Monday, July 07, 2008

behind the scenes

M's dance class is usually during the week but she had a make up day this past weekend and since I've never gotten to see her in action I wanted to be the one to go. Little did I know it would resemble some sort of demented popularity/election/who gets the most valentines on Valentine's Day process I endured in middle school.

First thing I notice as I sit outside the room in the viewing area is that M is the only one not wearing a little dress. She's got on sweats, J had supervised the dressing, this is what she always wears, he said.

All the other little girls are in little girl dance dresses. Ribbons in their hair. I notice but since M's never once said anything about needing a dress, not having a dress, I figured it was no big deal. One of the other moms sits down next to me. Which one is yours, she says. That one, I point proudly at M, her wild and unruly hair flying everywhere. Oh, she says. No dress then?

Three little words, no big deal but somehow they are. Well, I say, I am never the one to bring her, I had no idea everyone else wore a dress. She's never mentioned it. I suppose she would, she says. That one's mine. Adorned in dress and ribbons. She's cute, her kid.

I come to every class, she says. Are you fucking kidding me, woman? I think and instead I just say I'd love to but I have to work. I want to stupidly elaborate. I work in non profit. People who have no homes. Mmmhmmm, she replies and I look at her. I tell myself I'm going to be blogging this later so bring it on, chick. I bet you drive a gas guzzling SUV.

The class starts and let's just say ballet is never going to be M's thing. But she's having a great time and that's all that matters. After a few minutes the mom says do you practice with her outside of class? As she's talking I watch her kid, she looks like she belongs in some 70's era Maoist state run school, you know, the ones where they force the kids into these camps and work them 10 hours a day? Exactly like those kids. No, I reply. We don't really practice.

We practice every day, she says. Touche, I think and say well, she's only three and a half. (Her kid is obviously even younger but what the hell, I'm starting to get annoyed). Oh, mine just turned three, smug, she is. So I say I figured she was older, seems like wanting to practice every day would be something that might come later but maybe that's just me. My kid prefers you know, to play. If there was the equivalent of a kick in the shins I've just offered it, I'm petty and besides, you've been pissing me off for 10 minutes and if I had a gold star I'd give you one, your kid is so totally better at three year old ballet than mine and she's got a dress on too. That must feel really, really good. You've just won this bullshit competition. Like I said, I'm petty like that.

We don't exchange another word for the rest of the hour and that's just fine with me. But there was one point when a teacher didn't notice immediately that her kid's shoe was off and this woman almost came unglued. She's talking to the teacher through the wall but of course there is no sound. Fix her shoe, fix her shoe, she's agitated and coincidentally within seconds the teacher happens to notice and does. I lean farther in the other direction and wonder why I'm feeling so defensive, why I'd let any of this matter to me at all.

Part of me still stings so when the class is over I say to M I noticed everyone else has on a dancing dress and she says yeah and I so I ask her if she wants one and she says no, that's ok. But when I get home I tell J about the woman and I can't help saying it's worse than a reality show in that viewing room, the competi-mommies are hardcore and he replied I'm usually the only guy there so they all just sit in a pack and leave me alone. But you should have told me about the dresses, I reply and he looks at me sideways but I can't help the urge to make sure M is mothered in all the ways she needs to be and yet at the same time I realize this is more about me or better said more about others than it is about her and I wonder again why I let it matter, even for one minute, what someone I do not know decides to think about the way I parent my kid.

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49 comments:

Joker The Lurcher said...

oh jen, how i relate to this! my kid is always the one without the dress (well metaphorically - given he is a boy he is probably better without a dress among our narrow-minded fellow parents)...

Amanda said...

Oh, Jen, I want to wrap your sweet resilient M and you up. Such a serrated blade you stand on, comfortable with what and who you are, but ever more made to feel by others as if if it is wrong or something is lacking. Damn, but you're raising an amazing spirit.

Z said...

M has your independence of spirit, in not minding. You and she are right. My granddaughter's nursery school has a uniform, for goodness sake, and she's three and a half too.

