Monday, December 26, 2011

as promised: the attempt to muzzle the Drunken Housewife

In September 2010, a few days after I returned from Burning Man and just at the beginning of the school year, my phone rang. It was someone calling from Iris and Lola's school, asking me to meet with the head of school. As any mother would, my first assumption was that something had happened to either Iris or Lola, but no. The head of school wanted to meet with me about my blog, along with another administrator. The tone was definitely negative.

That very day I had written on my blog about an argument I'd had with Iris uber Alles. Iris was slightly sick but wanted to go to school anyway, and I had forced her to stay home because there was a new girl in her grade, a girl recovering from bone cancer who still had a very low immune system. All the parents from that grade had been severely cautioned not to send their children to school with even mild symptoms. I looked at what I'd written. From my point of view, it was clear that I'd had an excess of care and concern for this other little girl, but I had written in my usual sarcastic style, and I could see how it could conceivably offend someone. I deleted it. I'm not usually one to back away from causing offense, but a child who'd had cancer was a sensitive subject.

Before this meeting, I stewed. I was sleep-deprived and cranky to begin with, having left Burning Man before I was ready. I longed to be back padding through the dust with a bottle of prosecco in my hand, gazing upon crazed art and making cocktails for my campmates. For a while, I determined to bring an attorney with me. As a former attorney, of course I know plenty of them. I felt I was not being taken seriously in this situation and that having an attorney with me would add gravitas. The Sober Husband strongly disagreed with that and said simply, "I will go with you." He, unlike me, has always been quite popular with the school's administration.

My falling out had come earlier. At the annual fall festival, Iris and I had been horrified to see toy kittens being sold... covered in real cat fur. The grotesquerie of cats being murdered to make cheap toys, which were then sold to benefit our school, was greatly disgusting and upsetting to Iris and to me. (Note: whenever you buy something from China containing fur, take a good, long, hard look at the fur. It is usually labeled as "rabbit" but normally is either cat or dog fur. As a certified crazy cat lady, I can tell rabbit fur from cat fur, and it wasn't particularly hard, given that plenty of the fur was orange tabby. Rabbits do not come in orange tabby). I had never seen fur things sold before at our festival, and I thought it was a terrible idea. I wrote the head of school a letter, asking that the school adapt a rule forbidding the sale of fur. I noted that fur is controversial in our society and that surely we would not want to upset those students who are huge animal lovers. I received a very short reply saying that the school had no control over what vendors sold and which ignored every point I'd made. This made me furious, because the "vendor" in question who sold the fur toys was a group of parent volunteers, and surely the school had immense control over this vendor. Acting as if it were some remote entity with no real ties to the school seemed ridiculous. I wrote another letter, which was not answered. Subsequently I wrote about the fur foofaraw here on this blog.

After that, there was no love lost between the head of school and me. I had had no problems whatsoever with the prior head of school, whom I admired, but this one had no use for me and my delicate feelings about fur.

When the day of the meeting came about, the head of school and the director of communications gushed over the handsome Sober Husband and gave me cold looks. My dignity was compromised by the fact that I was still wearing my Burning Man extensions and had bright green braids all the way down to my waist. After the initial greetings were done, the head cleared her throat and said, "Many would consider this meeting long overdue" in a self-pleased voice. The Sober Husband laid a calming hand upon my knee.

The major points made by the head were "Many people here consider it unethical that you keep a blog" and "You may not realize that your ability to form relationships is harmed by your blog."

The major points made by the Drunken Housewife were "any institution threatened by one person's blog which is mostly cat stories appears weak" and "is the school going to institute a new screening policy for potential parents? Add the line 'no mommy bloggers allowed' to the application form?" and "I am completely confident that in this day and age, I am not the only blogger here in this parent population", as well as "I've been told by more than one teacher here that they wished there were more parents like me at this school."

Getting down to specific instances, the Head was rather superior in discussing the post I'd made about the new student with a shaky immune system. "Yes, after I reread that, I saw it could be taken the wrong way," I said, "so I took it down. I would hope anyone who read it would see that it was motivated throughout by my concern for that girl's health, but I took it down anyway." This visibly took the wind out of the head's sails. "You took it down?"

The other example brandished about was the time I wrote about a fourth grader who wore a micro-micro miniskirt and fishnet stockings to a school event. Here I contended that as a feminist who was deeply concerned about the premature sexualization of girls, I was going to write about that kind of thing if I saw it. I viewed this as part of an important moral issue of our day.

