Monday, October 11, 2010

No, How About YOU Come Get The Kids?

When other moms do not obey the secret rules that govern our tribe, it makes me have to send snippy text messages to my sister and then compose blog posts about it.  And then nobody wins.

The other day, Laura had plans to play at a friend's house and then have her for a sleepover at our house.  This girl is new in school this year, having moved down from the north part of the county.  She is very sweet and Laura is in love with her.  New Friend's mom was going to pick Laura up and take her to their place for a couple of hours, then I was going to retrieve both girls in the early evening for the sleepover portion.

That morning, the mom left me a voice mail explaining that she had to go, unexpectedly, and do something at work, so she couldn't come get Laura to play, and that they still wanted to have Laura over, but that her husband "isn't good with directions" and couldn't come get her.  I texted the mom and said I would drop Laura off.

Yes, you're saying, there are too many parts of this plan.  I should have canceled the non-sleepover portion, but Laura really wanted to visit her friend's house, and we got carried away.

So Hank and I drive Laura over to her bud's house and I make polite chit chat with the dad.  He says his wife will be home any minute, and I think, "Great, so she can drive the girls over later."  Because in my mind, my doing the drop-off meant that we would swap places and she would bring them for the sleepover portion of the evening.

You see,  most everyone I know obeys the commandment: Thou Shalt Share the Labor of Child Transportation.  We never talk about it, but everyone spends so much time shuttling kids around, you try and minimize the driving for your fellow moms when you can, and you expect the favor will be returned to you.  You automatically divide up the transportation when organizing playdates that require driving, you rotate collecting kids from after-school activities, etc.  Fine.

The way this works out though, since it's the South, is that we can't be exactly frank about it all the time, in a "You do this and I'll do that" way.  To be in truly top-notch compliance with the unwritten code, you have to volunteer to do all the driving and act like you want to and you don't mind, in fact you would enjoy it.  Then you count on the other woman's good breeding to rescue you, because she will insist that no, she wouldn't dream of your doing that, and she'll just swing by your house on the way to somewhere and it is not a problem at all.  So it gets divided evenly, but only because you both practically begged each other to get to do all the driving yourself.

Yes, it seems indirect and complicated, but I know women who excel at this maneuver and have turned it into a form of beautiful theater.  The mom of Hank's carpool buddy and I once performed an impromptu play entitled, I Beg of You To Inconvenience Me, It Is No Inconvenience, I Promise.  It concerned one trip home from preschool, and it was acted out over two phone calls while we were in separate vehicles on a rainy highway.  Oh my, the protestations! The highs and lows of emotion!  She is a true artist.  When it was over, we both felt the satisfaction of a job well done.

Of course, with close friends, you can dispense with some of the ceremony.  I can call Normal Neighbor or Pretty Neighbor and be like, "I'm lying on my dining room bench and I have no intention of moving.  Can you get Laura from chorus when you get your kid?" But with new friends and acquaintances?  This throwing-yourself-on-the-grenade-of-child-transport is required.

Which brings me back to Laura's new friend.  So Hank and I take Laura over there and then we run our errands and doodle around purchasing pumpkins and when we get back home, I am tired.  The radiation treatment isn't slowing me down much, but it does some.  And I think the daily car trips to go get treatment have made me a little, um, sensitive to driving.  As it rolled towards the time when I'd said the sleepover could begin, I thought, "Surely other mom is going to volunteer to bring the girls over?"  I decided I would text her to jog her into action.  So I said:
I better come get those girls. Are they about ready?
By which I meant, why don't you drive the girls over here?  And to which she was supposed to respond, "I'll run them over there."  But what she actually responded was:
Yes they r playing outside.
Uh oh.  She missed her line.  Now what?  I try a more direct approach:
Okay, Hank and I will saddle up. 
Now, that meant, "Okay, I have a four year-old who I have to load up and bring with me and we haven't been home all that long and I'm tired and also I'm not sure my daughter can be friends with your daughter because it's too hard to turn left into your subdivision and you have no small children so could you please get into the car?"  Could I have been any clearer?  But that message was not clear to her, because she did not respond at all.

Then, Reader, I felt annoyed.  I am not proud because it was not a lovely emotion.  I am breaking the code by confessing it here to you.  But I texted my sister:
I am in a text-message game of chicken with another mom over kid drop off.  She is not getting the hint.  She's breaking a secret rule!
Then I waited about five minutes and then Hank and I really did saddle up and go over there.  I was fuming slightly the whole way.  Hank and I stepped into their foyer to wait while the friend got her stuff, and that's when the mom told me that their son was also having a sleepover, so they would have a child-free night, how wonderful!

Then I was truly annoyed and envious, and feeling like a super, robo King Kamehameha bitch on top of it.

Then I took all the kids and went home and we had a perfectly lovely evening.

I should say that the little girl is a doll and the mom is a nice lady.  I'm sure I will come to like her.  But, you know, the secret rules.  The secret rules!


janimal said...

It's a good thing I found your blog to teach me these things. I'm in the South too but am not FROM here and am a rookie at this Mom game. I just had a conversation with a Mom and directly told her to drop off her kid and I would bring her home. She DID seem shocked at my directly telling her to do dropoff!

