Tuesday, January 08, 2008

It's nothing personal. It's just business.

Strictly between us, there is a group of mothers who scare the snot out of me. For want of a better phrase, let’s call them Executive Class. These women graduated from Yale in three years, graduated top of their class at Wharton Business School and made Senior V.P. of New Media before they turned 26. At 28, they married brilliantly. At 31, as they had planned since middle school, they had Child #1, followed exactly eighteen months later by Child #2. Having had the second child, they give up their nanny and choose to stay home with the children. They then take all this insane drive and business acumen and apply it to the lives of tiny, little children.

These women usually love me, because I am so rarely doing anything right. Frequently, one of them can be found standing next to me at the playground murmuring in my ear, “How brave of you to keep letting her eat string cheese. We took Thor vegan after reading about the rate of premature sexual development in cheese-eaters”. Executive Class moms want to hear about where you are applying to school, because they can then tell you about how they applied there as a safety for Milo or Athena, but have every hope of getting into a much better school because they are in a book club with Better School’s director of admissions.

EC mothers don’t sleep, because sleeping cuts into time they could be spending gathering data on the vaccination debate. The children of EC mothers are always advanced. A woman capable of delivering six straight profitable quarters to her corner of the Time-Warner empire is certainly capable of making sure her toddler can differentiate between an emu and an egret. If there is something in which her children are not advanced, the EC mother will find a coach. If there is no way of improving her child’s ability in a field, the EC mother will attempt to remove it. If you've ever been handed a petition to get Duck, Duck, Goose removed from your pre-school, because it is unfairly biased against the slow, know that an EC mother was wielding the clipboard.

For ten months of the year, the Executive Class mother is merely a peripheral voice chiding me about how I’m a lazy, inept parent; to which I say something like “Well, duh…”. But for two months each year, they go from being dress-extras in my life to featured players. A friend of mine has a little charity she runs. I’m not being coy, I’m not socializing with the head of the Red Cross or anything; it’s truly small, but it does some good work in the world of animal-welfare and I’m proud to call this woman my friend. Like most people running charitable endeavors virtually alone, she is exhausted most of the time so, in a moment of insanity, I offered to help her by supervising the youngest volunteers. My friend sees encouraging and training the next generation of volunteers as part of her mission and I think she should be beatified for this. As much of the training is about reminding them, over and over again, that texting their friends from a bean bag chair isn’t an act of charity, my job is to make sure that we have no more than three teenagers hanging around the shelter at any given time.

Most of the year, the volunteers come in of their own accord. From January to March, however, my phone calls triple because the EC mothers are either trying to pack their child’s high-school application full of volunteering work, or they suddenly realized the child hadn’t fulfilled her school-mandated volunteering hours, many of which mysteriously have to be completed by March 1st. These women call me, their phone tucked into their chins, preparing to type their volunteering hours into Outlook. What amazes me is that every single one of them starts the conversation the same way:

“My daughter Imogen needs to volunteer. She’ll be there from 2:00 to 4:00 on Saturday. Will there be someone there to sign the letter of recommendation I wrote for you?”

When I suggest that a) everyone wants Saturdays, b) Saturdays are booked until October, and c) I can give her Wednesdays, she gets outraged.

“But…Wednesdays are when Imogen has Behavioral Psychology and Art Appreciation after-school. I need Saturday afternoon. We have to get this done by the end of this week,” she whines. Then, after several minutes of carrying on about how important this is to Imogen’s future, I break down and offer her Saturday morning.

“No, we can’t do that. Imogen has Yoga for Pre-Teens and her test-taking tutor. No, we’re going to have to stay with Saturday afternoon.”

The same intractability and hard-headedness which worked so well negotiating multimillion-dollar contracts is now expended on getting their children notes from strangers which prove that they copied and filed for 120 minutes for a good cause. I don’t like bullies, even when they have much nicer handbags than I do. After a half-hour or so they usually hang up on me, having tasted that rarest of all flavors: thwarted.

And you already know this mother and child show up on Saturday afternoon, with the mother swearing that I was fine with it, right?

For years, I have felt guilty about edging away from these women if possible. Mothering is hard, and I should respect anyone who is trying to do it to the best of their ability. And then it occurred to me: I don’t have to like anyone who turns what should be a gratifying communal activity into a competitive sport. Since nearly everything the Executive Class mother does is based on the assumption that she and her kids are going to be the winners, what does that make the rest of us?


Blogger Mindy said...

I'd like to think our children are having a happy, relatively stress free childhood. I have and EC mother across the street from me. (I didn't realize that's what she was until you gave her a name.) Her children are older now and are not very fond of her. I think it's sad.

