I do some grant work for an organization that serves kids. There’s money for programs that involve parents, so I asked, “What do you have going on with parents? Is there anything you would like to do that we could write a grant for?” The person I asked has been working on the front lines of this organization for nearly 10 years. Maybe she’s burnt out, maybe she’s suffering from “learned helplessness,” maybe she has really low expectations. She responded, “Oh, we’ve tried that; none of these parents care. They won’t show up, and if they do show up, they’ll be wasted.”
What I observed kind of confirmed her view. I saw two different mothers come in one week, both staggering. One was haggard; looked like a methamphetamine addict. Ordinarily I bristle at this “parents don’t care” thing, because it’s often an excuse for someone else to fail with the kids — teachers, for example. On the other hand, I thought, well … maybe it’s true. Maybe things are so grim here that parents really don’t care about their kids.
Last week I arrived early at the Club for a meeting, and no one was there to let me in. It’s attached to an elementary school, so while I waited I sat in my car and watched the kids arrive. Parents with kids in tow, on foot or in various old clunkers (cardboard replacement doors, things like that). Kids hopped out of cars with their book bags, clean styled hair, clean clothes, quieter and more serious than suburban kids, but as cared for.
Three mothers arrived in their cars.
Mother one stepped out of her car in 7″ stilettos (how could she walk in those at 7:45 am?) and a yellow bejewelled knit top and capri pants. Hair and makeup done. Her son walked with her toward the door, said something to his mother, and then they stopped. He lifted his foot and she took off his sandle, shook sand, dirt, rocks, something out. Then she spent a couple of minutes checking out the bottom of his foot and brushing it off. Stooping down in those stilettos. Sandle back on, then she opened the door for him and he bounced in.
Mother two stepped out in 6″ wooden wedges. I really don’t get it. I had to wear tennis shoes with my business pants suit to drive to the place. Another glam outfit, and two kids hopped out looking great and business-like with their book bags. She walked her kids into the school and stayed inside with them until the bell rang.
Mother three pulled up, and her kids unloaded themselves. She didn’t get out herself, so I don’t know what her shoes looked like, but she looked pretty together, and her kids were dressed well and prepared. She waited until they entered the school, then drove over the grass to get around another car that had arrived, and drove away.
I’m sure that some kids arrived in yesterday’s clothing, straggling in by themselves without book bags, but I didn’t see them. And I’m sure there are parents who don’t care or can’t get themselves together enough to care. But what I saw was women who may not have cared much for their ankles, but cared a lot for their children.
So here’s to mothers, rich and poor, working and not, smart and not-so-smart, married and single. It is mothers, not money, that makes the world go round.