Apr 292010

I’ve been to one of these semi-compulsary parent-teacher things again. (And be warned, this post is epic, sorry.) It’s called ‘Eltern-Stammtisch’, and I’m sorry but I can’t really translate that. ‘Eltern’ means ‘parents’, and my online dictionary tells me that ‘Stammtisch’ means ‘regular’s table’ which is one meaning of this, but a ‘Stammtisch’ is also a regular informal meeting in a bar. Which in this case is a bit misleading since I always expect beer and merriment only to be greeted with an agenda (and this time there was even someone writing minutes).

So it works like this: the teacher tells the ‘Elternsprecher’ (insert long-winding explanation, that’s one of the parents of the students in my son’s class who was elected to be our spokesperson) that she wants an informal meeting, we all get nice photo-copied invitations, arrange for baby-sitters and such and meet at a restaurant. A greek restaurant this time which was a bonus. Especially since I had to go there directly after work without having had dinner. Then we have a meeting that doesn’t really feel informal while eating pita and feta cheese, and drinking wine. Then you chat, and then you go home.

In my case I chat, I feel bad, I drink too much, I go home, and then I grab my poor long-suffering husband only to rant about all the other parents, the system, and modern times. I was quite good at first. This time I only ordered water since I was really tired and exhausted after a long, long day of teaching, aka talking to people. I know what happens if I sit down in front of a beer when I’m tired. I a) don’t ever get up again, and b) talk about twice as much as usual which goes on everybody’s nerves, mine included. I like talking but really, I already know all my stories. Well, most of them anyway.

So I was good, I ordered water, I brought something easy to knit because that makes me more patient, I ordered something nice to eat because I was hungry. Also I knew that drinking water would bring me home earlier because I could have a beer at home later. So all was fine. Then the teacher announced that there would be a kind of spring celebration at the end of May. Everybody is invited to participate, maybe play a nice song (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). I already knew about this so I was totally prepared to bring my guitar and sing the one song that I know by heart. It should have been something about spring or animals but I thought since this is a love song, in a way, all would be fine.

The celebration thingy of course would be held in the afternoon so that the parents who work (out of home) can attend too. Nice thought. It will start at four o’clock in the afternoon. On a Wednesday. – I’m sorry but I burst out laughing. Wednesday is one of my busiest teaching days, and my first thought was, “No way can I make this, well, you just have to celebrate spring without me.” Next thought (and the mothers among you will recognize that one). “If I only move three students, and then get home early I could make it.” I then made the mistake of saying that I might be able to reschedule something and come after all. Then I thought, “Susanne, are you crazy? That would mean prepare food for that while you don’t have time, move three students around, rush there, play a song nobody wants to hear anyway, grab my child telling him that we have to go now, no matter if everybody else is still staying because I have to teach my last student of the day, and then run home to work again.” Also there are no empty slots in my timetable to move the three students to.

When I came home and told my husband about this he said, “Are you crazy? You can’t do something like this on a Wednesday afternoon, you’re working Wednesday afternoon, why did you even think about it?”

Why I did? I did because I hadn’t seen my son for more than twenty minutes at a time that day, because I have the feeling that he will feel bad if everybody goes to the spring thing but him, or everybody goes with their parents and he has to go with a friend or with his grandmother, and that I’m a bad mother.

Of course. Again. Because, you see, all these other mothers know every single homework that their children had had, and how they spent every single minute at school. My son when asked about his day in school says, “It was fine. Can I read while eating lunch?” (To which the answer is no every single day but that’s another topic for another post.

I don’t see his homework nor do I want to, I don’t really know what he did, and it’s hard enough to coax him into giving me all those pieces of paper that I’m supposed to read or sign.

And my son doesn’t find school particularly fascinating, interesting, or challenging. Just now he is sitting outside in the sun, taking turns reading a comic book aloud with a friend. The other child is in third grade. Guess which child is the better reader.

Yesterday at the meeting everybody was going on about a test the children had just had about telling the time. Evidently only three or four students in the whole class had answered the second question correctly. When we talked about this yesterday I assumed every child had made the same mistake as mine but no – the mistake he made didn’t count because the others didn’t even get what the question was about.

All the other parents (well, all that talked at that moment) were all about how the test had been too hard, and how the children are too young to learn to tell the time, and how children are supposed to start school at a younger age than before but they’re still supposed to learn the same things. I did say something, and maybe that was a wrong move, because while the official policy is to have children start school earlier the unofficial policy that parents and kindergarten teachers seem to follow is having them start school later. When you look at the children’s birthdays you find that most of them aren’t that young. One boy is turning eight in May, my own son is already 7 1/2. That’s not particularly young for first grade.

