Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Those People Are Not My People

There is a certain species of parent who seems to crave attention and approval from her child's coaches and teachers. Attention and approval not for her child, even, but for herself.

Have you observed this?

This afternoon at Hank's karate class, I witnessed an especially squirmy sub-type of the attention-hogging parent. I don't even know what to call it. The mom who wants validation of her mothering from the youngish male karate instructor. The mother who wants to have just-us-girls laughs with this dude about the humdrum details of her domestic existence (that's what blogging is for, duh). And this karate teacher is like, a dude's dude, but in that also-great-with-little-kids way, so I could kinda see why she thought he might want to pull up a chair in her kitchenette and listen to how totally bananas everything is at her house right now, how she's just a cute poster kitten on a tree branch Hanging In There, but he does not want to pull up that chair. He does not.

Hank and I were at the dojo early. They like the parents to hang around and watch the class, because sometimes we help hold pads and stuff. I had just come from working out, so I was already parked in a chair having my cool down, and Hank was already in his place sitting on the edge of the mat, when the second mom came in. She was all blustery and hausfrau'd, with an actual red face from blustering around. Like, everything she does is done with maximum effort and you better know it. She made a whole kabuki thing out of finding her son's index card in the little file and all the other pre-class business, talking to herself at normal conversational volume the whole time. The teacher greeted her son, and she took that as an invitation to start talking in his direction. I had not yet tuned in to her actual words, but gradually the tones of their voices made me look up from my ancient Veranda magazine.

Blustery lady was standing at the edge of the mat, and Mr. Karate was standing on the mat facing her, but looking at a spot maybe to one side of her knees. I'm not sure of this guy's age. He could be 28 or he could be 35. It was clear that he'd given her his attention for a moment and was now trying to withdraw it. She said, "As if our lives aren't crazy enough!" I don't know what this was in regards to, but she clearly hoped he'd encourage her to go on. What he did was to look over at the children coming in the door and begin to shift his attention in that direction. I knew before she spoke again that she was going to repeat herself, and she did: "AS IF OUR LIVES AREN'T CRAZY ENOUGH!" At this point I began to feel a painful embarrassment for her, sympathy for him, and just pure pleasure to already be installed in a comfortable chair for this performance. I mean, I don't think I can convey the awkwardness of this.

When she spoke in that heightened tone, he dragged his eyes back to her and made some slight noise of encouragement. She never let him speak a whole word, but took that as her cue to launch into a long brag disguised as exasperation about how her son is now part of some science olympics thing, in which he is going to study rocks. I don't know, but it involves fourteen practices. She kept repeating that, "FOURTEEN practices." The way I have just told it to you is electrifying compared to her narration.

Then, THEN, the teacher, who I know used to be a geologist before he began teaching karate, opens his mouth and says, "I'll bring in some of my nice rock samples for him..." AND SHE DOES NOT LET HIM FINISH. She talked over, sideways, and through him, on and on. All on the theme of gracious sakes, she is the busiest mother in the world! It was so rude. And so BORING. I mean, you would have faked your own death at about nine points in this monologue. And the whole time, her body language was strangely aggressive, she was leaning forward into the mat, his space, and projecting at top volume. Aggressive, but there was a little Kathy-Bates-in-Misery about her too. ODD.

And oddly transfixing. I might have let my mouth fall open a little bit. I know because I saw myself do it in the giant entire-wall mirror.

It is a delicate distinction that I'm not getting across, but her performance wasn't that of someone who just talks too damn much all the damn time, it was that she somehow needed validation from Mr. Karate for all her hard work.

Fortunately, before Mr. Karate had to gnaw his leg off to get away, enough other kids came in that her effect was diluted. I kept my eye on her the entire class. Like, seriously, I kept looking over at her to see if she was going to do something crazy.

So I'm not sure if she is a subspecies of the Attention Hogging Parent, but she might be. What has your fieldwork in this area gleaned?

I think that, from the point of view of Laura's, and now Hank's, various coaches, I probably come off as almost aloof. I think it's partly because I want to bend over backward to not get in the coach's business. I don't want them to think that I need them to be my friend, or that I want to pump them for info/praise of my child, or that my idea of my own or my child's worth is even based on their impression of my child's performance. Whew, I will tell you, the mental gymnastics I've got going on over here are exhausting. But do you know what I mean? All of this adds up to a relationship conducted in a pleasant but distant mode.

But clearly, other parents have a different approach. They're the ones buttonholing the coach the minute he appears at the pool/field/court, preventing him from attending to the group with some unnecessary story of Aunt Fanny and a Russian sleigh ride. Then they're engaging the coach's attention whenever possible during the practice, then they're trailing after him and standing by his car, complaining or fishing for compliments or just chewing the air.

