Friday, March 12, 2010
Adventures in Real Parenting: Awkward
One of the many things I'm learning through this household financial shift (I can't think of a pretty term for it) is that the basic middle class assumptions are blown full of holes. To wit:
As mentioned in an earlier post, Sophie was awarded at the county level for a story she'd written. On Monday, we attended the school board meeting where she received a certificate and had her picture taken. It was very nice and the woman who organizes the Young Authors program for the county was brimming over with enthusiasm for it. I loved to see that.
Sophie and I got into the car to go home and someone rapped on the car window. It was Sophie's principal. I took a deep breath as Soph cranked down the window. (I'm borrowing Chloe's '95 Celica since my car was repo'd last spring.) Sophie's principal makes me tense. I don't know what it is about her - her condescension, her fake sing-songy way of speaking, but something about this woman puts me on edge.
She very nicely congratulated Sophie for her award winning story and said again how proud she was to have had a second Golden win this title. (Nate won when he was in the fifth grade, too.) I smiled and waited for Sophia to thank her, which she did, but with the same kind of tight-lipped smile that reflected the growing tension in my own chest.
"So, Mom, where are you taking our girl to celebrate?" Principal leaned down to address me through the window.
That deer caught in headlights cliche? Sometimes it is perfectly apt. I know that I hesitated, unable to speak. Sophia was staring at me, her eyes huge. Principal waited.
"I, uh.... I...." shit! I had exactly $3.58. That wouldn't even buy a Happy Meal, would it?
The Principal blinked her large brown eyes at me and her smile was clearly frozen. The image of a marionette flashed before me and then was gone.
Sophia cleared her throat. I glanced at her. She was looking ahead.
"You see, I'm not sure about a celebration tonight. I, um, I was laid off a couple of months ago and money is kind of tight." Well now, it was done. Sophie looked at me and I gave her a weak smile and a shrug.
Principal's smiled disappeared. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realize...."
We spent some time backtracking on that conversation and all I wanted to do was get the hell out of there so I could talk to Sophie and gauge her reaction. Principal said something like "Well, then, I'm sure you're going to take her home and make her her favorite meal." Without pausing she asked, "What is her favorite thing that you make?"
Did I mention that contact with this woman makes me a little crazy? I squeaked out something about how Soph's favorite thing to do lately is come home, make herself a hot dog and then crash on the sofa. I ask you, is it any wonder I'm not this Principal's favorite example of Mamahood?
"A hot dog? Oh." This is the part where I think crestfallen or maybe stunned is the best adjective to describe how Principal looked.
"Hit it, Mom," Sophia yelled and I threw the little white car into reverse and squealed tires getting out of there.
We drove for a few moments in silence. Finally, I couldn't take it any more. "I'm sorry, baby. I totally botched that conversation. I don't know what it is about her, but Principal makes me nervous. I never know what to say."
Sophia laughed and rifled through my purse. "Don't worry. She makes me nervous, too. I don't understand what she's saying half the time in that baby voice of hers. I just smile and nod." She waved the stick of Teaberry gum she'd found in its secret hiding place. "Want half?"
I thanked her for the gum and chewed for a moment while I thought about what had just happened. I felt like a jerk for having put Principal on the spot for assuming that we'd be doing something to celebrate, but I was also annoyed to have been placed in such an awkward situation to begin with.
"Phia, I'm sorry that I don't have money to take you out."
"It's okay. "
"What is it that I cook that you like?" I've been cooking more than I did when I worked outside the home, but I hadn't really thought about favorite dishes. Crazy kids all have different things they like. I'm supposed to keep track?
"I like your cheesy chicken. And the beef stew. And your lentil soup with rice. And pretty much anything you make." Okay, I take back calling her crazy. She's brilliant and wonderful. So what if she puts barbecue sauce on everything?
"Thanks. And I am sorry. I'm an adult. I should be able to talk to your principal without peeing my pants."
"You peed your pants?"
"Crazy lady. Can we stop for a Frosty? I already had something real to eat anyway. I'm not that hungry."
"A Frosty? I can manage that...."
So all those old assumptions about what it means to be what we appear to be are gone. I hope that in the future, I'll be more careful, too, not to assume that everyone is in a position to go out to dinner whenever they feel like it or have money to go to Hobby Lobby and buy things for school projects or have fundraising money or class picture money.....you get the idea. I've mentioned that I'm going to write a piece about how schools don't make it easy to pinch pennies for those of us in the New Poor category. I'm still turning it over in my mind, but this tiny incident reminded me that it's those assumptions that some (not all) of us either grew up with or developed that make it just a little harder to fully embrace this new place on the socio-economic spectrum.