The day before the holiday break, I told the two students who tried to have lunch in my room, "Sorry charlies, but there's no work to do today and I desperately need an adult, social lunch, to the cafeteria you go!" and I had lunch with a bunch of my colleagues. They are lovely ladies, and most of the time the conversation doesn't fill me with fury.
On this day though, I got to see a real ugly side of the Mom Club. A great example of comparison turning people into "mean girls," and I witnessed some real bitchery.
A teacher who recently went from mom of two to mom of four was complaining about another teacher, that she was just driving her CRAZY. Granted, this other teacher tends to do the comparison thing herself and tell everyone that their life can't ever be hard because they have spouses and two salaries and she is single and so it's harder financially, and it can really rub people the wrong way. It can be offputting to be told you can't complain when not everyone knows your personal situations in and out. Sometime I'm told by my coworkers, "Oh, don't complain -- you have a husband, you know...your life is charmed. Haven't you been told that?" and I actually have to say, "um, no, I don't get told that, actually...I get a little more of the 'I know you know how hard life can be,' because, you know, I've had things very obviously not turn out the way I'd hoped, too." But they get real mad when their personal lives are judged by comparison and any difficulties in the background are ignored or glossed over.
Which is why it was somewhat shocking to me to find the reason for this mom teacher's ire.
She said, "She had the BALLS to say she was tired because she was so busy! I just wanted to PUNCH her!" Okay, I was thinking that surely she must said something stupid like, "you have NO IDEA how tired I am!" to a fairly recent mother of twins and two older boys. She must have made a direct comparison or said "you just don't know what it's like."
But that's NOT what happened.
Mom Teacher said, "I was walking down the hall and she said, 'Ah, I am SO TIRED, my eyes are just BURNING, I was wrapping presents all night last night!' Can you believe that? I could have just PUNCHED her." (She has a thing for punching.)
Okay, you see, I was ALSO walking down the hall when this exchange happened, and there was no comparison. It was literally a statement of fact: she was tired, she'd been wrapping presents, she couldn't wait for break because she needed a break from everything. NO COMPARISON.
And then, the kicker happened.
All the other women at the table, also moms to children of varying ages, expressed shock and disapproval and outrage. And one then said, "What was she, wrapping presents for her CAT?" and they all laughed. "How dare she say she's busy? She doesn't have kids! She doesn't know what that's like! Ugh! Busy INDEED!" were the other comments.
I was shocked, but then I decided, fuck it. I'm going to say something, because this is DISGUSTING. I piped up in the middle of this bizarre witch hunt and said, "Um, you don't have to have kids to be busy. You can have a very hectic life and be tired, even without kids."
People stopped and looked at me, and I saw flickers of unease and perhaps a little sheepishness, and there was some of the awesome, "Oh, we didn't mean YOU, of course" which is bullshit. A comment like that is an affront to ANYONE who isn't in the Mom Club, who must just sit at home reveling in our childfree existence, not having to Scotchguard all the upholstered furniture.
I continued, "but it is, isn't it? I mean, I get it -- it's busy with children, But there are lots of ways to have a fulfilling, busy life. I mean, I just got my National Board certification and Bryce is pursuing his PhD, and we can be very busy with different things of our own, no kids required."
Then there was hemming and hawing and one person said, "I had no idea that I could be busier when I had kids, but I just fit it all in there somehow and other things had to go, that's not the same. You ARE so much busier with kids." Which sort of missed the point. I wasn't saying you aren't busy with kids, I know that's true, but they made it seem like no one else could ever complain about busyness or tiredness.
I know that I get more sleep than someone who has a baby or even a toddler. I know that I don't have to drive all over town for lessons and play groups and whatever. But that insidious message that you can only complain about being busy, you can only complain about being tired when you have a bevy of little kids...it doesn't make sense to me. It's a really shallow worldview.
I was really, really pissed by the whole interaction. My T.A. told me later that she was glad I spoke up, and that it was disgusting how mean they were. She said that you never know what's on anyone's plate and you shouldn't judge anyone else or assume that you know what their life is like.
For instance, do they know that this single teacher has a second job tutoring? That it IS actually harder without a second full time income -- I mean, so many of us have husbands who make a LOT more money than we do, and she has just her teaching salary and what she makes tutoring, and frankly that IS harder financially. Do they know that she was wrapping a shit-ton of presents for her cousin's kids, for her friends' kids, that she has children in her life even if she doesn't have children? That she might not have the pressure of waiting until kids go to bed to do it, and there's no pretending to be Santa, but that wrapping is wrapping is wrapping? You get just as many papercuts when they're not actually your children. I know these people know that she's going through a couple different crises at the moment, too, and the lack of empathy is astounding. It is hard when there's a bit of a "no one can possibly know what I'm going through" attitude coming from the target of this vitriol, and it can be hard to be sympathetic to someone who goes through difficult times and isn't always personable about it, but it just felt so UNCALLED FOR, the sharpness of the cuts. "What is she, wrapping presents for her cat?" I mean, what the actual fuck?
I talked to my dad about it over break because I was still steaming, and he was like, "Oh, she's single and has no kids? Oh no, she's not ALLOWED to be busy. Only moms get that privilege. They're the ones who have the contests of who has the most crap to deal with, who got the least amount of sleep, who's the most tired." (He was being sarcastic of course...he's a single guy and so gets his fair share of this attitude, too.)
WHY DO PEOPLE WANT TO WIN THESE KINDS OF CONTESTS? Why can't you BOTH be tired for your own separate reasons, and just be like, "yeah, the holidays suck, I hope you get some rest!" and leave it at that? It's always amazing to me that there seems to be some sort of prize for who has the most misery. Leave me out of that racket.
Whew, okay, rant over. What I learned from this is that I don't want to know what's said about me behind my back. I want to make sure that I always speak up when the Mom Brigade gets going, if only to try to open up a chink in that self-righteous armor and hopefully inspire a little looking at another perspective. I wish I had spoken up and told them how mean it was to make that comment about the cat, but next time I can be more aggressive (in a nice way) about it. Because unfortunately I am certain that there will be a next time. I am so disappointed in the lack of kindness, but hopefully I can help dilute the poison and build a more peaceful, inclusive worldview. I can hope, right?