So the general consensus is that school is too hard, and that the children can’t learn all this stuff because they’re too young. Like one of my student’s parents said last week, “He couldn’t do his homework, it was too hard.” To which I should have replied, “Madam, the homework is hard, I know, but I know that if you’re son who is more intelligent than you give him credit for would just try a little thinking now and then he could have done it. Just because you can’t do it doesn’t mean he can’t.” What I did say is, “I have been teaching this for decades now, I know he can do it.” And rightfully so, he said down at the keyboard, started playing the song, it sounded terrible I said, “Why are you starting the right hand at G?” he really looked at the music and had it. Yep. Too hard, definitely.

I often feel like a bad mother. Right now I should probably be outside and share some incredible mother-son experience with my son, only he wanted to play with his friend instead. And I’m fine with that. Today I felt bad when he gave me another test they had had in school, math this time. He had everything right but two sums. And my first thought was not, “Wow, he was almost perfect.” my first thought was, “Why did he make these stupid mistakes?” Because those were only lack of concentration. He made those mistakes because he couldn’t be bothered to check. Now I get why my mother was always angry at me for not applying myself enough, like, at all. I also remember that it didn’t feel like that from the inside. So I didn’t share my first thought with my son, I said, “Wow! You were almost perfect!” but I couldn’t help adding, “Look at these two mistakes, I think those were lack of concentration. You could have had a flawless test here.”

When I was among all these other mothers yesterday evening I suddenly felt lacking because my life is not like theirs. Because comparing myself to them, which is a sort of sin in itself, I felt inadequate and as if I weren’t loving my son enough. Which is clearly bullshit. Sitting next to my son every day when he does homework does not make him a better person or even a better student. Quite the contrary. And it’s not as if he had to sit there doing it all alone, his grandmother is there, she makes sure that he does all his homework, and there’s always someone to ask. I really would like to have a job where I don’t have to work afternoons when my son is home but on the other hand he really doesn’t need me hovering about him all the time. Also I think doing homework together is overrated as a bonding experience.

The problem is that when I spend time with all these other parents, these ‘full time moms’ (there were a few dads too) I feel like an alien. I say something, they don’t really get what I’m saying, I feel inadequate, they probably feel inadequate too, you know how it is, and so my husband is right:

I have to stop going to these things. It doesn’t do anybody good. I usually go to show that I’m willing, and that I want to participate in school life but I’m fooling no one.

I really like the teacher, and I don’t have anything against the other parents, when the class is going on excursion to the museum I’m in. That’s easy to fit in for me because I have mornings off. For things like that spring celebration? I’ll buy a dozen bagels, and send my son off with his grandma while I teach. Everybody will have a good time.

Sorry, but I can’t be a full time mother. I can’t be a full time anything. But it’s still bothering me, of course.

And then I remember that I went to another ‘Eltern-Stammtisch’ the week before. A really informal one, and that I had a great time there.

  3 Responses to “Full time mothering”

  1. Really found your post interesting. There is so much of what you say that brings back memories of Elternstammtisches of the past. I think that what the teachers need to know is if the parents are supportive of their child and whether they are occasionally willing to assist them in their endeavors to teach the children. Going off on museum visits or collecting leaves in the woods get you a 1000 more brownie points that being Elternsprecher. Something not many people know. You can do more for your son by going to the museum than you would singing a song during Spring Fest. Sending bagels and his grandmother along is a very good alternative. There will be slews of such situations in the next 11 years, best to start now figuring out what you can do that makes you feel supportive and what makes you feel like a complete misfit. I really have respect for those “engagierte” moms, but I was never one of them. Or, at least I was only one in my own way.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this post, because I think to some degree everyone feels like this, but when put together in a room, people act like they’re “supposed” to and then everyone goes home feeling bad!!

  3. Fiona comprehends the work in school with very little instruction. She does her homework on her own and I only check to see that it is done, not whether it is correct. I understand from the other parents that their children struggle quite a bit more and that they spend a lot of time with them on the homework. I tell them not to worry because the same material gets reviewed over and over again throughout elementary school and eventually, they’ll get it. Your example about telling time reminds me that I was frustrated when Fiona was in Kindergarten and it was introduced. She didn’t really get it then, but they moved on. In first grade, there it was again, and this time she understood. The teachers use what’s called a spiral method. I am thankful that at our school the classes are small and the teachers have enough resources to provide different challenges to the children based upon their abilities, otherwise I might have to push for Fiona to be moved up a grade.

    Now that my children are getting a bit older, I don’t spend as much time doing things with them (YAY!). I am satisfied if I am able to set aside an occasional day for a special educational outing or a day at the park, or an evening playing board games. I definitely avoid playing with them (Lorenzo is at that stage where he wants to play pretend all the time and he never, ever stops talking), and I still have the wish that there were more friends close at hand because they fight with each other a bit too much.

    I was asked to organize a Teacher Appreciation event at the school, and at first I just blinked, and then I was able to say, “I’m really not interested in doing that.” I value my own time more now, and don’t wish to spend it on volunteering. (or being volunteered!)

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