1:47 PM  
Blogger Antique Mommy said...

I had my first and only child when I was in my mid-40s. EC mothers amuse me.

2:53 PM  
Blogger Roxanne said...

Amen, sistuh. Here is what we do at my house to make our children successful. . .we read to them, take them to church, play games with them, explain big words that we use, let them make messes with paper and glue, go camping, apologize when we're wrong, take them to visit their grandparents, build sand castles on the beach. . .seems to be working so far.

3:13 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

You absolutely don't have to like them. Heck, they don't even like themselves. Dollars to donuts they're all on anxiety meds (at the very least), and have completely tied their self-worth into their success. Someone told them they could do anything they wanted to if they set their minds to it, and they're terrified of what would happen if that were ever not true. I feel overwhelming compassion for them and their obsessively tidy and fun-devoid lives (I mean, right after the irritation). But you're absolutely right - the most compassionate thing to do is hold your boundaries and let them explore the mysteries of "no". We can only hope that their equally miserable daughters will rebel by relaxing. Though they don't generally - usually it's an eating disorder. Sigh. I so strongly believe that no one should be allowed to give birth without having to pass a Child Psychology class.

3:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

AMEN, Roxanne. Amen.

4:47 PM  
Blogger Wendy Mihm said...

I met your husband at an All Saints writers meeting last summer and he recommended your blog to me. I've been enjoying it on and off ever since and thought it was high time I check in and offer some well-deserved praise.

There are a million reasons to love your writing style, including but not limited to phrases like "we took Thor vegan" and "texting their friends from a bean bag chair isn't an act of charity."

I've included your blog on my list of favorites and hope you never stop posting.

Happy New Year!

5:18 PM  
Blogger Skerrib said...

Thank you, thank you for sticking to your guns. Back in my HS teaching years (a previous life) I had an encounter with an EC trying to micromanage her son's self esteem...but my administration backed me up and they had to settle for "no." That time, at least.

6:13 PM  
Blogger Melissa C Morris said...

Ah ha, so this variety of parent does exist on both coasts.

8:21 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Silly me, I thought it was more important for my kids to have a childhood. What was I thinking?

Now that my elder is a senior in high school, I can't say that I regret the choice. He may go to Rice instead of MIT, but is that the worst thing ever in the grand scheme of things? He's bright and funny, enjoying others as they enjoy him. His brother is very different but is equally bright and funny in his own way.

Let the EC mothers win their little competition. I'd rather sleep at night.

9:48 PM  
Blogger Sally said...

I read through about 6 months worth of posts and was laughing out loud ( at work, but they all think I am nuts anyhow). M has to put up with all the under achievers where he goes to pick up the kids, totally opposite. Anyhow, looking forward to the book, and I will keep on commenting now I have shown my face!(Nothing to do with the blog I just started by the way........)

4:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your husband is a writer too? Great,
when can we read something from
him..I don't suppose Lou or the
new puppy have a blog do they?

8:24 AM  
Blogger MamaTeeThree said...

Living out here in the country, one doesn't run into the EC mother very often, but when one of them moves out here and starts sending their Precious Angel to school with all the laid-back country folks, I start to wonder how long it will be before the nervous breakdown.

8:27 AM  
Blogger guerrilla girl said...

"...having tasted that rarest of all flavors: thwarted."

This was perfect. I will recite it like a mantra the next time one of the many ECMs I have to contend with asks me for the umpteenth time where the son is going to high school next year.

10:30 AM  
Blogger Lene Andersen said...

... the gazelle at the pride's waterhole.

Glad you thwart them. Disappointment is good for you. Builds character.

12:28 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Please, oh PLEASE continue standing your ground!!

Volunteering is just as important as Art Appreciation, Mandarin, or Advanced Squash. If these Exec Moms can't be bothered to plan it out in advance, they will have to take what's available (or not). Pushiness doesn't change or make up for their lack of foresight and planning.

Too bad for them!! And their over-burdened children, unfortunately.

7:06 PM  
Blogger Amie said...

When the two skill sets are listed side by side, one should be able to tell the difference between "raising a compassionate, productive member of society" and "raising a show dog"

These women apparently don't see that.

7:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for writing this blog. I look forward to it every time.

Why not sell volunteering time slots in these situations? Sort of an auction, which then pits the EC mothers against each other and makes them vie for your good graces? It will raise money for the charity, and give you a little taste of that flavor - satisfaction.

I live in the land of the EC mother, and my sister-in-law is one. I feel ya, and I thank you for putting it all into words so much better than I could have.

