The post I couldn’t write

This was the post I could not write.

I told my friend Larry over brunch (you remember Larry; he was featured in “I think we need to see other people”):

This is the post I cannot write.  They have taken me past humor. He wasn’t buying it.

This is where I drew the line.

That’s why you have to, he said.

A mere two weeks later, here I sit.  Can of Diet Coke by my right hand, bowl of Goldfish™ crackers at my left.  Evoking the evening prayer I marched through every night of my childhood.  May Michael be at my right hand, Gabriel at my left.

I knew a Michael.  He was a kindergarten boyfriend (who recently found me on Facebook).

Did you know? Nobody looks “exactly the same” as they did in kindergarten.  Except maybe elves.

I didn’t know a Gabriel.  Aunt Gabrielle, yes.  But she was tooling around Long Island in her sweet orange Datsun B210 by then, the one with the Smurfs epoxied to the dash.  So, so cool. Oh, what I would give to be a child in the 70s again.

Did you know? I so don’t mean that.

If there was a Gabriel protecting me, I was unaware of it.  As time went on, I understood that the characters in this prayer were angels, but not why I’d want them in my room.  Their presence, or my stated desire for them, comforted my mother.  And so we kept doing this prayer until I got my first period and became sufficiently frightening to overcome my mother’s need to surround me with angels.

Goldfish are delicious and, according to the package, low in fat.  I’ve traded up.

Now I am a parent, and the responsibility to keep my child safe falls to me.   It’s not that difficult; she learned not to step into the street years ago, and knows to yell if a stranger grabs her.  She has no money of her own and can’t buy McDonald’s for herself.

Speaking of which.  When I was in college a friend of mine had the most extraordinary pot-induced spontaneous insight:

Dogs have no money!

Think about it.

As it turns out, I have much more to worry about.  I didn’t know that until I found DC Urban Moms.

Long before I came out as adequate, this local parenting forum was a source of fascination for me.  There, I learned that some women care deeply about how other women give birth and feed their infants; that every foreskin is sacred, and certain baby clothes are “ghetto” (along with pierced ears).  It’s where I learned that all mothers feel guilty—which is as it should be.   Everything has the potential to harm your child:   being without you during the day; going to an insufficiently rigorous preschool; learning to read too early (a sign of autism and a risk factor for making the neighboring mothers angry); sleeping in your bed; sleeping alone.

And mothers have the responsibility to decrease the risk of any kind of hurt to zero—which is where the guilt is supposed to come in.   There are many reasonable voices.  And they get smacked but good.  It is a wretched hive of scum and villainy much of the time.

I visit quite a bit, but taking that message at face value proved impossible.  The road from there to here was direct and I took it at a sprint, laughing my way to blissful adequacy, and smiling at my good fortune – having found all of you, Adequate Nation.

I must admit, however, that it is hard to be me without them. My character is only so well formed; I cannot know who I am until I analyze and reject what I am not.  DCUrbanMoms is my Khrushchev.

Mommery has become a risk-reduction business.  Interestingly, though we work like hell to keep the kids safe, it turns out that we do a terrible job of identifying the real risks.

Among those with the power to make significant choices for their children’s lives—the middle and upper classes—risk reduction transcends car crashes and perverts with panel vans.  It becomes an art form—and the mothers’ internet forum is a world-class gallery.

So I plumb its depths daily for the most bizarre cases of protecting children from so-called threats.  Among them:

  • Affirmative action at top prep schools is unfair to “qualified” pre-k applicants; if said children receive scholarships, they are not entitled to complain about the food at the school
  • An adult at a public park where leashed dogs are permitted must leave with her leashed dog if a small child who is afraid of dogs arrives and the parents request it
  • Nannies must not talk to one another while their charges play on a fenced playground; those who do must be outed on the forum so that the their employers can fire them for their inattention
  • Rambunctious (black) students hanging out by a metro stop mean that the high school next door is unsafe
  • Being an only child means that one will be burdened with caring for aging parents alone
  • A shop keeper asking a nursing mother to put her breast back into her bra when the baby is off the nipple (or to use a cover) is an assault on breastfeeding rights that will destroy our baby’s health; we must counter it with a boycott of the business
  • Boys who are the youngest and smallest in the class will fall behind and will not be competitive in sports, making them less likely to succeed in life

Even without the perennial breastfeeding and work/stay at home wars, mothers have our hands full “protecting” our children from a variety of arguably suboptimal circumstances—of which our kids are blissfully unaware.  I find one such example nearly every day.    I scratch my head.  I tell my husband.  I send them to my best friend Webmaster Lori, who sends me back a Dorothy Parker meets Mr. Rogers assessment of modern parenting.  And then when I’ve finished that business, I congratulate myself for not being such a douchebag.  I admit it—as reflections on the world my child is growing up in, these things depress the living shit out of me.  As counterpoints to my own flawed but well-intentioned life, they are quite validating, thankyouverymuch (she says as she grabs another handful of (whole grain!! Goldfish™).

Then someone identified the risk I could not laugh at, or feel smug about.  The poster was worried that “a down’s child” at preschool had her concerned.   Here’s the post:

“how would you feel if there was a down’s syndrome child in your kid’s class? this is a normal preschool, not an “inclusive” school…don’t know if the teachers are trained for this. I’m worried that my child won’t get the attention he needs b/c the other child will take time away from the teacher, among other concerns. anyone have experience with this? they didn’t tell us this when we enrolled. we are just finding out now. also, its a coop so i don’t know if i am comfortable working with this child. i think they should have told us before.”

