Sunday, April 18, 2010

failing as a fourth grade mother

I'm not doing so great in my role as mother of a fourth grader. At the girls' school, the fourth grade is considered an unusual grade, a special time in a child's life, as it's the last year in the lower school. The fourth graders are supposed to take a leadership role in the life of the lower school, before they transition (in a ceremony enigmatically called "Pansy Day") to the upper school.

The other mothers are all taking this very seriously. Meanwhile I've been lost in my own world all year. First I had meningitis in October, losing the whole month in a haze of headaches and Vicodin. November and December I spent freaking out about my next health crisis and doctor-shopping, trying to get a diagnosis and a surgeon. January was spent clearing the decks (a morbid person by nature, I was secretly convinced I wasn't coming home from surgery). February was all about my surgery and days in the hospital, and March was spent convalescing. Now it's April, and I'm fine (although sadly out of shape; six months of health crises have left me with the strength and aerobic capacity of a snail).

Now that I've crawled out of my little personal health bubble, I'm not fitting in so well. First one of the fourth grade mothers got the idea, a perfectly fine idea, that the fourth grade should bid on an auction item, a slumber party at the school with the head of school. It would, she thought, be a perfect celebration to mark the end of fourth grade, the end of lower school. That's well and fine, but rather than just ask everyone to contribute as they saw fit, she figured out that we should bid $150 a family.

This made me feel like a jerk. There's no way I was going to pay $150 for a slumber party. It's true that the bills from all my medical expenses are still trickling in, and it's true that we have been over budget and trying to get things under control. It's also true, though, that I could pay $150 if I put my mind to it. I could find that money somewhere. I could have not taken the children to the Beach Chalet for a decadent lunch during their spring break. I could stop buying arborio rice and cave aged gruyere (I've just started cooking again). We could eat more peanut butter sandwiches, and I could stop taking Lola for hot chocolate and a rugelach sometimes while we wait for her sister (I myself sip a relatively abstemious low fat latte). We hired a babysitter for three and a half hours this month and went to a play, our only date night of the past three months, and we could have stayed home and put that money towards the sleepover. But the truth is I wasn't willing to pay $150 for a fourth grade party, and I had to write to the very nice mother organizing this and whine that I can't join in, and everyone knows now I'm a cheapskate because the fourth grade mothers sent around emails listing every family who paid.

The sleepover-organizing mother wasn't the only one combining commemorating the importance of the fourth grade with fundraising. Another mother spearheaded a project of interviewing all the fourth graders, putting it all on DVDs, and slipping the DVD's into custom totebags designed by local artist Thora Rose. These were $75 a piece, and she got upset that not everyone was buying them. She sent out email telling us that she'd put a lot of work into this and wouldn't have done it if she hadn't thought we were all going to buy this. At pickup time, she showed me the bag and told me there was a lot of footage of Iris, and I felt guilt-tripped, but again, I don't have $75 for a bag and a DVD right now. I actually like this particular mother a lot, and I even like Thora Rose; I bought the graphic novel Rose wrote about her divorce a few years ago. But on the other hand, there are a lot of bags lying around this house and not so many piles of seventy-five dollars.

Pickup time has become humiliating for me at school, as the DVD totebag mother uses that time to hand out the bags, while I shamefacedly avoid her gaze.

And then there's the mother who asked me a few weeks back, "Are you going to the event this weekend?" I looked blank, like an idiot, and she clarified. "The school auction." The auction itself cost, if I remember right, $75 a person to attend, on top of a $10 an hour babysitter, and needless to say I wasn't going. This mother was handing out the guilt freely, pointing out how important it was to support the school, and I felt pushed into playing the health card. Shamelessly I said, "I just had major surgery last month, and we're going to be paying bills from that all year. No, I'm not buying things at the auction." The auction itself sold out; it was a capacity house, so I think that the school did just fine without me.

What do the parents say who can't afford to drop hundreds of dollars at the end of the year on this stuff who don't have the surgery card to play? Thankfully Lola's grade isn't going insane like this. I have not been guilt tripped or emailed or accosted by a single first grade mother who has an idea requiring me to hand over $75 or $150, thankfully.

15 comments:

hughman said...

passive=aggressive crap like this makes me livid. NO ONE FORCED YOU TO MAKE THE FUCKING DVDS SO QUIT WHINING WHEN THEY DON'T SELL LIKE YOU WANT THEM TO. bitch needs to get real. (also, $150 for a sleepover? where is it, at the four seasons? unless lady gaga is making a personal appearance, screw that).

i'd probably make a shitty parent too.

Oldsoul_NotQuite said...

This is insane! Don't you pay fees for the kids to attend said school? Shoudnt that be enough? Guilt-tripping others to contribute to charities is just low. Livid too!!

Philangelus said...

My mom used to just reply, "I live in a different world than you do."

No need to be shame-faced when DVD-woman hands out her bags. Donations are voluntary. Look her in the eye and smile with pride because you're taking care of your family.

J9 said...

Luckily for me (a cash strapped mom of 2) I can volunteer time instead of money at the fundraising events and no one bats an eye. I've only once been challenged on not doing both, but I point out that I am the SOLE earner in my family of 4, with a spouse in college (again), and yet I am also volunteering my time (which I have precious little of).

Claire M. Johnson said...

