September 1, 2015

Absence not making this heart grow fonder

New friends.  No uniforms.  Walking to school.  No tuition.  These are just a few of the perks we encountered three years ago when we transferred the kids from Catholic school to our public school.  Despite all of the bonus features, it was still a dreaded transition.  We all accepted the new situation . . . eventually.

As the mom, it was painful for me to watch the kids grieve the loss of the familiar atmosphere of their cherished school.  (I have chosen to assign the name 'St. Old School' to our former Catholic school.  Because of their refusal to offer us any financial assistance when our large, Catholic family could no longer afford tuition, this is the kindest label I feel comfortable with.  With so many other options, I feel I am being generous.)  I busied myself creating a positive attitude towards the change.  I encouraged the kids to invite new friends over and pointed out the public school perks whenever possible.  At some point, I began to suspect that the change was hardest on me.  After dedicating countless hours to volunteering at St. Old School, I had come to enjoy the challenges presented by my work.  I missed the connection I had with St. Old School.  It was hard to separate from a place where my sense of identity had grown from simply 'the mom with six kids', to 'the mom who helped out at the school and accomplished things'.  I had a purpose there beyond dirty laundry, groceries, and chauffeur.  

At the time, it was hard to imagine life without the friendships we had built with many St. Old School families.  Most vowed to keep in touch, and reassured us that we would continue to see them regularly.  We were, as we kept reminding the kids, not moving away - just enrolling in a different school.  Eventually it became clear that there were only a few couples who we could continue to count as real friends.  Although we still reside in the same town, not long after we switched schools we ceased receiving invitations to many of the parties and regular, non-school functions we had always been included in.  It wasn't until our transfer that I recognized how clingy, clicky, and exclusive many of the families at our former school had been.  For example, many of the St. Old families cluster together at the neighborhood pool.  They enter the pool and search longingly for someone from their private school 'club' to wave them over.  While the kids were able to maintain many of their friendships, Coach and I gradually developed new relationships with parents from our public school. 

I must admit to one additional perk I stumbled upon as we drifted from St. Old School.  I neglected to share this benefit with the kids.  Moving to another school meant it would be easier to sever ties with annoying individuals.  I didn't miss regular encounters with those that were on my personal try-to-avoid list.  It wasn't a long list, but I welcomed the opportunity to avoid consistent contact with the few odd ducks that caused me to bristle.  Think about it, what if one of those St. Old's pool moms just so happened to rub you the wrong way with her beckoning, inclusive, hovering habits?  Imagine how hard it would be to avoid being suffocated by her in that close knit circle.  Our emancipation from tuition payments was coupled with my freedom from 'that' mom.  We will call her 'Andrea'.

I will admit that Andrea's heart was usually in the right place, but her socially inept, overstepping tendencies frequently landed her in the wrong place . . . usually on my toes.  She and I worked together on many of the school's marketing efforts.  There was much to be done as this area had been overlooked for some time.  As a result, enrollment was suffering.  It felt great to be a contributing member of the school community verses the home bound mom, whose first priority was accommodating nap times.

Eventually I caught on to the fact that Andrea was not always dependable.  If her interest waned on a project, I would be left to deal with more details then I had committed to originally.  She would always be ready and willing to supply me with ample excuses for her 'flake-out'.  In reality, I enjoyed the volunteer work but attempting to get results for both of our roles at the expense of my laundry and other family related tasks was frustrating.  When we decided to leave the school, Coach and I appreciated her efforts to request financial contributions from school families in order to support our family's tuition costs for the upcoming year.  This was a genuine, thoughtful act.  In the end, we chose to turn down the generously pledged donations because we felt it would delay the inevitable.  We simply could no longer afford Catholic education.

