Tuesday, January 15, 2008

different strokes for different folks

About two weeks ago I got an email from another 3rd grade parent. This parent’s younger daughter isn’t in Olivia’s class this year, but she was last year and the mom and I have exchanged idle chit-chat the last few years when we encountered each other at the school. She’s a single mother of two bright girls. She’s also a lawyer working on her MBA, obviously an overachiever!

In the email, the mom explained she would be going out of town the following weekend and since her girls will be staying with friends not far from us for the first few nights, she asked if we could do her a favor and bring the girls to school with us on Monday, Jan. 14th. I assured her it wouldn’t be a problem, but countered that it would be easier if girls spent the night with us, Sunday into Monday, since we need to be out the door and on our way to school no later than 7:40am.

Mom agreed and asked for my address and home telephone number. She told me she would forward this info to her friends caring for the girls for the first few days and she sent me their telephone number. No time during this exchange did she provide her cell number or ask to stop by our house prior to her departure since this would be the first time the girls have ever been to our home. This was a bit strange to me since one of our house rules is that the first play date, with a new friend, Loverman or I has to come and check out the environment, but hey, different strokes for different folks. I’m just not having my kids going to a stranger’s house and I haven’t had an opportunity to see how they live. I ask pointed questions during this visit. Questions like, “Are their any firearms in the house? or “Has anyone in your immediate family been arrested for pedophilia?” Call me extreme, but folks are crazy and you never know what’s going on behind closed doors, so I’m just giving folks the opportunity to come clean from the jump. Another house rule is if mommy and daddy don’t vibe well with the parents, the friendship between the kids is going nowhere. I’ve been told this is harsh, but when negotiating the hierarchy of potential play dates, we might as well eliminate the ones where mommy is feeling like she could care less about the parents and sometimes their kids for that matter. It’s just much easier if the parents are the type of people I’d like to hang out with.

Late Friday afternoon I realized I hadn’t heard from the mother and the girls were scheduled to come on Sunday evening. I decided to shoot mom an email just to touch base to see if we were still on. Mom assures me everything’s a-go and I responded with a few more questions, like--- do the girls have any dietary restrictions? Mom assures me they do not and concludes with a quick “thanks,” again, no emergency contact info.

Well, the girls arrived around 7:30 Sunday evening and to say these poor girls looked shell-shocked would be an understatement. The oldest, a tall, regal 6th grader had on a coat that wasn’t any heavier than windbreaker. Both girls had on short skirts and no tights and the weather forecast for the next day called for snow. I was outdone.

Olivia welcomed the two girls and took them right up to the room we had prepared for them. Loverman and I immediately started to strategize as to how we were going to get this kid a more appropriate coat. As the evening wore on, we realized that the youngest girl was really teary and seemed to be missing her mom terribly. I called both girls to the kitchen and explained that they could call their mom at anytime. The oldest told me their mother was in London. As I tried to wrap my head around the fact that this lady wasn’t even in the country, I told them that this wasn’t a problem if they had a number where she could be reached. I wanted to do whatever was necessary to make them feel more at ease.

After their showers and dessert, they seemed to relax a bit and Loverman then insisted they give their mom a call. The oldest followed his instructions and spoke briefly with her mom before heading up to bed. Mom never asked to speak with Loverman or me.

I didn’t rest well. I prayed for guidance in approaching the oldest girl about her inadequate coat. The next morning, we got up a bit earlier to get everybody rolling and by now the girls were completely at ease. Fortunately, we dodged the snowstorm, but it was still bitterly cold. When the girls came down for breakfast, the youngest was prepared for the weather, but not the oldest, again, a too short skirt, no tights, and flat canvas shoes. They also mentioned they didn’t have toothbrushes. No problem, I always keep a few new ones in the linen closet. As they sat down to eat breakfast, the oldest told us she was a vegetarian and didn’t want the turkey sausage, but would be fine with just eating the pancake Loverman had prepared. This little tidbit k.o’d. the turkey sandwich we’d put in her lunch, per her mother’s instructions there were no dietary restrictions, but we quickly rebounded with peanut butter and jelly. We finished our breakfast and as we prepared to put on our coats, I took the oldest girl aside and offered her coat I had and washed and dried overnight in hopes she would take me up on my offer. She adamantly refused and I sensed she’d been put in this position before. I didn’t push it any further.

