Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Wow, The Woman Is Really Into Safety

On the way home from the bus stop, Hank and Laura and the beagle and I stopped to chat with Frenemy Neighbor and her daughter, who were out in their yard letting their tiny toy dog go weewee.

I offered to drive the daughter, Laura's friend P., to Laura's roller-skating party on Saturday. Normal Neighbor's daughter is riding with us, and I said it would be fun for the girls, and it would save Frenemy Neighbor a trip. Frenemy Neighbor hedged a bit and said maybe that would work. I said, Okay, just let us know, etc. FN then said, "But P still rides in a booster seat because of her weight." P is a skinny minnie, like a lot of little girls. But she will be ten years old in August. And she is not short. (She's shorter than Laura, who is nearly two years younger, but Laura is part giant on her father's side.) So I said, "Well, we can certainly make that happen." Then we said goodbye.

But I was like, really? And it's not the booster seat in itself, though she obviously isn't apprised of the latest studies showing that for children over two, car seats offer no reduction in fatalities or injuries over the regular seat belts. Whatever. Maybe P is more comfortable in her car seat. But it was another tiny example of the way she seems to be always trying to remove her kid from the normal run of kid life. So she can wrap her in bubble wrap or something. If you weren't reading me back in the day, this post might be the best little intro to Frenemy Neighbor. I haven't blogged about FN a lot lately, because we kind of stopped talking to each other in the run up to the election. Not due to any big blowup, but somehow we just avoided each other. Except for the crazy emails she sent me constantly. Those left a sour taste in my mouth, and I didn't seek out her company. But since then we've had a rapprochement. The girls have gotten together a few times.

P, who is in the fourth grade, used to attend a private Christian school, but this year her mom has kept her home to homeschool her, because, as she told me, "I want her all to myself." She also said she was sick of getting up early to drive her to school. Yes, there is a bus. But there are other children on the bus, some of whom might be older, or different, or unpleasant in some way. So now, P does go to one of those homeschool centers (they're kind of like schools!) a couple days a week, so she isn't totally isolated. But I always get the feeling from P that she is desperate for friends and company and amusement. She is very bright, and she loves to play with Laura and Laura with her. She always hates to leave our house, and she used to pitch little fits about it. So now she's home with her mom most of the time. Frenemy Neighbor told me that she's doing the PE portion of the state's mandated curriculum by teaching P to play golf.

Anyway, FN has always, as long as we've known them, been super, super protective of P. She won't let her play in their backyard unless she's outside watching her. She won't let her take the dog out front unless she's watching her. P carries a cell phone and is reprimanded if she doesn't keep it actually on her person all the time. Last summer, I let Laura and P play in Hank's wading pool on our back porch. It's a little plastic pool that is ten inches deep. I would never let Hank be around it unsupervised. But did I let a 7 and a 9 year-old? Yes. Frenemy Neighbor asked to see it, and then she clucked and clucked until she finally said, "Well, I guess that's okay." But she always makes me feel like I'm letting the kids juggle the torches too close to the vats of full-grain alcohol.

The over-arching theme of Laura's friendship with P is that Frenemy Neighbor exerts an intense level of control over every moment of her child's time. So mostly, when we try to set up a playdate, it's a non-starter. P can't play at 4pm because they're going to Granny's at 7, so she has to be taking a bath by 6, so obviously between 4 and 5:45, she needs to be home, being quiet and tidy and mentally preparing. But then, if FN needs to go somewhere, she has no problem asking if I will watch P for her.

I didn't mean for this post to be a history of my entire relationship with Frenemy Neighbor. And I know that it is not nice to question the parenting choices made by others. So I'll wrap it up. But the earliest indication that I ever had that our parenting styles might, um, differ, is when Laura was 5 and P was 7, and I let them watch Shrek. Afterwards, FN called me. She said, "You know, please don't let P watch that movie, because I haven't seen it myself, and I don't know what kind of ideologies it might put into her head." I said, "Uh, okay. What movies would be okay for her to watch at our house?" Because I completely believe that there are damaging messages making their way into our heads from the media and TV, so I'm like, let's talk about it. Then she said that all the traditional Disney princess movies were okay. And I thought, "Really? Because I think Snow White and the Little Mermaid are WAY WAY disturbing, if you want to talk about "ideologies." Yes, Laura has seen those movies, of course, but we've also had numerous conversations about the narrative conventions of fairy tales, and how those old Disney princesses seem to wind up nearly dead or maimed in order to get their men. We kept it lighter than that. But yeah, ideologies. And last summer, I mentioned how cute Enchanted was, and Frenemy Neighbor said, "Oh, but doesn't it have innuendo?" I was like, "Innuendo of what??? For the love, woman, cut the crazy!" She always makes me feel like I am barely parenting at all.