I’m sorry, Larry.  This is still the post I cannot write.  Before I sat down I had constructed brilliant counterarguments and a few nasty quips.   But I can’t.

If angels can do battle in the ethers above our children’s dreams, I know who I’m rooting for.   It’s not those dispatched to protect one child from another’s disability.

To the mother who is not comfortable with this child burdening yours: on behalf of the sociable nannies of the DC metro area, consider yourself outed.  Let the world conclude what it may.

This is the post I remain too sad to write.

13 comments to The post I couldn’t write

  • Italophile

    You are brilliant Ms. Adequate. I love and cherish your posts and insights. Hooray for sanity!!

  • This is a great post. I’m in the DC metro area and I’ve read the hysterics on DC Urban Moms, but this one takes the cake.

  • This reminded me of an insight from Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting: that you should keep in mind the kind of person you want your child to grow up to be and parent accordingly. Thus raising a very obedient person is not necessarily the best thing to do. Or in this case, raising a fearful person who forgoes much of life because of the remote possibility that s/he could get hurt.

  • Amy

    The last part, about the preschool with the down’s kid, that is sad. I don’t know what to say about that.

    As for the rest, I was just having this discussion online, this week. I’m with you, and the Free-Range Children blogger, on how I feel about the made up risks that are touted in the media and online forums.
    But this discussion I was having was centered around formula feeding. This woman believes that there is risk of death in formula feeding an infant, and that any woman who does so (unless she has no choice? this was unclear) is being irresponsible and selfish, because she was exposing her child to risk of harm. My first thought was that car accidents must be a great risk to childrens’ lives, yet I’m sure this woman drives hers around every day. People are weird and see what they want to see.

  • Crystal

    I’m so sad that a parent thinks learning to respect all people is going to somehow hurt her child. As a teacher I hope that inclusion classrooms at the preschool level will help curb some of this discriminatory behavior and belief. And to all parents who have children with disabilities, I hope they never have to deal with such people as the parent you are referring to. Thank you for posting.

  • Thank you. This is exactly how I feel about those Mommy Forums and I hate that I have to moderate one for my job. There are so many times every day that I just want to shake my computer because I can’t shake sense into the people who post on our site.

    I’m not a great parent. I make mistakes. But, sweet God, I hope that if I ever do something this horrible, where I encourage my child to not associate with someone because they are different, that someone will stone me or something.

  • concernedmom

    In 2003, Special Olympics International commissioned a study of the attitudes of people with Intellectual Disabilities in 10 countries, including Brazil, Germany, USA, China, and Egypt. The findings were what one would expect in many places but startling for the fact that over 60% of those polled in the US thought that people with intellectual disabilities (ID) should be in separate schools and not in “inclusive” environments. About 30% in the US thought that people with ID would cause disciplinary problems, thereby distracting the teachers from the time their precious little one would get. It is beyond sad that someone on a list like DCUM, where one would think that the users are slightly more educated than the norm (although why i think that i couldn’t tell you since i stopped reading it ages ago) has this attitude. It is because of people like her that this attitude still exists and that it is being passed down to the next generation. so much for the ADA changing attitudes toward people with ID. I, too, am sad you had to write this, but glad you did — it is the only way to expose this sort of thinking and only then can we hope to change it.

  • artemisia

    Dude, post a link so we can *educate* her. That and outing her are the only answers. I say with all confidence that karma will get her ass eventually.

    Honestly, this doesn’t surprise me one bit. My son had autism; in the early grades, some other parents were torn, wanting their kids in his classroom, with the most experienced teachers and best teacher/student ratios, and NOT wanting their kids to get autism cooties. Some people suck.

    But it doesn’t help when a child needs adult help (special needs or otherwise) and the school expects other children to mentor/counsel/cope. Unfortunately, schools like this give idiots like that mother an excuse.

  • I read this post a few days ago and was so miffed I didn’t know what to say. I still don’t. In ten years I’ll be sitting in a library or something, reading about the culinary craze du jour, and the perfect response will just pop into my head.

    Until then…. Some people! Is a little bit of compassion too much to ask for?

  • My dad just died at age 92. He told me plenty of stories about growing up. When he was about 9 or 10, he would get up before the rest of the family, take a shotgun and go out hunting for quail or ducks or what have you to provide food for his family. He wasn’t allowed to wear shoes when he wasn’t in school (to save shoe leather) so he went barefoot and sometimes his cat would follow him and sit on his feet to keep them warm.

    I wonder what Urban moms would make of that.

  • The other side of the separation coin is that it’s often done to protect the developmentally-different children from their age peers, who are all too often cruel as only some kids can be.

    I know a father who has a Down’s Syndrome daughter; he fought to keep her from being mainstreamed because he feared that caddish pubescent boys would take advantage of her (he had apparently heard stories of this happening to Down’s Syndrome kids), and so she was brought up in a special school. But apparently his child was not even close to being high-functioning, and thus would have been easy prey for a typical bully looking to branch out into sexual bullying.

  • (That being said, a mother who didn’t want her kid going to school with a mainstreamed Down’s child has got to stop a moment and pull the bunched undies out of her sphincter. Mainstreamed Down’s kids typically require less teacher attention than most as they tend not to act out the way “normal” kids do.)