A Facebook friend, who lives in America, recently attended an event at her young child’s school. Like me, it would appear that she does not enjoy school events. I derive my feelings of awkwardness from concern about showing my kids up by not blending in enough with the other mothers, and thereby embarrassing my offspring; an invisibility cloak would be useful to ensure that I am not noticed. My friend did not comment on the children so much as the parents and, in particular, the Trophy Mums who she described as follows.
‘A trophy mom is in tiptop physical shape and dresses in the latest fashions for an elementary school open house/end of year pageant. She wears three to five inch heels even though she is walking on dirt and has a perfect pedicure to match her outfit. Even though it’s in the high eighties, her hair is perfectly highlighted, coifed, and worn down, mirroring the style of Jennifer Aniston or the Duchess of Cambridge. She wears large sunglasses and carries a designer bag. When she recognizes others of her kind, which she always does, she is impelled to join them in a small cluster during which they discuss shopping, Pilates and Chick Lit.’
This made me smile as I recognised the exaggerated description from my own experiences. There are many types of mothers, but it is the particular groupings that are the most noticeable at the school gate. When my children were at primary school, I felt most intimidated by the Organising Mums.
These ladies sit on the committees, sell raffle tickets and ensure that all volunteer run events happen as they should. Despite the demands this puts on their time, they manage to take their kids, who often excel in various sports, to the endless training sessions and competitions that need to be attended. They somehow find the energy to organise their meetings, produce baked goods to sell, drive the kids around and socialise together whilst feeding their families and the many extra children who they regularly look after (often children of other organising mums) wholesome and nutritious food. These whirlwinds of activity never ceased to make me feel incompetent as I struggled to achieve half of the tasks that they seemed to take in their stride. My baked goods were a regular disaster.
As well as the groups of mothers there were the solitary, Professional Mums. Although rarely seen locally, they would appear at the most important school events and performances dressed in expensively tailored suits, often arriving just as the show began, to sit alone and take photographs of their progeny. The final applause would barely have died down before they would slip quietly away with perhaps a nod of acknowledgement to the head teacher. These elusive beings rarely stayed at the school long as the demands of their Very Important Jobs would require regular house moves. They remained an individual curiosity rather than a feature of school life. I rarely learnt their first names.
Throughout the years when I couldn’t avoid turning up at the school gate on a daily basis, I observed: the Creative Mums with their individual but still carefully put together style of dress; the Sporty Mums who came straight from a visit to the gym that they had managed to squeeze in before school pick up and their evening run; the Stressed Mums who, although looking fine outwardly, talked endlessly of their health and family problems. As a keen observer of human behaviour I would try to understand the priorities of these ladies, and be amazed at the number of activities that they all seemed to fit into their lives while I struggled to keep on top of the comparatively undemanding requirements of my home and family.
In different ways I admired all of these ladies. Whether they derived satisfaction from their jobs, appearance, level of fitness or community work, they all came across as belonging in the niche that they had chosen. Most were friendly towards me and I could enjoy their occasional company even when I felt an outsider. However, my personal interests seemed esoteric compared to theirs; I would struggle to find topics of mutual interest beyond our children.
In most social situations I have difficulty keeping up the flow of small talk. My predilection for intelligent debate (I am something of a sapiophile) means that I have little interest in looks, popular entertainments or social achievement. I want an incisive, inquisitive, insightful, irreverent mind; I want philosophical discussion with someone who sometimes makes me go ouch due to their wit and evil sense of humour. My problem, I guess, is that I am not one of these admirable beings. Much as I enjoy their company, I am as much an outsider to this grouping as to any other.
The feeling of never quite belonging would be difficult to cope with if I were not accepted as I am by my own family. Within the confines of our home I can be myself and know that this is okay. I can look out on the world and wonder at the ease with which so many seem to cope in society. It is an act that I can only achieve with effort; it is an effort that I am currently struggling to find the impetus to make.
I would not wish to live in a homogeneous society. The wealth and variety of individuals attitudes and behaviours contribute colour to our life experiences and allow us to grow. It is natural to be drawn towards those who live and think as we do, but we also benefit from understanding differing points of view and accepting these as interesting alternatives rather than flaws. We do not need to be like anyone else. We should not condemn others for failing to live up to our personal ideals.