Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Speaking Up is Never Inappropriate

We are at the end of the school year.  A magical time when kids get to reminiscence about all they learned, play kickball with their teachers, have dances, plays, and generally waste the last short week of school as their minds are already into summer activities.

Such is the case with my daughters. One will be ending third grade and the other will be ending fifth grade.  Both are making transitions in their lives and as such, are navigating their own increasingly peer-to-peer environment.

My eldest daughter recently had an experience, actually two years of experiences, that came to a head when what should have been a momentous occasion for her and her peers was reduced because the leaders didn't want to move forward.  It hurt her and her friends that this opportunity to officially step over into that middle school level was denied them.  She came home upset.

I did what any good mother would do, I contacted the leaders and inquired why.  In contacting them, I did the at-home-mom no-no...I questioned the queen bees.

There has always been a bit of a hierarchy at every elementary school, usually run by the at-home moms who have the time to be the school volunteer that the working moms can only send in treats to be included.  It is a realm that was virtually unknown to me for 20 of the 30 years I've been a parent.  With my three living sons, I was a full-time graduate student when my last child started elementary school and was an at-home mom beginning the last month of his fifth grade year.  That meant I was able to put a toe into the school-mom-hierarchy during his last year of elementary school - sixth grade.  I was barely the book sale volunteer and since I am a bit of an introvert, didn't know many of the moms except to see them while walking in our subdivision.  That was ok with me, I am not a lady who lunches with other ladies who only have school to talk about.

So it was with very little working experience of the queen bee moms that I ventured more into the elementary school with these last two of my children - both girls.  Lessons, lessons, lessons!

My first experience at their former elementary school in our now newish town, was ok,  I love books, they love books, helping with the book sale was something I was familiar with.  I did that for three years and then did snacks for their class, since they have food allergies, thought it would be helpful for me to take this on as a challenge for first grade, it was a successful and yummy adventure for the kids.

It wasn't until we moved to another elementary school at the start of the girls' first and third grade years, respectively, that I understood the playground dynamics of these moms with too much time and yacking on their hands.

First couple years were a bit of a blur because I was heading up a summer youth program that commanded all my time, my extent on the school volunteer list was a lot like my fellow working moms - sending in a snack and taking one day a month to read in the class.  I was also teaching at a university and needed those precious daylight hours in my home office to prepare for lectures on the the days I was not standing before a group of undergraduates waiting for me to enlighten them on all things marketing and management.

There seems to be a place for everyone, a pecking order, and if you step out, boy, do they ding you.

Such was fourth and more so fifth grade for my older daughter. And me.

First, I had to help her navigate her first and worse girl-on-girl bullying experience led by none other than the queen bee's daughter herself.  Queen bee who also had her toe in every volunteer thing at the school - even as an at-home mom, who has that kind of time? Didn't she have laundry, a house to clean, and a husband to feed?  Anyway, I digress.  Queen Bee was also the co-leader of my daughter's extracurricular activity and as such, neither of us could fully be away from them.  Year one was ok, year two was a flop because they barely had meetings and only did one or two things all year - suspect they were more striving for something to put on their resume rather than something for the girls - and culminated in year three being an almost total waste if one of the other moms hadn't taken over a major project so the girls could at least get their major award.

It was this backdrop, and the daring thing I did from January-April that put me more in the public sphere and in the direct cross hairs of the mean mom crew from the elementary school.  I know I am  "not from here" and thus, not welcome at the swing set, could care less actually, my interests are far outside the domain of just these nine square miles. But for my daughter, I spoke up. I had to, she was hurt, and no one knowingly and continuously hurts her without me saying anything.

Being a writer, I know the power and use of words.  I tried to be very optimistic and diplomatic in the first communication I sent when I questioned why the girls would not be participating in this school-wide event.  There was a "clarification" sent back that because "some" of the girls weren't sure they wanted to go on, the leaders didn't want to participate for fear those girls would feel left out - never mind that it was one of their girls what wasn't sure.  The rest of the girls felt neglected and left out - this school district ends elementary school at fifth grade - there are some experiences that can never happen again. What about the other girls who felt left out?

I found through the experience of trying to seek resolution for not only my daughter but the others who were also wronged, that the girl clique and playing favorites continues on into adulthood.  I found it was one of the reasons that for the almost six years I lived here I tried to stay away from their their little huddle spot during afternoon pickup.  I have more things to do and despite how pretty the bench, I would rather stand far, far away.

In the communications, the leaders told me it was "inappropriate" for me to question them, essentially, to ask why they didn't really do anything, why I essentially had the audacity to question them in the first place. In the ensuing communication, none of them expressed concern for my daughter or the other girls who were wronged by their behavior.  Typical "I'm so hurt" comments that showed much more than I ever expected.  Wasn't high school a long time ago?

 Inappropriate in whose opinion? That of the queen bees and wanna bees that flock around them like worker bees in a hive? The administration that sanctions the behavior?  The other parents who want to speak out but don't want the arrows and darts thrown at them? Inappropriate in whose book?

Then it hit me.  They just want to be seen and liked and have everyone compliment them on what a great job they are doing, even if they are not.  They drink the kool-aid and want everyone else to also, if anyone dares to drink water instead, they are ostracized.  Just like the fifth grade celebration that was not, everything is not always wonderful when you rely on the same old, same old.  The girls, the kids deserved better than cold pizza and their name on a wall.  There wasn't anything kid-focused about it.  And that is often part of the problem with over-eager moms who volunteer for everything, it is often about their own reputation and not the benefit of the children.

Speaking up is never inappropriate, especially when a child is harmed or disappointed.  The queen bees, like in high school, will still talk about you, still not like you, and still not invite you in, but in speaking up, at least you let them and others know that everything is not roses in their flower patch.

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