Speak to me of this.


Elizabeth said...

I drop my kids off at their various sporting activities and run back to my car where I pull out a magazine or my Kindle and read. Seriously. I don't even know the coaches' names. Sometimes I EVEN DRIVE AWAY and go get a coffee. Then again, my sons are quite a bit older than Hank, but apparently you're on a similar track.

Dancer said...

Sounds just like me some years ago. Humbling.

Dancer said...

The great thing about reading blogs is that you can get to know people whom you probably would never get close to otherwise. Like you, Becky. I have come to know and like you through your blog. I admire your spunk. I envy the relationship you have with your husband and your children. Then sometimes you describe people who irritate you - and I recognise myself (not literally of course) and realize that in real lift we would never have become friends. So I am happy that you share your life by blogg and allow complete strangers to know you, and also see themselves through your eyes.

Marsha said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amy said...

I can kind of identify with Dancer's comment in that I sometimes find myself wanting to make sure the coach, teacher, etc. knows me and knows that I'm approachable and willing to hear what they need to tell me about my kid. I don't know, it's like I don't want them to think I'm a stereotypical mom or something? Oh jeez that's embarrassing to admit. And of course I'm a stereotypical mom! What does that even mean? ;)

Anyway, I fight down this urge when I feel like it's becoming bothersome. Or making me look sad. Ha! Ha. But I loved this post--it's such a vivid picture that you've painted. It sounds like this last just really needed somebody to KNOW. And the poor sensei got in the way. Another subset of the Attention Hogging Parents are the ones that engage in the subtle "I'm busier than you are" battle/conversations with each other. Those make me uncomfortable.

Longest comment ev-uh!! Seacrest out.

Amy said...

Meant to say, "It sounds like this lady...", not "last".

M said...

Our forays into the athletic worlds of our children have tossed us into a sea of crazy parents seeking personal validation for themselves and college scholarships for their progeny through every interaction with every coach. Who knew volleyball was a blood sport?

My rule of thumb: Could I tolerate sharing a bleacher with these people? If not, we pursue other activities. Like Girl Scouts.

Anonymous said...

Becky, I have two words: Nutcracker Production. I keep feeling like, yk, in my mind -- December 5 will come and I will have time to blog alllll about it! But that is not true, because December 5 will come and I will close that door and put a padlock on it and call the crime-scene cleaners to scour out the rest of my mind.

Do you remember -- I mean, you were raised properly, natch, it's totes obvious -- living in a world where Pride and Greed and Envy and Sloth were things people were embarrassed about? That people were ashamed of? I do.

It seems like now there is all this indulgence within people's selves and they go around talking, constantly, about how they have this, or resent that, or covet more ... What I am trying to say, Becky, is the carnival of the Nutcracker Production is like Sodom.

I mean, look, you know, we as humans all stand on the ridge that overlooks this path of spiritual ruin, but that slope at our feet is not a goddamn ride. I mean, not to stay in this metaphor forever, but when someone has good posture or points where the rock is loose, I don't feel restricted; it helps me remember to keep my balance. This is not an awareness toward which people strive at The Nutcracker.

It's like the BattleAxe who assailed me with a fake-my-own-death narrative about how her life was crazy enough before she volunteered for Nutcrackery tasks and so I should not try to say that my life was too busy. Well, when I told her that I would never say that, right? Because I would just tell her I didn't want to, I felt like the reaction to that in the room revealed the hydroponic tonic in which this pathology about which you are asking grows.

I feel like (long, blergh) everyone feels like they are being asked to do so much and they are things they are not doing for themselves and things they would not actually want to do for themselves, but they are supposed to do it because it is a labor of love, but the love, yk, with children in, in fact, unrequited -- the better and more thoroughly you love them, the more-equipped they will be to leave you. The fact is that modern parenting has taken us from societal expectations wherein "good women" are subservient to their men and are now instead subservient to their children. So it creates a situation where many women are understandably flailing and desperate and crazy-eyed.

But that is a parallel course to the willingness to tobaggan, crashing through the tree line to spiritual ruin. Like, people are elsewhere, they get all desperate, they have to run around flapping their arms, and then they break past the guard to throw themselves down the slope. On a toboggan. I'm going to stop typing now, Becky. You have a good day, cupcake.

Rick Dakan said...

Somehow this story reminded me of the scene in Donna Tart's The Secret History where Henry worries about which translation of Homer he should have with him when the police question him about Bunny's murder.

I don't know why, but it's like that.

My Kids' Mom said...