Little Monkies said...

Been there, been there (shakes head) and can't stand myself when I creap onto the other side too. We screw ourselves and our girls with this shit.

Sigh.

kristen said...

dude, mom's like that are looking to regain their glory and all of their missed opportunities. how i love your girl, for not caring about the farking dress or ribbons, because M knows what's important and it's not the dress or ribbons.

QT said...

Funny that M went through that princess-y phase and didn't ask for the dress for dance class. I agree with kiki, those kinds of moms are trying to recapture some missed glory days. Instead of it being about their kid, it becomes all about them.

Sober Briquette said...

breathe, jen.

Three year olds do not do ballet, or soccer, or whatever. Anything for three year olds is just an activity to get them together with their peers having fun, while learning to socialize instead of behave like savages toward each other. But you knew that.

However, if it still rankles, consider this: what do the real ballet dancers wear when they practice? Something that looks a lot more like sweats.

ewe are here said...

My boys live in secondhand or super cheap tshirts and jeans, shorts or sweats. And they're usually grubby to boot. As opposed to so many little ones in 'nice pants' and 'nice' shirts and expensive shoes and jackets. THose are the same kids, Inotice, whose parents chase them around the parks and playgrounds telling them not to sit on the ground or get dirty. I always feel sorry for those kids.

You're doing the right thing by letting M do her thing. M is happy. Thhat's all that matters... plus teaching her to be immune to peer pressure at such a young age can only be a good thing from where I@m sitting.

Omaha Mama said...

My B only made it 8 weeks at dance class and what you write about was the most uncomfortable part for me. Our class had a dress code, so that made it easy, but there were still the other things to snark about. I'm surprised that one would leave her pack to talk to a newbie, rather than just give sidelong glances. If your M is having fun, that's the part that matters. My B wasn't, so we gave her the choice to stop going. I was more bummed about it than her. I think the dress part you refer to is just mommy-guilt, yes? If M doesn't feel she needs a dress, than I guess she doesn't.

Gina said...

That is the hardest part of parenting. I can deal with the sleeless nights and the ear infections and the crying, but that drives me insane. And the worst part about parents like that is that they raise kids like them. So while the 3 year olds don't really care about that stuff and it's just the parents being smug and nasty to you, when they get to be 6 and 9 and 12, it's the kids being smug and nasty to your kid. It sucks.

Catherine said...

Hallelujah and AMEN sister. Your tale is one for the ages.

Her Grace said...

What sober briquette said.

Our dance class is, thankfully, filled with moms that care more about the 30 minute break they get while the kids are dancing than anything else, so I'm lucky in the respect.

I was cheering you on while reading your post. Good for you for not taking shit from her.

wheelsonthebus said...

She makes a 3 year old practice? Fabulous. That is something to be very, very proud of.

I make my almost-four-year old practice being polite. Does that count?

Bon said...

oh wow. we haven't been to any 'classes' yet. we may just cower in our house for the next decade or so.

i think it's cool - and telling - that M doesn't give a shit about the dress thing. and yet i get you, about wanting her to be mothered as she needs and yet wondering if that's really about you and oh, god, this is hard, friend.

Missy said...

I can so relate to this. Bizzare how we allow ourselves to be led into these little social jousts.

Statistically, they'd all be lucky if one student from that school ever made it to the big time. Let alone a whole class of ballerina wannabes.

You know this. Keep telling yourself. :) I think sober briquette said it best.

Defiantmuse said...

ah. you restrained yourself much better than I would have. That sort of shit gets my knickers in a right twist, dude. who has their 3 year old practice ballet outside of class? ew.

jen said...

Dudes, thanks. I KNOW! it felt ridiculous. I mean, J only decided to do this b/c they are home together this summer - this sort of thing is not our thing, and so I was disappointed in myself for actually letting that interaction bug me.

Off to 8am practice session now. KIDDING.

meno said...

