Monday, November 25, 2013

Queen bees and snooty cows

Why were you so concerned? She will find her way.

One of the joys of teaching in a boarding school is Saturday lessons.  Yes, you are at work while most of the adult population has already begun their weekend.  Last year after finishing lessons on a lovely warm Saturday afternoon in September I walked past the garden of another boarding school mum on my way home.  There is a tall wood fence around the garden so I couldn't see anyone but I could hear children giggling and women chatting.  I heard the lady of the house say my name and then say 'that snooty cow'.

I stopped.  I admit I listened outside the fence for longer than I should.  I didn't hear anything else and it would have looked like I was eavesdropping if anyone happened to see me.  I continued home ruminating (see what I did there?) on three important facts:

1. It was definitely the tenant of the house as she has a distinct regional accent.
2. It was very, very likely to be me that she was discussing, as there wasn't anyone else at the school with my first name.
3. It was unlikely to someone else with my first name that she knew in another area of her life because...

It's a bit true.  Well, I don't think it is but I can see why she would think so.  You see, I am a slow burn.  Many of my closest friends have admitted to me that they didn't like me when they first met me.  The explanations ranged from, 'You just seemed really remote' to 'I thought you were kind of a bitch.'  I'm the one at the party staring at the bookshelf or talking to three or four people rather than working the crowd.  Luckily for me, fate threw me together with some lovely, tolerant people who were willing to, or were forced to, get to know me and ended up liking me.  I had a demanding job and two small children, which left me little time or energy to be as outgoing as some of the mums living on the school site.  And I've never needed to occupy the queen bee role, to have lots of friends/minions at my command.

So I wasn't upset at the Snooty Cow sobriquet on that afternoon.  I even contemplated having a t-shirt made up in a cow pattern to wear at the next community coffee morning. 

But as the month went on I noticed the mums and their kids around the school site, riding their scooters down the avenue or going to lunch in the dining hall.  My two were tolerated when they were around, but not invited beforehand.  The mums involved weren't mean but I worried about Big One, who can be a little sensitive, not being part of the group.  I blamed myself.  Maybe I should be friendlier or bolder about getting her included in picnics and playdates.  I did say to one mum that she should bring her girls around one afternoon to play and she looked at me like I had suggested that she run naked through the staff common room at break time while singing Baby Got Back.  While I was fine not being part of the Mummy Mafia, I didn't want Big One to become Snooty Calf.

While considering my approach, I ran into another teacher; he had grown up on site and his mother was a Head of Department at the school when he was younger.  I asked, 'How did your mum put up with this?'  He told me that he was never invited to parties so his mother would just find out when the parties were and send him over with a present.

'She would ring the doorbell and run away, leaving me standing there.'

'What did people say?'

'Oh, they were always pretty nice about the whole thing.'

He gave me a sympathetic look and said, 'The solution is easy.  You have to not care. [Big One] is fine.  She has no idea.'

It was sound advice.  Big One started nursery, got invited to lots of parties and seemed much more confident around other kids.  I can see now that most of my worry came from not wanting her to exhibit the aloofness that sometimes made my childhood painful.  Somewhere inside of us lies the desire to protect our children from making the mistakes that we made.  But we can't do that any more than we can prevent cuts, scrapes or falling off bicycles, and maybe we shouldn't.  Children learn from the mistakes they make, not the ones we make.  Thomas Edison didn't invent the light bulb on his first try and he took a healthy view of the situation, saying, 'I have not failed. I've discovered ten thousand ways which don't work.'  It's the attempt, not the result, that matters more.

And in the end, bees perish after they sting - but cows have very thick skins.

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