As probably most of my readers know, I have never exactly danced to everybody else’s drum. I was the kid with no friends, the tomboy with hairy legs, the girl who didn’t wear dresses. The role of devil’s advocate has always suited me, since I can’t help but interject the “buts” and “ifs” into even those subjects I whole heartedly agree with. I could send back offensive mailings with snarky remarks or spit off a letter to the editor with little care in the world because, after all, the world needed educating and I, I was merely the messenger. I’ve gone about my happy life this way and all was fine, Before Children.
A week ago, Bundle I, a first grader with a capital F, downheartedly explained to me that she had forgotten her school folder at school but there was something Very Important that I needed to read in there. I assumed it was a newsletter, a calendar or a bus schedule change, but upon successfully bringing home her folder the next day it turned out it was a fundraiser for the PTO. Within the glossy, glitzy catalog called, cutely, “BelieveKids” (short, I assume, for “we believe in kids” or possibly “we believe there might be kids” or maybe, actually, “Believe, kids!” ) was numerous glossy, glitzy items to purchase; pages and pages of jewelry, handbags, chocolates, a whole section of fall bulbs, christmas ornaments, magazine subscriptions…none of which I was interested in purchasing. Nor was I planning on pressuring our numerous friends and relatives into purchasing any of it. Because it was…well, it was all junk. Made in China. Most likely plastic. And all of it, completely extraneous.
Still, it was a fundraiser and, of course, all the other kids were doing it and…there was a contest and…you know, gentle reader, thinking back on it, it wasn’t exactly a picnic for me to be the Tomboy with Hairy Legs, no Friends and no Dresses. Wouldn’t it be better if my kids could grow up to be…I don’t know…normal?
Yeah, well okay. “I’ll talk to Daddy about it, honey,” I said, and put the offensive, plastic paper catalog near the recycling bin. It wasn’t even good for kindling.
I had just about decided that we’d kind of, sort of, just forget about it when another earnest missive came from the PTO, this time asking us to participate in the General Mills educational program BoxTops for Education.
“Mommy! We just clip the tops of our cereal boxes and…”
“Honey….I’m sorry but….we don’t buy anything by General Mills.”
Truth be told, this isn’t quite precisely true. A few General Mills purchases do occasionally creep into our house, since General Mills is all powerful and pervasive and own both Kashi and Cascadian Farms, both products that we purchase on occasion. But there is no way that I am going to clip a rare boxtop just so that the PTO of my child’s elementary school can collect and send them back for a whole ten cents per box top. In principle I support large corporations’ donations to educational endeavors as long as there are no strings attached to said donation, but we all know in our hearts that BoxTops is merely a pretense aimed solely at pressuring parents to buy Go-Gurts and HoneyNut Cheerios in an effort to shore up the finances of their supposedly publicly funded school.
When I finally did manage to talk to Lionel about both “fundraisers” a few days later, we both agreed that to participate in either one was unpalatable and morally wrong, but we were also both aware that our children’s social status could possibly be at stake, both with their peers and with the various adults they interacted with. In addition, we recognized that while, in theory, public education should be fully and adequately funded, that in reality, it was not, and they really did need the money. We finally agreed that we’d send the PTO a note letting them know we could not participate, without letting them know why, along with a direct donation–which probably would fill their coffers more quickly than our three boxtops or our one sympathy purchase would have and will hopefully dull the echoing effects of gossipy PTO-ers.
I used to enjoy being the Other in a field of Them. After all, I was the one most likely to stand out. But these days being the Other is increasingly and simply alienating, as I navigate playdates and fundraisers, clothes and snacks, lunches and homework. Having to not only make the decision that we will not be eating the nitrate-and-GMO-filled-hot-dogs at the PTO “BBQ” (in quotes because the hotdogs were neither grilled nor was the meal outside) but also trying to explain that decision to two hot-dog loving daughters in a way that would not cause angst or come out of the mouth of babes at the wrong time is exhausting, and my lame excuse that I had erroneously already put dinner in the oven fell flat when questioned about it by other parents. They’ve all witnessed the bizarre antics of the LLARCS before. It’s a small town.
Maybe they’re right, after all. Maybe we’re not from around here. But when we look around at the end of the day and notice all the dents in the walls that we’ve butted up against during the day, here in the town that we live in, we wonder if there’s any place in the whole world that doesn’t have those walls.
Or at least, softer walls.