Eventually the meeting ended, with nothing concluded. The head expressed some bitterness that I'd written on my blog about the fur issue, and I made the point that my blog is normally a silly, personal one but that animal welfare is my hot button item and that the school could have handled the issue differently. I refused to stop keeping my blog. I pointed out that I'd had severe problems with one of the girl's teachers the year before, culminating in my unsuccessfully asking to have my daughter transferred to a different classroom, and "I never wrote about that on my blog, because it wouldn't have helped any of us." This point was not taken, but rather the head portrayed the staff as quivering in fear that they would be victimized by me on my blog. I said that anyone who had an issue with me was welcome to talk to me, but evidently they were afraid of me. I thought that was a bit silly, given that there are truly intimidating parents lurking about the place, as opposed to a mommy blogger who calls herself tongue-in-cheek a "drunken housewife" and who volunteered in the playground, lunchroom, library, and art room.

The next week, my phone rang again. It was another staff member at the girls' school. At this time and the year before, one of my daughters was having a very big problem at school (it was her prior teacher's failure to do anything about this huge issue which was the source of our problems with her the year before, which we had brought up with the head). She cried desperately each morning not to have to go to school, and the Sober Husband and I were feuding about homeschooling. I was in touch with homeschooling groups and had set a deadline with the poor Sober Husband by which, if things were not improved, I was pulling this child out of the school, with my husband's agreement or not. This new caller told me that she "had an idea on how to help" my daughter.

Excited, the Sober Husband and I raced over to the school to hear this new idea about how to solve our child's problem. The staff member, smiling, explained to me that the staff wanted to help my daughter but were paralyzed by fear of me because of my blog. She had been nominated by the staff to approach me and share an idea. This exciting new idea was for me to quit keeping a blog! Then the staff would have the confidence they needed to try to help my child.

This completely blindsided me, and I exploded. "ARE YOU PEOPLE GOING TO CALL ME EVERY SINGLE WEEK AND PRESSURE ME ABOUT MY BLOG? EVERY WEEK? IT'S JUST A BUNCH OF STORIES ABOUT CATS AND THINGS MY KIDS SAY!"

The staff member's jaw dropped open and she stared at me in shock. We quickly put the pieces together. She had no idea that I'd been called on the carpet just the week before and leaned on about the blog. She felt she'd been made a patsy under the circumstances. We parted with hugs and remonstrations of mutual admiration. (The Sober Husband's head was spinning by how fast this reconciliation came about).

By this point, I was feeling distinctly alienated at the school and not wanting to deal with anyone there. The child in question had a birthday, and I asked the Sober Husband to be the parent who brought celebratory snacks for the classroom. I knew I needed to calm down before I was in a position to speak to anyone there. I was red hot mad over the idea that my child's problems were not going to be addressed because I keep a blog (never mind the over $20,000 paid per year for her tuition). The Sober Husband came home smiling. He told me that another high level administrator had attended our child's birthday celebration (which is extremely unusual) and taken him aside to tell him that I was always welcome to come to her with any problems whatsoever. And then, laughing, he told me that, as I'd requested, he asked our daughter's main teacher if she had any problems with my blog, and this sweet woman looked at him blankly and said, "Blog? I don't even know it." We laughed.

We ended up meeting with the teacher, who formed a thorough plan to deal with our child's problem. This woman, who is indeed one of the finest teachers I have ever met, did such a skillful and caring job working with our child that by the time the deadline came about I'd set for homeschooling, it was obvious that there was no longer any need. And around that same deadline, the head of school gave notice, as she was returning to the Deep South to become the head of a larger school.

In retrospect, it all made sense to me then. The hassling and pressuring of me to take down my blog --- was it all so I wouldn't write anything that might embarrass her while she was under scrutiny for this new and better job? My dear friend Melissa (known here as the repeated winner of the Drunken Housewife Semiannual Photo Contest), who is a teacher in the Southern state in question, opined that the head should have been glad to have my blog, as what would give her more credibility in the Deep South than having pissed off a San Francisco animal rights loon?

18 comments:

jon said...

Well I, for one, am still quivering in fear that I would be victimized by you on your blog.

hughman said...

i notice you pointedly left out mentioning all your posts about parrots?! HOW YOUR PARROT WAS OUT ALL NIGHT AT A STRANGER'S HOUSE! IN THE MISSION! tsk tsk.

Carroll said...

Well sheesh -- clearly the BurningMan connection alone is enough to make you suspect. I mean, founder of an enduring, internationally acclaimed, semi-rebellious, non-main-stream culturally alternative mass event? What does that say about your creativity, project management skills, ability to work with others successfully and all that good resume key words stuff, really? Who but the most enlightened educators (and three cheers for the teacher who recognized this and yearned for more like you!) would want a parent like *that* volunteering in their child's classroom and role-modeling for her peers?

Good on you, Carole, and good for the Sober Husband for riding shotgun with you into the fray!