You are mothering M in the way she needs.

I hate it when i get sucked into the competitive parenting game.

"You know mine took her first step at 9 months."
"Well mine was potty trained at one and a half."
"Oh really? Well mine knew 10 words by the time she was 10 months."

Whatever.

cinnamon gurl said...

I love that M didn't care about the dress. I can't imagine making my kid practice anything under the age of 12.

Beck said...

Competi-moms. Bleh.
I know EXACTLY how you feel, though - on The Boy's last day of swim class, another mom referred to him as "the little guy with messy hair and old swim shorts." Bitttttchy!

mamatulip said...

M is light years ahead of that little girl, and so many others. She has wisdom and introspection and eyes that truly see.

The same can be said about you.

Amy Y said...

It's hard to let stuff like that roll off... to not get caught up with those stupid competi~moms. With us, it's sports. My boys love to play, for fun, but they are not overly skilled. And I'm fine with that ~ I'd rather they be well rounded and find their own passion... it doesn't have to be sports just because they are boys. But society doesn't like that. Ugh.

I always assume that a**holes drive gas guzzling SUV's, too. ;) I am starting to think I might be overly prejudiced towards them. Especially Hummer drivers. Oops.

Binky said...

Dress, schmess. She's happy in her sweats, right? But how about a new tee-shirt for you? One that says "I'm going to be blogging this later so bring it on, chick"!

'Kay, maybe not, but I love the quote.

Julie Pippert said...

This has to be one of the best, best, best encapsulations of the snag moment in between (place a) of wanting to empower our kids to be who and how they are and not get caught up in or over-value the petty crap AND (place b) of wanting to help them know what they need and have what they need to succeed and not get crapped on by people whose parents failed (place a).

As the mom of at least one kid who will never be competi-mommy approved typical?

I am at the snag often.

Add to that? I know she's got a built in challenge already: me.

I am also not competi-mommy approved typical.

When my daughters go out and about in public I am never sure who is judged worse or more: my daughter (poor thing, a mom who lets her go out dressed like *that* when it happens to be a look my daughter loves) or me (my gosh, what kind of a mom lets her kid go out dressed like *that*).

hypoglycemiagirl said...

let them play their little games and watch them being silly from a distance, you rock anyway.

thailandchani said...

Sheesh! What a wretched woman!

Tabba said...

this is what turns me off most about being a woman.

women exactly like this. who find no greater satisfaction in life than to make a sister feel like total shit about herself as a (woman) mother.
BLECK!

patches said...

You are so my kind of people.

Magpie said...

lord i hate those kinds of mothers. i don't take my kid to any activities...she's got enough what with being in daycare 10 hours a day...so i rarely encounter them - but at the kindergarten orientation there was one that i wanted to slap upside the head.

besides - ballet classes before age 7 or 8 are for fun. no real dance training can happen before then; the body is simply not ready.

Ally said...

Who ARE these freaky mothers? I don't know anyone like that, and I am just so thankful that as of yet I've not had any run-ins like this one. You handled it brilliantly. PLAY, indeed. I found my heart racing, wanting to jump in and pummel that mom on your behalf. But your M, sweet girl, she doesn't need a dress, or a ribbon-- she's got so much more self-confidence and joy than that crabby mom will ever have. That's probably the best come-back of all.

flutter said...

well she goes to ballet classes. Good for her, and I bet they go home to eat a bunch of fried food at watch hours of mind rot on tv.

wow, I am judgmental right now!

marymurtz said...

I was reading a book by Ann Lamott, where she talked about her son playing with a kid whose mom was sort of a Stepford Wife. This perfect woman came to pick up her son at Ann's house, and said something perfectly innocuous about how busy single-mom Ann must be and some other passive agressive parenting judgmentalism delivered in a chipper voice.

I'll never forget Lamott's quote: "She made me think thoughts to terrible they would have made Jesus drink gin straight out of the cat dish."