Passing the buck on school marketing plans was one issue, but the bigger issue became more and more obvious the longer I knew Andrea.  The longer I knew her, the more comfortable she became with me.  One day I was racing around in my bedroom preparing to go somewhere with the entire family.  I don't remember where we were headed, but I know that Coach was sitting in the garage in the large white van with all of the kids.  As usual, they were waiting for me.  The next thing I knew, Andra entered my bedroom hauling a collection of hanging clothes in dry cleaning bags.  Her excuse for arriving UNANNOUNCED in my upstairs bedroom was that these clothes had belonged to her mother.  Her mother was tall.  I was tall.  She thought I might be able to use her mom's castoffs.  That is how she connected the dots.  These dots she was connecting developed into the spots that I saw as I grew dizzy with confusion.  Feeling violated, I recall being grateful that I was clothed.  After she tossed the hefty load across my bed, I ushered her downstairs remarking how I was holding up the whole gang to go to God knows where.  She waved to Coach as she continued to chat nonchalantly on her way to her car.  I was following her, and I made sure Coach could see my raised eyebrow 'what the Hell' look.  After she left and I hoisted myself into the passenger seat of the former airplane shuttle, I gave Coach the formal, 'You got lots a 'splaining to do' glance compliments of the I Love Lucy Show.  Turns out he was as dumbfounded as me.  She apparently entered the garage and asked where I was.  As he was explaining that I was upstairs getting ready, she darted in the door with a quick, 'Oh, I'll just drop these off up there.'  We were flabbergasted.  It was tough to draw a line with Andrea, because when it came to lines she had vision issues.  And, yes, her mother's clothes were dropped off at a Goodwill.  I have standards. 

This summer majority of the St. Old families joined a different pool.  Unable to make a decision without the group's overall approval, the St. Old lemmings flocked to the newer pool across town that boasts multiple slides, a cheaper fee, and unparalleled crowds.  Happily able to locate a chaise lounge without a problem, I didn't miss watching the click of private school families huddle together in one area of the pool.  It was a relief not to witness the crippled looks that flashed across their faces when they failed to recognize anyone from their posse.  I recall the summer we announced that we could no longer afford to educate our gang at the Catholic school.  One day at the pool a group of moms filed over to my chair from their gathering spot to express their sadness that we would not be returning.  It reminded me of a group of people paying their respects at a wake.  Even then, while I was very connected to the school, I chose my pool chair for the exposure it offered to the sun verses the opportunity to be within arms reach of familiar moms.

I was at the pool last week, when this avoid-at-all-cost peep showed up.  Because she is not a regular, I did not realize that Andrea had chosen to stick it out at the old, familiar haunt.  I had just approached my friends' table in the concession area when Andrea tapped me on the shoulder.  Having approached the Johnson's table from behind them, I was squatting down, leaning over their chairs chatting with them about their daughter's upcoming wedding.  I was explaining Mini and Curly's fascination with the show 'Say Yes to the Dress.'  I think Andrea expected us to hug it out, but since we hadn't spent any time together in YEARS, I felt a simple 'hello' would suffice.  After I offered the obligatory 'hey there', I returned to my conversation aware and annoyed that Andrea was lurking at my elbow.  Eventually I released the Johnson's from my conversation grasp, although I was desperate to keep it going to escape the clutches of Andrea.

She had moved away from my left hip, which was a relief, but she reappeared as I made haste for my lounge chair where I planned to fake a sudden-onset nap.  There we were.  Getting caught up.  I briefly filled her in on college searches, kids activities, and ended with an overall 'all's well' tone.  She launched into a description of her daughter's recent ADD diagnosis.  (Couldn't have been all that recent, because the last time I bumped into her after my escape plan failed me - about a year prior, she shared the new medical diagnosis withe me).  She went into detail about how the doctor had to test her daughter so many times before he could believe it himself.  Turns out Andrea Jr. has such a high IQ it was hard to believe that she had ADD.  Well, well.  Andrea knows that I have two kids with ADD.  I no longer cared about maintaining a great relationship with her.  Obviously.  The full-of-shitness that comes with spending any time with her is overwhelming.  I told her what I thought.  'Frankly, I'm surprised the doctor would have said that to you.  I thought every good doctor knows that kids with ADD tend to be extremely bright.  That is why it is so frustrating that they struggle to attend.  I don't even believe they test IQ at the same time they test for ADD.  Not sure what kind of doctor you went to.'  Point.  Made.  Does she really think she is fooling me that her daughter is brighter than any other kid?  And by the way, who cares?  Classic over sharer (And that is coming from an over-sharer extraordinaire.  My oversharing tendencies don't typically relate to selling people on my kids' strengths, but more frequently on the nutty stuff they do and the humorous situations that are created because of it.)

I finally reached my chair.  It thundered and lightninged.  More than once.  They closed the pool.  A moment too late.

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