PS: Pretty new background here -- much more readable (although I liked the aesthetics of the last one, this one, to my eye, seems more reader-friendly :-)

kherbert said...

To bad you can't contact the new school and tell them want an idiot the administrator is.

Anonymous said...

The Head of School is absolutely a loon - going toe to toe with a litigator Mommy with an audience? That's just beautifully idiotic. The school can reasonably have a policy about parental blogs that identify the school and use of social media regarding students - it is a private school afterall - but trying to bully a litigator is just beyond stupid.

Susan Leiby said...

What puzzles me is how they found the blog to begin with. Did the administrator having nothing better to do than google terms that would somehow point her to your blog? Sounds like you had your own little cyber stalker! :)

the Drunken Housewife said...

Under the prior head of school, it was never an issue. But then once the short-term head of school came in, the one in this story, then suddenly it was A Big Fat Deal. A teacher told me that whenever I posted on my blog (and as we all know, I'm not the most prolific or punctilious of bloggers) some staff member would send out an alarm on the inhouse email list. I find this depressingly stupid. The idea of them all reading about my parrot or Lola's swearing, like it was some kind of threat to the an over 100-year old institution... I shake my head.

hughman said...

you should totally be making up posts about how you overheard all the other mothers talking about how fat the teachers are or how they saw one of them table dancing drunk at TGIFs.

More Creative Life said...

My goodness! All that fuss over an innocent little online journal. And thanks so much for changing the blog to make it easier to read. It's perfect now.

Claire M. Johnson said...

First, I find it utterly despicable that they would use your child as some sort of bargaining chip to shut you up. I mean, how CRAVEN.

Second, after the episode at the fair, it seems to me that many of the people at this school are idiots or cowards. I would imagine that the parents who organized this sale probably are big donors and the administration would be loathe to alienate them (and their checkbooks) by pointing out that selling plush toys out of real animal hides is unquestionably immoral.

I've found in these environments that there are the bullies and the bullied (and we wonder WHY American culture has become a macrocosm of Lord of the Flies). You cannot be bullied, because (a) you've got cojones the size of grapefruit; and (b) you're smart. Plus that law degree. Ergo, TDH is absolutely frigging terrifying!

NonymousGoatsePants said...

Do they read the comments? Am I famous?

Isn't it kind of wacky that they actually had a formal meeting with you to say that they wouldn't addres your child's problem unles syou stopped blogging. I would have asked for that in writing.

Jen in VA said...

I'd love to write something thought-provoking but the only words coming to mind are "What a bunch of stupid bitches."

the Drunken Housewife said...

Claire, it was the using-child-against-me which was so upsetting. My blog is the one expression of myself, really, and to have it held out as harmful to my child was devastating... I honestly talked to the SH about it, and we agreed that if it came to it, we'd pull the children out of their school.

the Drunken Housewife said...

Goats, I did think about asking for it in writing. If it had come up again, I would have.

Dread Pirate Davi said...

I've never heard of anything so mind-bogglingly stupid in relation to blogging. These extreme levels of stupidity are what caused me to bleed from the ears at my last job. It's like a pandemic. I am glad you were able to work things out with the teacher concerning the child.

Anonymous said...

I am amazed that you simply didn't respond to the administrator with "For Fuck's Sake!" ... I'm sure that would have stopped them dead in their tracks.

If you ever want a guest blogger, I'll tell my entire story about when my oldest was in PE and wore "pajama pants" instead of sweat pants in PE. The PE instructor called her to the front of the basketball court in front of everyone --- pulled out his syllabus he'd sent to parents, pointed where it said "sweat pants" are recommended, and berated her for wearing the pajama pants, and she needed to stay after school for detention.

Guest who had cajones the size of grapefruit then!? (I love that expression!) It ended with me going to the school board, the instructor writing me a formal letter of apology and acknowledging the difference between recommended and required, and asking me not to sue the school or him, and the principal forever and to this day hiding from me when I enter the building.
(There's so much more to the story! HA!)

The phrase that aptly fits you is: Be the woman that when the Devil sees you waking up, he says "Damn ... she's up!"

Hugs!

/dawn

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
the Drunken Housewife said...

Dear Deleted Commenter: use your real name, and I'll leave whatever you have to say up.

Despite your impression, I adore so many of the girls at Lolz's school (and Iris's former school). Just yesterday I spent the afternoon volunteering there, and I had a wonderful time with every girl I was with.

Predicting a horrible future for my daughters due to my failings as a parent is a pretty mean thing to do, particularly when done anonymously. You've out-meanspirited anything I've ever done on this blog. Congrats! You're far nastier than the Drunken Housewife will ever be. And you hid behind anonymity, as well. That's not really in the school's spirit -- they suspended a girl for leaving anonymous hate notes at least once that I knew of.