I thought about that when I was reading your post. I hate when people try to make others feel bad. Even more do I hate it when they succeed without even trying.

bgirl said...

so humanly annoying isn't it?
we all do that, that caring about what others think, when in actuality what they think has nothing, nothing to do with us and in my experience is usually so far from what i think.

my mantra...

no nos importa que lo piensen.

painted maypole said...

you are of course teaching M things far more important, but it is hard, sometimes, to be so different in this world.

alejna said...

I love you guys all the more for this.

I love it that M doesn't care about the dress or the ribbons. That she is just having fun. The little girl who has to practice (at 3? are you freakin' kidding me?) is really missing out on the fun.

I've been largely spared this sort of mommy so far. I'm not looking forward to them.

Z said...

The other way of dealing with this nonsense is to use her own methods - "I think it's so important to encourage individuality, don't you? The time to conform comes so quickly and I don't want my child to be a clone of all the others; I want her to choose for herself." It puts the competitive mommy on the defensive at once.

Gwen said...

ugh, just ugh, ugh, ugh. I so get this, jen, but I love that M doesn't need the dress or the ribbons. As far as I can tell, you "win." (even though I know, as you are the bigger person, it's not about winning for you; or at least you don't want it to be.)

Christine said...

you are the best mommy, jen. hear me? screw those bitchy witches.

and i did dance for 8 years askid and teenager and while it was fun it also sucked in an all too girly -competitive- early eating disorder sort of way. and there were LOTS of competi-moms then, too.

my girl is in judo. no dresses required, man.

never doubt that you are good mommy, because like i said before you're the BEST.

ps i want to write a just post for ya, but I am lame and can't remember the deadlines...

Janet said...

What a fucking bitch.

I can't be bothered to think of a nicer way to say it. Luckily, those vocal competi-moms are few and far between.

Deezee said...

I'd be proud to have the non-conformist, dressless kid, but hey, that's just me. :)

Still, the annoyance of that other woman! eek!

hele said...

One day M will know how to enjoy dancing without having to be perfect and this little girl will believe that perfection is all that matters.

Mothers like that should be sentenced to deep soul searching classes.

Expatriate Chef said...

I sent my kid to gymnastics in sweats. Some of the others had the little gymnastics suits. Sweats are good. Hell, she already blatently reaches in her pants to readjust undies at will. Why make it worse with the leotard, huh? Sweats work. And, no, I was not home every night doing somersaults, either. I just don't bend that way, not even during sex.

KC said...

She sounds like a caricature. I would have totally been petty and passive-aggressive sound-maker.

Whatever. She's annoying. And a sad creature of a person. Poor girl of hers, that's all I can say.

Does she have one leg of her sweatpants hiked up? Because that is totally hot. Like a b-girl.

Arwen said...

M will rule the world if she wants to because she isn't fitting into a schedule and a dress and all that other crap.
You and you alone give her that opportunity. Competi-mom could never even fathom that gift!

the end of motherhood said...

It is impossible to not let that sh*t get under your skin, no matter how meaningless it is.

carol said...

That poor 3 year old. Her mom will most likely wind up investing as much in counseling as in dance lessons and never have a clue why.

Wayfarer Scientista said...

ah, jen, i never told you, did i, that i once was a professional ballerina? no shit. and i have to say, if i ever have a kid i'm never letting them take ballet after say, 3rd grade. because it gets worse. and quitting it was one of the best things i ever did in my life.

crazymumma said...

hey hon.

they get under your skin with that better than thou attitude. Always do.

some competi's are so insidious you don't even know it until you are trying to fall asleep at night.

I think it says alot that M does not care however. Alot.

Lawyer Mama said...

Oh, babe. I hear you.

I love, love, LOVE that M doesn't care. You & J are doing such a great job.

We all know we aren't supposed to let those people get to us, but it's hard. We were bred to it. It's hard to throw that off, no matter how much we want to. But hopefully our kids will grow up to truly not care what others think. Sounds like M is on her way to dancing the only dance that matters, her way.