A humorous take on gender politics among school parents
How many parents does it take to drop off a child at elementary school? This is not a trick question. Let’s be honest: it can’t take more than one. So why, as a single mom, does walking your child onto the schoolyard alone make you feel like you’re coming down with the plague, leprosy, Ebola, and measles—all at once?
The other married moms gather in tight loops of slightly inclined heads, smiling and nodding at each other. The men hurry towards other dads to converse man-to-man about last night’s game. You’re once again the solo, odd-girl-out. You can’t help but wonder: Is it me?
Yup, it is. You, a woman raising a child or children alone, emit a strange pheromone that causes other parents to view you as a temptress. It’s as if your entrance through the schoolyard gates has transformed you into a seductress, strumpet, harlot, and a host of other words once used to describe “fallen women.”
I once took it so personally, until a friend clued me in: any Solo Mom on a playground is a danger to the fragile social ecosystem that is elementary school parenting. You carry within you (on you, around you!) the germ of disruption, which could infect stability and disrupt marital longevity.
Why are you a threat? The strange innate wisdom of coupled parents dictates you are on the hunt to steal one of their happily blessed partners. You must need someone to complete you.
That may be what they’re thinking, but don’t expect other parents to acknowledge the femme fatale thing. After all, elementary school is all about being fair, inclusive, and respecting the innocence of single-digit-aged children.
The fact is, within the biosphere of elementary school, the unit for parenting is TWO. Parenting solo is not acceptable, comprehensible, or “friend-able.” Once all indications point to you not having that second half hidden away for holiday sing-alongs and parent-teacher conferences, you will find yourself experiencing the playground version of the walk of shame.
Before long, your older child may start begging you to let her walk into school without you. She may point out, in her own blunt way, that playground angst should be her drama, not yours. She has a point. But do you start using the perfectly sensible drop-off lane like all the other incredibly busy parents? Of course not. Solo Moms are tough. Not to mention, a bit stubborn.
So, what’s the solution? Stop trying so hard. Join the club that will have you as a member. That’s right: learn to talk to people who talk to you. It’s thrilling to be greeted on the schoolyard by the marine biologist mother with the booming voice who won’t tell you where she “got her kids,” or the jazz singer who is half-asleep after working all night and can never remember your name. Smile at other Solo Moms and at the oddball progressive coupled mom (or dad!) who didn’t get the memo about not checking with her (or his!) significant other before befriending you.
Trust me. These new friends have problems, they have issues, they have no interest in any of your interests, and they can bore you to tears. You may bore them right back. But they’re parents doing it their way, and they don’t mind if you do it yours. They will become the protective shield against the serious shade some of the two-parent units will throw your way. They will have your solo back.
Illustration: Magdalena Oppenheimer
Margot Kessler, a screen and television writer living in Los Angeles, is the sporadically witty Solo Mom of two lovely daughters.
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