Keely said...

Well, you DID say she moved from the north. So you are justifiably annoyed, but she has a good excuse. Maybe you should point her to another southern blog?

I haven't really had to deal with such etiquette matters yet, so I don't know how they go down here. Canadians are polite, so we're probably similar.

M said...

Yikes! In linguistics, I believe the term for this is "implicature." Don't be too hard on this gal---she's from the North, for crying out loud.

In the Midwest, this is a bit more laissez-faire than you describe. My daughter's BFF's mom is from North Carolina and I have learned to adhere to the Southern codes in all of our transportation dealings and, frankly, I relish hearing her speak in her honeyed drawl about other goings on in regard to human behavior and the rules governing it. ;)


Elle said...

Wow, omg, this is maybe why midwestern girls have such a reputation. Because we totally lay it down and dare you to step over it. But we're nice about it! I'm gathering up the all-night gaeity! What time are you dropping the girls here? See you soon! See?! Helpful and true! Also, inescapable! No wiggle room! Yes.

Beth said...

Keely & M, I think she's just from north in the county, so I'm thinking she does not get a pass.

Thankfully, here in LA it's all business with the driving. I am familiar with the dance of "I will do all the child-related work because I really love it and it's no problem because I can do everything!" But I agree, girl. Secret. Rules.

I love your text to Amy, but I have to say I think you were probably out on the chicken field alone. I don't think New Friend's mom was even aware that she should've been driving the kids.

Michele R said...

I’m thinking her brain stopped working in Secret Code after she learned they would be kid-free that night. My brain would prevent me from even speaking English coherently should it happen to us.
Beth, I am sure that Becky meant she was from up North outside of the state, not county.

Jenni said...

She'll get the picture when no other moms want to schedule play dates/sleepovers with her kid anymore. Or not.

Becky said...

Geographic clarification: they did move here from the north end of our county, so like 30 miles away. This mom has lived in Georgia for a dozen years (though she is from up North North), so I figured she was assimilated by now. Clearly the lack of a Southern upbringing can last a lifetime!

Hee hee.

Yes, the prospect of a child-free night might cause me to short out and walk into walls.

And Elle, clearly Southern girls can learn something from Minnesota girls. Kappa Kappa Gamma aint' got nothin' on that.

Marie said...

I love this post! The reason it is sooo funny is because it is SOOO true!

Elizabeth said...

As a transplanted southerner living in Los Angeles, my God it's the wild west out here. No etiquette at all --

Amy said...

I loved this! And I laughed when I got your text message that day--I have so been there.

I loved your description of the impromptu play as well. I recently starred in, "Are You Sure You To Come Get Your Child? It's Only Been 6 Hours and We are Having So Much Fun."

I'm sure New Friend and her mom are lovely. Maybe you can be their cultural translator.

Elle said...

Becky, 99 times out of 100, the text you got back would be something like, Just as soon as they finish up dinner ... is it ok with you if I pack a couple-dozen chocolate chippies for them to snack on later?

Or, you could just as easily be caught up in a silently-smiling, manipulative hell right out of a Warner Herzog film. (In that case, the text you got back would be, Oh, gosh, I was just waiting for you to tell me you had dinner all set for them!) It depends on who you are dealing with. Also, whether or not you draw first blood. Smilingly, of course.

Ash said...

I was waiting for the part where you accidently sent that text to New Mom and not your sister.

That would have been me.

And then I'd be stuck shuttling, forever, just out of guilt.

Anonymous said...

Ha, I was thinking exactly the same as Ash!

Christine said...

True, true, and oh, yeah...TRUE. The comment about the kid-free night...icing on the cake.

I'm in the south midwest. Oklahoma doesn't really fit either one: we don't have plantations and we don't have Chicago. But the courtesies you mention shouldn't have boundaries. No boundaries for the unsaid rules, I say!!

(BTW, I seem to go months without reading you, and every time I come back I'm sorry I left.)

Casey said...

I was raised in the south (oh come on, who are we kidding, there are more northerners in FL than there are in the north) but even I know to pick up on that hint. I think you and I are from the same "too nice, don't want to burden people and take on too much" club. We need to toughen up and tell it like it is!

A Lawyer Mom's Musings said...

Sorry, but secret rules or no, that's just bad manners. And I generally find that most bad-mannered folks are super dense. They do not pick up on subtleties, or even bricks thrown at them. Next time, be more direct. "Could you saddle up and bring the children? I'm exhausted. Thanks."

Did she thank you? If not, maybe there shouldn't be a next time.

Fantastic Forrest said...

First, I ADORE your writing and way of living your life. And I do think the mom should have volunteered to bring the girls to your place. But you phrased it like you fully expected to pick them up. Not fair! I live in fear of the secret rules. I try to be thoughtful and do my fair share, but it really helps if people are direct about their desires.

I want to give you one piece of food for thought: It is possible that something other than being directionally challenged prevented her husband from picking up the girls - either he had been drinking or was on medication or his license was suspended or something else happened that she was equally unwilling to share with a new acquaintance. Maybe not. But in future, I would just drop the game and communicate your needs clearly to avoid annoyance and give yourself a break.