1:34 PM  
Blogger Cindy said...

A perfect description of the Momfia--a scary bunch who really just suck. Seriously, are their kids any happier??

I'm an editor who recently worked on a book about this class of moms that referred to what they do as "high-stakes parenting." So what is it that the rest of us do, "low-stakes parenting"?? Right. Because my kid just isn't as important. And even if she were, I'm clearly not as capable. Jay-sus.

A really great post though. Thanks for the laugh and a little perspective.

3:21 PM  
Blogger MsMVNJ said...

What great perspective. As I move through the different stages of parenthood, the EC's never fail to amaze me. The Hummers that cut you off in the drop off line at elementary school, the rabid sports parents and the ones that so obviously are making up for any slight they suffered by making their precious offspring excel in everything they couldn't....face it, it's okay to have a normal kid that isn't the best in everything, as long as they love what they do. Bravo!!!!

8:45 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

I was laughing out loud as I read this... my husband thinks I'm crazy now! You have a great way with words! I think I met the mom you are talking about this fall while teaching a dual credit course... :)

I was joking this morning that I hate the moms who are well put together with a perfectly decorated/clean house, whose children are always clean... you know, the ones who can cook, clean, sew, etc all the while still haveing perfect kids????

12:03 PM  
Blogger Allison Slater Tate said...

I think I love you.

I'm in my second year (aka, my son is in Kindergarten) at a private school where the EC moms throw their formidable weight (and boobs they weren't born with) around and lord it over the sweaty, incoherent newbies like me.

Needless to say, I needed this post and I wish I could cyber high-five you right about now!

8:58 AM  
Blogger Claire said...

Like Guerilla Girl, I have to express my admiration of "the rarest of all flavors: thwarted". The EC mother is unfortunately common where I live (just outside Washington DC).

10:38 AM  
Blogger Miss Cavendish said...

Sign a letter of recommendation "she wrote for you"???! Oy vey.

I was already distressed enough when the New York Times education supplement informed me that parents are now "purchasing" internships at glossy magazine for their darlings.

I have three children, and while I will certainly help them as best I can when need be, I truly hope that they will make their own way in the world. Otherwise, what will they do when mum stops writing letters of rec or signing cheques?

10:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know you are far too busy at this moment to respond to me, but I wanted you to talk to you even if you don't have time to talk back.
Yours was the first blog I ever read. I found it because I had loved and remembered your exquisite performance in "The Goodbye Girl" (yeah, I know you've heard that many many times before but - you touched many people with your performance, so our thanks bear repeating) and had always hoped that you were healthy and prospering. I finally decided to find out, so one day I did an Internet search to find you. Which I did, through a review in Newsweek. So, I just started reading. I knew NOTHING about the whole blog scene, but reading yours helped me figure things out. At first I didn't realize that with blogs you read from the bottom UP *sigh* but you were so funny and interesting that I figured I should go back to your very first post - and then read up to your current posting. That was back in August, and I have been a loyal reader ever since. I am also an only child and I lost my father when I was 8. My mother got sick when I was 12, and she died when I was 24. So, we have loss in common. We also have humor in common, because humor has saved what I like to think of as my life many times. Oh, boy - perhaps too much information, too many flashbacks. Apologies.
I only wanted to tell you how thrilled I am that you are working on a book, and that with luck I will be reading it by this time next year. Quinn- I don't even HAVE kids - but reading about Consort, Daughter and your day-to-day adventures just make my day every time you post. I would also like to point out that at age 30-something you are now successful, admired and respected for THREE careers - acting, marketing and now writing. You go, girl!
And now, because of you, I have started a blog - I'm sure you've heard THAT, too. It took me months, and I'm still very unsure of myself, but I want to thank you for giving me the courage to get out there and express myself, even though you had no idea what an inspiration you are. Thanks, Quinn.

10:05 PM  
Blogger DrLeonesse said...

I'm rolling on the floor. Perhaps next time you might tell the Exec Mom that all the other mothers started much earlier on this volunteer thing...and unfortunately, she missed her window of opportunity. Then a well-placed "I think XYZ charity still has Saturday openings." (Pick someone you don't like.) Oooo, that sounded...well, executive, didn't it? LOL

5:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As the saying goes, in the race of life, the first one to cross the finishing line... dies. :)

Living in a town infected with ECs, I say let them push and rush themselves and their kids all they want. The faster they move ahead, the more my daughter and I can enjoy a leisurely stroll and take in the scenery.

4:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lene's link brought me here. Oh my goodness, I am dying to go through the archives and read every post. Where were you when my children were little here in Silicon Valley!

2:05 PM  

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