My hands are literally shaking from so much rage that I can barely type. Because, yes, I live in a school district where that kind of printing of money is standard. Where because their husbands make a shitload of cash, they assume your husband does. Initially, I had the same reaction you did. Then I started to get pissed, because HOW DARE THEY? The worst event I can recall was when all the mothers (and you'll notice that the fathers aren't included in this grotesque game of financial one-up-manship) were asked to bring crystal vases for a LUNCH for the kids. I suppose in a fit of inclusivity, if you didn't have to have a crystal vase lying around, we were told to bring flowers from our garden. That was a nightmare year for me in many, many ways, and I had lots of weeds, but no flowers. I contemplated stealing some flowers from my neighbor until common sense prevailed. I was under double your pleasure double your scorn because I worked part time. I had to zip my lip when my kid's Girl Scout troop was being forced to merge and some of the other mothers didn't want my kid in the troop because I was one of those "working mothers." You know what, honey? These people are assholes. Unemployment is at 12.6% Get a reality check beotchs.

Please don't let these trolls intimidate you. There is no shame in not having the money to participate in these stupid fundraisers. You don't have it. By playing into their priviliged guilt trip, you're putting your husband in the untenable position of being at best a poor provider and at worst a lazy jerk because he can't provide his wife with all this extra money to throw around because some well-to-do woman has too much time on her hands. I know these women. I endured their scorn and approbation for years. And I say to you, fuck 'em.

Krista said...

$150 for a sleepover?!?!?!? In what universe do these people live where that's even slightly appropriate for 4th graders (or really, any age?)

Look, you pay tuition for this school, right? And all the other associated fees? Then guess what? You've done your duty. Hold your head up high--the beyotches only have the power you give them.

[[Hugs]] to you. I confess to dreading this sort of P/A activity myself in a couple of years when my daughter starts school....

-Krista

Drunken Housewife said...

I do have to say that the fourth grade mothers did succeed in winning the sleepover, and it was a very good time. All fourth graders --- including the children of the less wealthy -- were invited, and Iris had great fun sleeping in the library, having a dance party in the media room, eating cookies at midnight, and staying up until 5 AM reading books she pulled off the library shelves. And we're running over budget for the month and so an extra $150 would have really, really hurt....

Joyce said...

I frequently hear this kind of stuff from the parents I know who stretch and scrimp to put their kids thru private. Then you're in there with all these richies who don't know what it's like to NEED $150 and they bug you to give more more more. It's for the birds and I'm glad you're able to resist.

LOL'd at hte joke about no piles of $75 lying around the house

ps my word verification word is "regag." ha.

Anonymous said...

I refuse to feel guilty for not helping.

Emma-Louise said...

I'm sure Iris DID have a great time, seeing as she obviously got to eat cookies lovingly handmade by a French patissiere who flew in especially and deigned to stay at a measly 4 star hotel at the fourth grade mothers expense.

REAL WORLD - I am 21 years old and there is nothing short of seeing truly favourite celebrities or heavenly culinary experiences I would pay $150 in one night for. At the end of the day you are a mother of a (nine?) year old child - who as wonderful and supremely talented as she is (I happen to admire Iris in a lot of ways, and remember fondly being so far advanced) is still just that - a child. You should never feel pressured into spending that much money on your child if it is not necessary for their health and wellbeing or their education.
I am glad that she still got to attend, because it would have been ridiculous to say that as you had not paid she could not attend, because at $150 a head, a mere 2 students could cover the cost for a troop of 30 or more to do a lot more than have a dance party and a midnight snack.

I hope you don't feel shame for not buying the bags, either - the woman who organised it should have taken orders before organising it - it is the equivalent of organising an event and then suddenly asking for the doorcharges after.

Silliyak said...

Perhaps more importantly, there is no end to it. I saw a story on the news where in NY people are spending 1 million dollars on bar/bat mitzvahs. One little girl had Cirque du Soleil performers who made her a featured performer in an act. So the bar is constantly raised. I think your kids are learning more important lessons from all this than the rich kids. Word verification is "outhear" although I cheated and kept hitting return until I got one that might be cool. (Didn't cost me $150 tho)

hughman said...

silliyak - the idea of "raising the bar" sounds inviting. particularly an open one.

Anonymous said...

Does the school know about this inter-parents peer pressure (I almost want to call it "bullying")? I find your stories disturbing and hope the teachers/administration would, too.

Missy said...

Coming in late, as usual, to the debate. I am sure the school turns a blind eye to the fund raising, as it benefits the school and placates the parents that raise the money.

It is difficult to be the parent on a budget; I hear it all the time from 13 y/o who gripes because we can't pick her up from school (instead of riding the bus home) so she could have more time before ballet class to eat, get ready, etc. The fact that both her parents are working to pay for the ballet, escapes her because other parents can and do pick up their children from school.

Whether you are working or not, it stinks to be the one who just can't freely spend money and time.

Stick to it, DH. It gets easier if you absent yourself as much as possible from being around the guilt trippers--not that easy to do at Iris's age, but easier as she gets older.

Hanna said...

Coming from a different angle of irritaion...
These people do know that fundraising doesn't mean opening your own pocket book, right? (or asking members of your own organization to do so) That's not fundraising, that's donating.
They aren't brilliant fundraisers for coming up with an idea that guilts the class parents to donate. Brilliant (and sustainable) is creating a way to generate real $ from the outside.