The comments are interesting here. I think there are days when the most interesting conversation I've had has been with the laundry basket, and I think I can corner people just to suck some proof of human life from them. I hope I don't come off that way, but your perspective is from the other side so I'm not sure. I've been on your side too, of course.

Noan said...

I always think people like that are lonely. And they are probably lonely because they are kinda crazy, both of which -the crazy and the lonely- feed on themselves in a downward spiral. When confronted by such a person I try to be kind without making prolonged eye contact or sharing contact information.

Becky said...

Wait, Rick, am I Henry or Bunny? Or the police? Can I be Homer?

Elle, it is my sincere hope that when the last nut has been cracked on December 5, you will find strength to blog your experiences at length. From what you've said here and on your blog, it sounds like kind of a pressure cooker.

Dancer, thank you so much for your kind words. I shared your comment with Matt, and he said, "Wait, if she thinks she is that person, then by definition she is not, because those people do not know who they are." If that makes sense. In any case, I bet we could be friends!

Amy, I know, I too don't want to seem like the stereotypical mom, except I ARE ONE. And yes, the busier-than-thou contest. Our exasperation with this is complicated by the fact that many women ARE doing too much. Like Elle says, good women are now subservient to their children. I see it ALL the time around here and everywhere. This is a book topic though.

Rick Dakan said...

Well, the karate guy is clearly the police. I think the mom is Henry. You would be Richard then? Or maybe you've got some Henry in you? The real question is, who are the twins?

Nina said...

Argh! The poor karate guy. But also, poor crazy mother lady, because I wonder if part of her can see what she's doing, but she just can't stop. Then she feels uncomfortable, and the more uncomfortable she feels, the worse it gets...

I sometimes play in an amateur/training orchestra. Now, I've had a proper musical training but haven't been able to work since leaving college, due to illness. Most of the people there haven't had that training but they are probably able to do more practice than me. I find myself trying to prove my superiority by doing things like laughing a bit too loudly at the tutors' jokes. Like, I'm in with those guys, not the rest of you losers. Also, I am paying attention to the rehearsal like a pro while you amateurs are eating M&Ms and then putting sticky fingers on your violins. HAHAHAHA.

Justine said...

Wowie! The red-faced Kathy Bates' aggression vividly paints a picture. I know a couple of moms like this lady. I have been wanting to blog about them, but in some fit of narcissistic paranoia, I chicken out. My secret fear is they will somehow find out about my blog. And having grown up a southern Catholic, the gnome "If you don't have anything nice to say..." follows me like a tiny nun on my shoulder. But I digress.

I agree with Noan that they are lonely/crazy and with you that they are unaware of their appearance to the outside world. And I'm going to blog about my ladies! It's bound to give me some relief, as I think I've used up my eye-roll/scoff quota. Thanks for the inspiration.

KathyS said...

Argh -- not having kids, I still know some of those folks who *have* to let you know how difficult everything is. The sad part? I think that, for the, everything truly IS difficult and DOES require red-faced effort. Pity the unhappy and, like Elizabeth, go get a coffee.

Kate said...

I do not know too many of these species, luckily. I do know a few who are living vicariously through the children and it can be overbearing and pathetic. Not to mention downright hostile at points. I try to stay away. That's my policy--avoid those people who suck the life out of you.

Beth said...

Wow, fantastic post AND great comments. As soon as I read Dancer's comment, I felt relieved because I was thinking the same thing. And then Amy. I don't know that I'm so much attention-seeking (maybe sometimes) but more often I get caught up in the busier than thou thing. You know when it happens the most? When I'm late for something, or forgot something, and I'm trying to make up excuses for my dumb ass. I think I know this kind of crazy-- the self-deluded kind-- and I am fairly certain it's not me. But I do sometimes catch myself being a douche and the worst part is that I can't do anything about it. It's like, it TAKES OVER. I agree with Amy, though, too-- as parents, and especially stay at home ones, so often our work is invisible, and I'm just like, "Dude, do you KNOW that I did a ton of shit today???"

laura said...

Wow, I must be the most facile, shallow person who reads your blog. People really took Validation Mom to an existential level and all I could think was: "Becky, this chick totally wants to date or possibly just make out with Karate guy."

Maybe I'm just watching too many ". . .Old Kristine" reruns while I iron or scrapbook?

I have a theory about people who rush around telling the world how crazy busy they are and "OhmygodIcantfititallinwhatamIgonnado???" They are possibly the loneliest, most insecure, and boring people on the planet. I bleed for these people, not because they are just so so so busy but because they are so so so insecure.

Christian said...

Huh. I foresee initiating unprompted and unnecessary communication with my future children's future coaches and teachers ONLY to hand them envelopes full of cash at the holidays, just like my mother.