One of my latest favorite books is The Sense Of An Ending, by Julian Barnes, winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize (and btw I mostly didn’t like the 2010 winner, Room by Emma Donoghue) because it’s one of those stories that revolves around some fairly mundane conversation exchanges in dating life and family relations – the reader is therefore kept interested in the he-said, she-said by virtue of the author’s skill. More specifically, it was an illustration of how subjective exchanges can be, how differently remembered, and how we often choose to interpret things a certain way.
That’s on my mind as I write this tongue-in-cheek parody I call The Anti-Mother’s Day Post, which however should still have a faint ring of truth to it, however embellished – so don’t choose to read on and then think Aiya This Aileen Ah, What Kind Of Fruitcake Crap Is All This Imagined Secret Language Among Mummies. I Am Surrounded By Wonderful, Selfless, Non-Judgmental Human Beings.
Yeah, and maybe you also reside on the planet Pluto.
As a mum if you have never felt insecure, you are great. Possibly also fictitious. But I would love to be like you anyway. I’m not. And it makes for better yarning on a blog.
So the guys thought they had it tough when they tried to get a girl’s number. Mums have it tougher. If a girl flakes on a guy, she’s saying I Don’t Like Your Face/ Shirt/ Wallet (shallow and sad, but you’ll live). When one mummy does it to another, she’s saying I Don’t Like….. Your Parenting <shudder> or……. Your Child <gasp!>
It implies judgement, swift and harsh, from one mother (who should know, she’s a mother) to another. There is no greater insult, hell hath no fury like that of a mother scorned on the playground.
Think I’m hormonal? I didn’t write That Old Marie Claire US Article about the Chinese mother married and living in Japan who went nuts from being shunned by other Japanese mums because she could not pick up on the elaborate, unspoken mummy etiquette that existed on playgrounds. In the article, she described how when she was “shunned” her child was then not allowed a turn on the swings. And I was nowhere near a pregnancy test when I read it with interest anyway. I don’t go looking for the book(s) by other (former working) mums cited in the article about sandpit/ playground politics being worse than the office because I don’t want to get more paranoid then I already am, as a natural personality trait.
A mummy friend I miss very much (who’s gone back to D.C. <mourn> would quip “Is it rude to bring a good book while the babies socialize on playdates?” I mean, playdates are good for your child…….)
Sure, sometimes you just flake because you’re lazy. You’re entitled, you are already running after your proverbial little Duracell Bunny (or two or three or… who hops about looking pink and cute but has the annoying habit of going on….. and on…… and on……… But then you bump into Mummy You Flaked On and sometimes it’s……. weird. Well and here are a few more ways to make it even weirder. (As told to me by umpteen various random mums over many months…)
1) Ask for other mummy’s number but not offer your own. Keep assuring other mummy “I’ll call you.” This is just RUDE. So you think you look so obviously Non-Psycho Mummy isit, while having the chutzpah to still suspect other mummy of being too psycho for you to give your number out to.
2) Scold your helper for letting your child play with someone else’s child. Where in the wide universe did you get the idea helpers don’t talk? Of course your helper will maintain the utmost professional discretion. Not even a theatrical stricken look when Other Mum unwittingly brings her child over on the playground. At which point, Helper avoids eye contact and carries Child Under Her Care Away. Sympathetic looks from Helper’s Friends illustrate how much they know.
3) Pretend you thought the text invitation for a playdate that you ignored was not meant for you. Even though it had your name on it in the text. Come to think of it, nothing says I Don’t Like You/ Your Child Inexplicably more than pretending you didn’t know the message was for you, when Other Mum Oblivious To Your Flakey asks, pulling out your cellphone and staring at the message – which has your name on it oh… right…. there! – and still saying you thought the message was meant for someone else.
4) Trash the school the other mummy is sending her child to. Even if you are somehow really trying to “help,” (or maybe seeking affirmation you made the right school choice) I’m not sure this can ever make her feel your choice of school was the right one.
There’s an investment product analogy – I used to remark to my former RMs that it’s really hard to trash the previous investment a client has made, albeit from competing private bank, albeit you think it’s really stupid – without making the client also dislike you. Because you are telling the client they were stupid enough to buy it. Even if they agree, I don’t think they’re gonna like you.) Case in point – when you tell a mum your school choice and she goes, “Well, if you think that’s good enough for your child…..”
If a child has Obnoxious Rub-It-In-Your-Face for a mum, I wonder how some other mums might feel, if the child makes a mistake at something… Sad thing about human nature…
Oh, here’s another. After you tell someone where your child is going to school and they respond, “Well I’ve noticed things about my child and I would like to be sure he gets the attention he deserves.”
Let’s not even bother with words. Let’s go with looks. I know someone who has sworn never, ever to be on the same playdate as another mum – after being told by a third mum about the facial expression pulled at the mention of playdating with her child.
Not judging, just thinking: Ay, People Lug That Load Around For Months And Then Someone Sticks Salad Tongs Up Their Nether Regions Or Cuts Open Their Belly So They Can Have This Little Person. HOW Dumb Are You, To Not Know To Tread More Carefully? Or Do You Not Give A Damn Because It Is So Blatantly Obvious That Only Your Child Matters Here?
5) Guess another child’s age as significantly younger than his/her real age. Needless to say, I get this one all the time. Which is why I’m secretly delighted when my “two year old” strikes up a conversation about Mars and Neptune or the extinction of dinosaurs.
“Oh, you mean your child couldn’t do that when they were two?”
6) Gossip about the misbehavior/ underdevelopment of another child – within earshot of the child’s helper or helpers who speak to the child’s helper. I know mums who stopped talking to each other because their helpers told each other everything that the other mum was really saying about their child. (Come to think of it, how come no one questioned the messenger in (5) and (6)?)
But Brutus Is An Honorable Man. Mums don’t really have such ugly cat fights, do they? After all, we’re mums.