Blogsam and Jetsam

Flotsam is the part of the wreckage of a ship or its cargo found floating on the water. Jetsam is cargo or parts of a ship that are deliberately thrown overboard, as to lighten the ship in an emergency, and that subsequently either sinks or is washed ashore. This is my personal blog version of the above. Loot freely.

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Location: The Hinterlands, Upstate NY

I'm annoyed that the world is going crazier faster than it used to be. But it's interesting to watch.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Dancing with Moms

Up here in the Hinterlands, an annual event is the "Seventh and Eighth Grade Cotillion" which is a formal dance privately sponsored by the Cotillion Committee in the ballroom of our fancy hotel in May.

The signup sheet came home with Eldest Duckling a couple weeks ago so we learned that it was not just a dance but also a whole spring extracurricular activity: eight weeks of Monday-night ballroom dance lessons in the middle school gym were a prerequisite to attend. The lessons required skirts for the girls and ties for the boys, cost $65.00 and were taught by the committee members, many of whose names I recognized as my colleagues and all of whom had been doing this event for Just Ever. We also learned that the dance was always limited to equal numbers of boys and girls with no more than fifty of each. Should less than fifty boys participate or more girls than boys wish to participate there were contingency plans: after giving the eighth-grade girls priority the seventh-grade girls' names would be put in a hat and drawn at random till girls were equal to the number of boys in attendance. Any girl whose name was not drawn would get her check returned.

Archaic? Absolutely. Provincial? Youbetcha. Sexist? Yeah, probably.

I told Eldest she was getting signed up whether she liked it or not and in the very same breath told Middle Duckling (now nine) "and when it's your turn you bet your ass you're going too!"

Why? Because not knowing how to dance is a serious social handicap and a little dress-up etiquette never hurt anyone either. Even if you're the most alternative person in the county, the "traditional" social graces are useful knowledge...and knowledge is power.

Eldest thought it sounded "sort of fun I guess" and was bribed with the promise of a "real" gown meaning one in a small size from the misses department instead of a big size from the girls department. I wrote a check and we waited to see what would happen.

What happened is that Monday of this week Eldest came home and said "Guess what? I didn't get picked for the cotillion." I said "Oh gee, that's too bad. I guess we'll be getting our check back eventually" and we moved on with our evening. Later I asked "so who else isn't going?" and got five or six names rattled off to me. Didn't think another thing of it and neither did Eldest, who seemed happier not to be going after all.

Yesterday afternoon there was a message on the answering machine from...oh let's just call her "Mrs. Mom." She had identified herself by name and as "the mother of FemaleClassmate" and asked that I call her to "discuss the cotillion." I thought she was going to tell me how my check was being sent back.

I got the hint that might not be the case when the woman on the other end of the telephone started off with "I want you to know that fairness is a really big thing for me. Whatever it is in life if we're doing it for one person it has to be fair to everyone." She told me that her daughter didn't get selected for the cotillion so she was "contacting the other two mothers to let them know what's been going on so far."

I got comfortable; it sounded like I was in for a long ride.

Mrs. Mom asked "do you know all the girls who didn't get picked?" I said that no, I didn't, but I'd heard there were at least four or five. Even tossed out a couple of the names Eldest had given me Monday night.

Nope, turns out that a big plank in Mrs. Mom's platform was that "only three girls didn't get picked" and she thought it was just awful "that we work so hard on building up self-esteem and now we're telling them they can't ballroom dance with their friends."

It's a good thing I did inpatient psych; I got skilled at letting people keep talking and Mrs.Mom definitely wanted to talk. She told me that she had been so upset when she heard this news that she contacted one of the members of the Cotillion Committee to complain and get her kid in. She had been told a polite version of "too bad" which included that the dance had always been done that way, keeping an equal number of boys to girls was important, there had never been any previous complaints, it was all spelled out on the signup sheet and was completely optional in any case.

That wasn't good enough for Mrs. Mom who said she'd checked the occupancy limits for both the gym where the lessons were being held (510) and the ballroom (180.) Used those as a springboard for her argument that it's wrong to limit the class to just 50 of each if more girls wanted to attend.

I then heard a five-minute riff on how the committee members' children all "got an automatic in" which I knew couldn't be entirely true because some of those committee members' children have kids of their own. Got to hear a whole lot about how "it's only three girls; they ought to be able to fix this! Just make it work!" and yes she said "make it work" exactly like Tim Gunn.