And the delicious, delicious irony is this: P used to have an overnight babysitter/nanny one night a week, so her mom and dad could go do Amway visits. And it transpired several times that the nanny picked her up from our house because the parents had to leave earlier than the nanny could arrive. The nanny told me that P is a total tyrant in that house, and that she's a nightmare to babysit because they have no bedtime routine whatsoever. FN and Mr. FN treat her like a little adult. P just goes up and plays in her room and falls asleep whenever she wants. I got a really unkind amount of enjoyment out of that fact. Here we are like the neighborhood bohemians--relatively speaking, you'd have to see this neighborhood--but our kids run like clockwork. And FN acts like a big authoritarian. She had this thing she used to do where, if P didn't do what she said or come to her, she'd whisper, "First time obedience!" in this kind of ominous way. So they're the big disciplinarians, but their kid is walking all over them. My soul is black and tarry.

Oh, and can I just tell one more story? Last year,P had to do a big report for school--that private school was big into projects and things that looked like real Educational Products. Anyway, the report was supposed to be on a figure from the American Revolution. So FN and P did a report on Ronald Reagan.

That is all.


A Lawyer Mom's Musings said...

Oh dear, oh dear. I've heard about these people and I've seen them from a distance. A friend of mine lives across the street from a couple who adopted two Russian children and their "disciplinary" methods are weird as bat-sh-it, all the way.

I don't know what method of discipline they're using, or whether it has a particular name, but it sounds awfully similar to your frenulum, I mean frenemy.

You are watching a whack job at work. And the worst part, the most wrenching part, is that you are pretty much on the sidelines.

I am no advocate of CPS intervention -- at all -- but keep on keeping your ears and eyes open.

Kelly said...

oh B. I love reading about your life! It keeps me so entertained!

The Dental Maven said...

FP is a freaknik! Another shining example of how a parent can ruin a perfectly good child.

Michele Renee said...

Wow. O.M.G. Wow. A reader could write a whole post in response. I feel so bad for P. I would feel so bad too for the teacher if P were in a school (because of Frenemy). The school counselor would be involved. Maybe that is why they homeschool. See, I have only touched on one of my 79 thoughts. I loved all your details. You MUST update us readers if P is able to come to L's party at all.

Jenni said...

wait a minute...we're not supposed to let them juggle torches by vats of grain alcohol? so, letting them play with razors and drink arsnic is probably out too, huh?

Casey said...

Wow, she's a bit much. I'm surprised she even lets her kid come over to your house if she's that strict. I would have done a happy dance too after learning about their secret goings on. What a nut. This furthers my theory about hating other parents. I know it's wrong but it's true.

Sara said...

How did you know I had a hankering for some Frenemy Neighbor?

And I'm sooo glad to see someone else has Giant children.

And the booster seat statistic was interesting since I'm one of those parents that has occasionally let my kids ride in the back of the SUV on short trips. But we do keep lids on the grain alcohol vats. So there is that.

And what about all the phallic symbols in the Disney movies? Oh, is that just me?

'First time obedience' could be a fun new catch phrase.

You really spoiled us with this post!

Bren said...

What close encounter type message did all these people get to migrate to your neighborhood? I mean, the percentage of freakness there is way above average. It's like they were called there (like in The Stand - evil to LV, good to Colorado, weird to this Atlanta suburb).

If you could choose a superpower for the day, it would be invisibility, wouldn't it? We, as readers, would love that.

SJN said...

some people were not meant to have children. Now, look how good Kelly turned out! She must have a great mom, :-)

Keely said...

Wow, helicopter parent. Too bad for poor P :(

I'm going to be "that" Mom when X gets old enough to have other kids over, I can tell. Not the helicopter parent one. The one that lets them juggle the torches.

What? Hand-eye coordination, c'mon!

Amy said...

Great post. You HAVE spoiled us! Wow, she is so interesting to me. You know that one of the pleasures of my time there was to actually MEET Frenemy Neighbor in person. I actually find her somewhat of a tragic figure, and I'm not sure why.

I have lots of friends who homeschool, and they have lots of good reasons for doing so. I will say though, that fear doesn't seem to be a good reason to me.

And (P.S.) I love thinking of you and Matt as bohemian! :)

Anonymous said...

"first-time obedience"?? wow, that sounds so warm and tender. Really.

I'm of the thought that she'll be gettin' hers in just a few years here. When you make it so freaking easy for your kids to rebel, you almost kind of deserve the hell they're going to put you through.

A Day That Is Dessert said...

You are so, so funny! I started to read this yesterday and didn't have enough time to read it carefully. First off, I'm worried the neighbor will discover your blog! You are a brave soul. (I have a personal drama right now I would SO love to blog about, but my friends all read and she would find out. I should send you the sequence of emails and let YOU blog about it :) )

Hadn't seen that about car seats - thanks!

PS - skip the whole formal education thing and write a novel instead :)

Anonymous said...

Poor P, although it sounds like she's getting her own back a little. Your frenemy sounds like a right pain in the wossname.

Durgagirl said...

Better tell me where you live..Need to absolutely keep distance between myself and "frenemy neighbor" from HE--! Good luck and hope her "moon howling" doesn't keep the WHOLE neighborhood up!

Fantastic Forrest said...

You totally need to call Children's Services. You have a responsibility to take action.

I mean, Ronald Reagan? What other abusive behavior is going on behind those doors?

Do something, I beg you, before this child is damaged irreversibly.


steenky bee said...

Okay, this is totally the dish you're giving me in that picture. She sounds like a gem. I would love to have her over some time and force her and her daughters to watch a Bratz Doll marathon.