This is not a post about the government shutdown although I do have some choice words about that which mostly start with WTF?
No, this is about politics on a much smaller scale. The student government scale. It is also a tale of helicopter parenting and me feeling stabby. And of me wondering how involved is too involved and where lines should be drawn.
Allow me to give you some background. And feel free to weigh in afterwards on the comments.
At our little school, there has traditionally been ice cream for sale on a Friday afternoon at home time. There were all kinds of selections, some for $1 and some for $2 (meanie old me only ever gave my children $1 each), all of them delicious, at least if you are under 12.
As you might imagine, this is the highlight of the week for many of the children. In fact most of them. When school started this September, all of the children eagerly rushed out on the first Friday, looking for the ice cream cart – it was a very hot day – but it wasn’t there!
It emerged that the mother who had been hitherto volunteering to sell the ice cream on behalf of the PTA for the previous two years had finally had enough. This was fair. Both of her children are now in the upper school which gets out at 3pm so there was no reason at all for her to get to school at 2.15 to serve the lower school which gets out at 2.30 and serve choc-ices to a bunch of 6-9 year olds when she could be at home reading a book for a precious 40 minutes. She’d paid her dues.
I felt very sorry for the kids, though, and I couldn’t believe that nobody else on the PTA had wanted the job. Who, after all, wouldn’t want to be the most popular parent on campus? Then it dawned on me that I was, at least nominally, a member of the PTA. I’d paid my $10 (and then some) to join up and even if I had absolutely zero intention of attending any actual, you know, meetings, given my horror of budgeting, admin, and the subtle jostling for position among the power hungry, this was a service I could actually perform. I might even enjoy it!
I stepped up.
I felt rather pleased with myself. How could I lose? The kids would get ice cream, I’d be ‘in’ with the PTA (not sure how that benefits me, exactly, but it can’t be all bad, right?), I’d get first dibs on the good bars AND Six and Nine could bask in my reflected glory.
Admittedly I didn’t quite take in that I’d have to go and BUY the poxy ice cream as well as sell it. This sent me into a cold sweat (no pun intended) as the previous ice cream sales lady took me through all the purchasing options, the forms to fill out, the profit margin, the complexities of RETAIL etc. But I managed it. I simplified the pricing system (all items $1) and I have become well acquainted with Smart&Final which is the kind of cash&carry that normally makes me want to sob with its no-name brands, substandard lighting and Soviet-style approach to queueing. I’ve even instigated a harsh-but-fair ‘You can’t have an ice-cream-unless-you-say-please’ policy which initially provoked some shocked giggles and blank looks from some young customers but now makes for a pleasant transaction all around.
This was not the politics part. I’m getting to that.
A few weeks into term, Nine came home with a sheet of paper announcing that all children in the upper grades were eligible to run for Student Council. Two children from each classroom (six classes, twelve councillors total) would be elected and anyone could run. They would have to prepare a speech, they could use props, music, and say what they’d do for their fellow students, but they couldn’t give away free items or denigrate others. Fair enough.
You wouldn’t have caught me (or Husband for that matter) dead running for that kind of thing, but kudos to Nine, she went for it.
She worked hard on her speech, promised to try to get a ‘funny hat day’ and a ‘bring your pet to school day’ (even though we warned her that would never, ever happen) and off she went in her best frock and a wide grin.
She came home again at 3 o’clock, feet dragging, a mournful expression. Poor Nine had lost to a girl who had, infuriatingly to her, promised that she would bring ‘Dipp’n Dots to the ice cream stand!’.
(Dipp’n Dots, for those of you who don’t know, are a particularly disgusting ice cream frequently advertised on TV and therefore popular with almost all American children.)
This victory was particularly galling to Nine because it is her mother who is in charge of ice cream. She felt, understandably, that her turf had been trespassed, but as I explained to her:
WELCOME TO POLITICS! Promise everything, deliver nothing.
Nine might have lost against a better orator but her classmates would soon find out that Dipp’n Dots would not be forthcoming for the simple reason that
a) The new student councillor (let’s call her Jane, not her real name) had neglected to do her due diligence prior to making campaign promises, and
b) Dipp’n Dots are not available at Smart’n’3rdWorldFinal.
This would be a good civics lesson all around although I didn’t tell Nine that the student body would have forgotten all about it in a week or two and definitely by next year when elections rolled around again (just as they will when they grow up and vote for their country’s leader, right?)
That, I thought, was the end of that.
Two days later I had an email from Jane’s mother explaining that as Jane had won the election running on the platform of bringing Dipp’n Dots to the school, and I was the PTA ice cream seller, please could I get Dippn Dots for the Friday sale so Jane could come good on her promise.
A little bit cheeky? Yes, I thought so.
I did, quite honestly, feel like telling her to naff off, Jane and/or her mother should have spoken to me PRIOR to the election, but being a fair minded person, and recognising that kids get carried away with things and don’t always have a sense of what is possible or not (cue Nine and her ‘take your pet to school day’) I politely wrote back and told her I would look into it myself and get back to her if it worked within the pricing structure. I didn’t want to be accused of sour grapes just because my precious little flower didn’t win.
I did some research online and found that wholesale Dippn Dots cost $1.50 each. So obviously that wasn’t going to work.
I wrote to Jane’s mother a few days later and told her that I’d looked into it but unfortunately, with our ‘everything for $1’ pricing structure, the Dippn Dots weren’t going to work, sorry about that etc.
I thought that would be the end of it.
Jane’s mother wrote back almost instantaneously demanding I give her ‘the name and number of your vendor’ so that she could arrange a Dippn Dots sale ‘fundraiser’ through the student council.
That really pissed me off.
I briefly considered writing a tart missive about how I failed to see how competing ice cream sales within the school would benefit anyone other than her own child who had made false promises to the class, and didn’t she agree that it might be morally improving for Jane to learn from her mistakes rather than have her mommy try to cover them up for her.
But I didn’t.
I sat and wondered why the whole thing felt so fundamentally off and I was so annoyed.
It’s true, I felt sorry for poor old Nine when she didn’t win, but hey, them’s the breaks. You win some, you lose some, and she lost. No biggie. I was actually secretly relieved she wasn’t going to have a load more meetings and obligations which would magically turn into meetings and obligations for me.
But I didn’t like the way Jane’s mother was trying to fix the Dippn Dots issue, and I took particular exception to her bulldozing stance, especially in view of the fact that I spend a great deal of time and effort every week going to the wholesaler, buying the ice cream, stocking it, filling in forms, and then selling it to the kids so that the school can raise money for all the extra programs that benefit all the kids. Why should she waltz in and hold her own “fundraiser” just so her kid can win a popularity contest and undermine my effort, not to mention the spirit and fairness of the whole student government idea.
A friend suggested a quiet word in the ear of the teacher who is in charge of the student council. Another suggested speaking to the head of the PTA and having them speak to Jane’s mother. So far I’ve done nothing (other than feel annoyed and confused).
One thing is for sure, though. I remain committed to being the ice cream lady. I will continue to buy ice creams and sell them all for $1 to all the children, every week. I will smile at each and every one of them, Jane included.
As long as they say please, that is.