim, it seems.)

Anyway, when Aunt was up in Nov. for my kid brother’s wedding, there was a Minor Incident.

The Husband was out and I had to get ready. I left The Child with my mom and dad and went upstairs to shower and get dressed. A little while later, I heard a car drive off and then a little bit after that, I heard my aunt on the stairs.

“Hey, who left?” I asked, drying my hair off.

“You parents did,” she smiled at me.

“Did they take The Child?”

“No, she’s downstairs.”

Now, my folks’ house is many things. It’s not even remotely childproofed. The Child was 2 1/2 at the time and well behaved, especially for a two-year-old, but there are two giant dogs who are not used to children, lots of tools and knives that a tall child can reach, steep and somewhat rickety stairs to the basement, exposed outlets, etc. etc. Also, thanks to an acoustic quirk, you can’t hear anything from the first floor to the second. (This is a pretty big house, too, so it’s not an easy job to find an adventurous toddler if you’re not keeping track.)

And my aunt, left in charge of my daughter, just left her unattended downstairs.

As I said, it’s a minor incident. But add to that her drinking (and my mother’s denial thereof), and her general attitude towards child rearing (more in a moment) and I don’t want to leave my child alone with her.

Now, do I simply not say anything and make an effort to never leave The Child unattended by me or The Husband? Or do I force the issue and say to my folks, “Do not leave The Child alone with the Aunt”? That would cause a huge confrontation and fight, I’m sure. But I feel really strongly about not leaving her alone with The Child.

Why? Well, it’s hard to articulate in a small space. Mostly it’s that I was a child in The Aunt’s household. Not under her charge, ever, but I remember being a kid and visiting. I hated it. I remember my mom would have talk with us every time we went down and tell us that we needed to “toughen up” and “get used to the teasing. That’s just they way they are.” I remember finding out that my cousin was indulging in all the standard teen behaviors with her 16-year-old boyfriend…. when she was 12. (And I do mean ALL standard teen behaviors.)

So, while I accept that childrearing mores are different in culture, it’s not acceptable for me. And it may be insane not to want her alone with my kid, but there you go.

A friend today suggested that even if I did have the fight with my mom — and it would be a fight, I can’t see how it wouldn’t be (if you CAN, please tell me!) — would she listen? She’s ignored my rules about sugar, television, and bedtime, why would it be any different? I was kind of aghast at that thought, but the evidence does support her.

Maybe we’ll just all come down with the flu or something.

Categories: Uncategorized

“When did water shoes become standard issue for the American child?”

August 16, 2009 8 comments

The Husband asked me that last night, waving the little pink (of course) plastic pair. I’d had to drive 30 minutes to find the last available pair in The Child’s size in the greater Boston Metro area.

She went last week to visit family at the beach. Water shoes are an indespensible item, apparently.

I’ve never been a beach kid. My family pretty much eschewed the beach for camping so I find the ocean and the culture of beach-going a little foreign. The Husband — who grew up in a very beachy family — informed me that when he was a kid, you either wore an old pair of sneakers (Keds) or went barefoot.

I could see the conversation was about to unspool into one of those “things were so much simpler when I was a child” rants that every human over the age of 29 seems unable to avoid.

So I thought about it. And answered: “Probably about the time that used syringes started showing up on the Jersey shore?”

I’ve decided that this will be my self-set goal for the next three months. To really think about any nostalgia-driven laments about childhood and contemplate why things are different now.

I know some things are worse and some things are better. Helmets for bikes — YAY! (One of my friends, K., swears they are stupid and campaigns against them. But the fact of the matter is that the total number of childhood deaths are way way down since they started instituting them.) Car seats — YAY! Video games — BOO! THose LeapFrog talking book things — BOO! Being allowed to roam around the neighborhood for hours and hours on end without supervision…. uh…. still trying to find a balance on that one.

Categories: Uncategorized

How quickly we forget

August 11, 2009 3 comments

I’ve had my current car for four years this month. It’s a nice car, the first one new I’ve ever owned, and it came with a key fob for locking and unlocking the doors. I remember thinking, the first time I used it, how silly it was that you used a remote control fob instead of a key. How hard was it to put a key in a lock?

(I say that but at least twice in my teenaged years, I had to have someone come get me because I broke the key off in my car door lock.)

The other day, I got out of the car and hit “lock” and it didn’t work. I fiddled and faddled and did all those things you do and it still wouldn’t work. So I went and got The Husband and said, “You’ve got to go lock the car. My remote won’t work.”

He looked at me weird but walked over to the parking lot and beeped the door locked. When he came back, he looked at the fob and pushed the buttons and yes, it seemed dead.

But he flipped the key out and again, looked at me weirdly. “I guess you’ll just have to do it the old-fashioned way.”

“I tried!” i protested. “You can’t hit the lock door on the inside of the car … it jsut won’t lock with the door open.”

He gave me that weird look again and then said, “I meant with the key!”

I looked down at the (entirely functional) key in my hand and just blinked.

I am a nit.

Categories: Uncategorized