Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Sense of Entitlement

When my son was less than a year old, I signed up for a slew of Mommy-and-Me "enrichment" classes through the community center of my former West Side Los Angeles city. For those of you who know about "The West Side," you may already see where this is going. These activities were meant to promote parent-child bonding in a way that is superior to merely spending time and interacting with your child in your own home or in the park. Incidentally, these classes met at the very same park where I could have played with my son for free; however, this was the West Side of Los Angeles, so clearly it was far better to pay money to be able to coo at your child inside the recreation building that was undoubtedly built with an endowment by someone "in the industry." Also, if I recall correclty, to have the privilege of your 6-month-old child participaing in this higher learning, required one (presumably a parent, not the child) to provide proof of residency and submit an application at a precise time on a precise day, lest one ran the risk of being relegated to the "waiting list." What? And have my child wait until he is 8 months to be enriched?? The horror!

This music class turned out to be the first of at least two consecutive classes taught by someone who really was not cut out for the task. The first class, when my son was about four months, was run by a veteran of such classes, Simonna*. Ah yes, Simonna. She came dressed to the nines for every Tuesday at 8:45 a.m. class: Prada heels, D&G cashmere wrap, long, manicured nails. Her specialty was playing the piano which, as you can imagine, is about the worst way to engage anyone in a group, let alone babies with no discernible attention spans. Simonna would somberly sit at the piano, with her back to the rest of us--yes, you heard right, her back to us--so the babies didn't even have the benefit of seeing her fingers move or her facial expressions as she made music. A few weeks into the class, I figured out the secret to her avoidance of children and parents alike. She pulled me aside, remembering that I had introduced myself as being in the mental health field, and proceeded to tell me how she feels depressed and has always found her own children to be annoying nuisances. I didn't expect to be making professional referrals while at Mommy-and-Me. And I was more than a little wary of the city's hiring practices that they selected a kid-hating, depressed mother to help transition infants and women into the joys of mother- and babyhood.

I thought my next foray into this city's Mommy-and-Me activities couldn't possibly get any worse than Simonna. I was wrong. The new instructor's own neuroses made me yearn for the reticent isolationism of Simonna. This instructor was a young, nervous woman named Teacher Elizabeth**. That was how she introduced ourselves to us, "Teacher Elizabeth." Now, it is quite possible that her given-name was indeed "Teacher," much like some boys are named "Dean" who may not ever pursue a career in academic administration. But Teacher Elizabeth insisted on referring to herself in the third person and with this dubious title attached to her name. I do not know why a bunch of over-educated, over-achieving moms, most of whom had credentials that had ceremonial titles connected with them, needed to refer to someone with a CD player and basket of tambourines with an honorific title. Perhaps she was trying to indoctrinate these infants of privilege into the hierarchical civil service bureaucracy system, in case their family fortunes dried up in the next 18 years?

Poor Teacher Elizabeth started the first class by telling us she had no children of her own, and that she liked order. We were schooled on the proper way to disinfect the mini bongo drums if our children were uncouth enough to successfully gum them. Mother and child got a joint repressed-evil-eye from Teacher Elizabeth** if an infant was not quite ready to relinquish said instrument at the conclusion of the appropriate song (for some reason, each melody had a different instrument to go with it, so the majority of the class was involved with selecting and returning items to various color-coded bins).  It was a lose-lose situation from the beginning.

Now, besides her obvious ineptitude, I think one reason I could not make eye-contact with Teacher Elizabeth without rolling my eyes is that I was raised to use ceremonial titles for adults, such as teachers or friends' parents, or professional titles if one of these people had a job where being identified by the profession had life-or-death consequences. For example, it's good for society to be able to identify doctors, firefighters and police officers, because these are professionals who can step in and assist in emergency situations. It is even useful, in the right context, to be able to identify principals and professors, because they can greatly impact one's future by failing or expelling someone. The same logic can be extended to include judges and members of Congress. And most definitely to Mother Nature and Sister Christian.

*This may or may not be her real name. I actually forgot what her real name was, so I can't use an alias since I don't know what name to not use.

**Yes, her real name, although not sure if the "Teacher" part is on her birth certificate or not. If you know her, please tell her my child continues to dislike music lessons of any kind.

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