I learned that Mrs. Mom had gone from the committee member straight to the Superintendent of Schools to complain bitterly about how unfair the selection process was. Her best argument was "you let all the boys go and only some of the girls go but what if one boy has a sports injury in the spring and breaks his leg and can't dance? You don't tell one of the girls who took the lessons that now she can't go, do you?"

Unfortunately the argument that she liked best was all about self-esteem. If I heard once I heard at least a dozen times that "it's so hard to build up self-esteem at this age and we do all these other things to try to build girls' self-esteem that it's just so wrong to tell these girls they can't dance with their friends."

I was doing okay with everything till she said "these girls were so upset when they found out they weren't going that at least two of them were in the guidance counselor's office in tears crying...and one of them was your daughter."

Excuse me?

I had been quietly tolerating her rant in part to see what she wanted from me and in part because I didn't want to piss off the crazy person with my phone number (and probably address) but this was a bit much. I said "If that's true it's news to me!" and she said "well that's what I was told." I replied "Eldest certainly didn't seem a bit upset at the time but I'll ask her about it. I suppose she could have been playing it cool because her brother and sister were right there."

Right back to the self-esteem argument again and how "it's not like cheerleading tryouts or a sports meet where you can explain to your child that if they work harder and do better they can make the cut next time -- this is unfair because it's so arbitrary." She also said "it's not just the dance itself but it's the whole spring of lessons. Every Monday all the kids are going to be talking about the lesson that night and every Tuesday morning they'll be talking about how much fun they had and if my daughter's grades go down because she's upset over that then I think it's the school's issue."

Mrs. Mom was bitter because the Superintendent of Schools hadn't "done anything for me except tell me to contact Committee Chairwoman." I got to hear a repeat of how unsatisfactory Mrs. Mom's encounter with the first Committee Member had been before finally being told that the windup of the story was "Committee Chairwoman said she'd email the other members and see what they could do."

Then she asked for "your feedback" and said she "really thought the three mothers should work together on this."

My feedback went like this: "Well I wish you the best of luck with your enterprise, and some of your points are well-taken. Of course learning ballroom dance is a good thing which is why we signed up in the first place but frankly we just accepted that the cotillion was an archaic sort of small-town thing and that it was just done this way. [interruption by Mrs. Mom to push her platform and encourage my endorsement] I'll certainly talk to Eldest Duckling about this and if she is upset that's one thing but the flip side of that coin is 'Oh gawd Mom, PLEASE don't make a big fuss and embarrass me!' "

That actually got Mrs. Mom to shut up for more than five seconds and I thought maybe we were done...but no, she just went right back to explaining how they "need to fix this" and how unfair it was that "these girls can't dance with their friends." For about the fourth time I thought to myself "yeah, and 'their friends' is who they are going to be dancing with if you make sure there are more girls than boys" but I kept mum long enough to get the crazywoman off the telephone.

After shaking my head for a while I found Eldest Duckling and told her the story. Turned out that some of the half-dozen names she'd mentioned on Monday night included kids who hadn't signed up in the first place so we determined that the "only three" part of Mrs. Mom's story was probably true. However it was most emphatically not true that Eldest had been upset: she was outraged that someone had accused her of crying in school.

Not only was she not upset but if Mrs. Mom did get the three girls invited to the cotillion, Eldest Duckling absolutely didn't want to go---"Gawd like the only reason I'm there is because somebody's Mommy had a big stinkin' FIT? No thank you!"

She did, however, ask if she could have the sixty-five bucks.


Blogger Old Knudsen said...

That whole self esteem thing has gotten out of hand in schools, they give the kids awards and certificates if they go a week without shooting someone and dumb doon the curriculum to give them higher grades which also gets the schools a better rating. I feel sorry for the child of Mrs Mom the last thing a child wants is their parents making waves at school.
You were having trouble uploading pics to blogger I read you got the white screen, I get this too, what I do is send the picture to myself in an e-mail and save it again from that as a jpeg and it uploads also clearing my cache helps too.

February 05, 2007 12:28 AM  
Blogger SamD said...

Hey thanks for the photo tip--I tried that and it seems to have worked!

Update on the crazy mother is that she's talking about 1) retaining counsel and 2) making an "anti-lottery" float for the upcoming winter festival. If I were her daughter I'd be mortified.

February 05, 2007 11:13 AM  

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