We finally got everyone to school on time, but as we watched the two sisters and our two kids walk into the building, Loverman and I lamented about how differently we would have handled the entire situation. I fully understand not everyone does things the way we do, but damn, how can a parent justify leaving their kids with virtual strangers, and no emergency contact info? How do you not at least call to see how things are going? How do you leave your kids so ill prepared, with inappropriate wardrobe options?

A part of my is relieved my role in this chain of caregivers is over, but another part of me wishes I could have kept my eyes on these girls for the entire time their mother is away. She’s not scheduled to return home until this coming Saturday and Lord knows how many changes these young ladies will encounter by then.


Melissa said...

This is really sad. I've had people give us more direction when we were watching their pet.

I feel the same way you do about controlling my girls' environment when they are in someone else's home. And I'm going to continue to do so for as long as I can. They're my children!

Although we haven't been down the whole play-date road, my in-laws kept a gun in their home and I made it clear that my daughters would not be coming over until it was disposed of. The fact that I am opposed to guns had absolutely nothing to do with it. I don't want them in a home where there are handguns. I know they are young, but there are other people, older cousins, coming in and out of the home when my girls are there, so you do the math. I needed to put my foot down, even though I was painted to be the bad guy - the overbearing and overprotective mother. C'est la vie. My kids, my rules.

That being said, I am "bendable" when it comes to things like food. Not everyone feels the way that I do about organic produce or no sugar or white flour, etc. So in those situations, within reason, I let the girls go with the flow.

Mango Mama said...

Melissa, I'm with you. I'd rather be firm now, rather than sorry later. I, too, can deal with food issues. Me and the kids don't eat red meat, Loverman is a vegetarian, so I know when visiting others, we can be a handful.

Mes Deux Cents said...

Mango Mama,

"and to say these poor girls looked shell-shocked would be an understatement"

That passage really got to me. I feel so bad for those girls. It seems like they are going to have a long journey to adulthood.

I think though the safety and warmth I'm sure they felt when they were with you will stay with them for a long time.

Nerd Girl said...

I don't understand parents like this either. Lovegirl is only 3, so we hadn't had any sleepovers yet, but I already know that her options will likely be severely limited when that time comes. Like yourself I've got to trust the family she's staying with AND have an affinity for them myself. I already know it won't be pretty.

I dropped my girl off with her old sitter whom I love dearly - and trust with my child's life - just yesterday, and STILL spent 5 minutes going over the food I'd brought, that her stomach was no longer troubling her and she should be able to make it to the potty just fine, etc. Made sure D had my cell phone number and the number to the beauty shop . . . I definitely cannot fathom going across the pond, leaving my children so woefully exposed.

Very kind of you to step up to the plate. This woman is very fortunate that she did leave her children with someone concerned about their well-being. Amazing.

Mango Mama said...

MDC & Nerd Girl, Of course these girls have been on my mind for the remainder of the week and every day I've asked Olivia if she's seem them at school and if they seem to be getting along o.k., and fortunately, she's says they seem fine, but she, too, has noticed how the oldest looks cold all the time. I am thankful the mother reached out to me, because I think God truly put me in their path.

the prisoner's wife said...

that is CRAZY!

growing up, i was always self-conscious at JUST how many questions my mom always asked about my friends when i wanted them to come over OR if i wanted to go to their house...to play. and now that i have my own child, i totally understand.

i can't believe someone would go OUT OF THE COUNTRY without leaving so much as a number, let alone a proper coat.

i pray those girls are ok and will be ok in spite of the things (neglect?) they face.

jillybean said...

Mango Mama,

In the midst of the chain of confusion...you were a blessing. This mother seems to be lacking some judgement by not checking out your house, leaving pertinent information, and properly preparing for her children's stay. This is not my style, as you said, different strokes for different folks.

However, the mother has a keen sense of judgment in other areas. She knew, not based on personal interactions at your home, but based on who your children are, how your children behave, and her minimal, but obviously significant, interactions with you at school that her children were going to be safe, embraced, cared for and on certain levels loved...something she wanted for her girls.

Since the person the girls were staying with doesn't live far from you, they could have taken the girls to school. She didn't choose that option. She recognized that you and Loverman are caring, responsible and compassionate people. She recognized that your family would make her girls feel "at home" while she's away from home.

I don't want to give excuses for her, like I said, it wouldn't have been me. But I do understand that you radiate such a positive energy and vibration that this mother put her faith in you and Loverman.

What a compliment...

God is good...and so are you!


QueenGeek said...

Your family was a blessing to a single mom that probably has a lot on her plate.

I wonder if she realized she didn't give you the contact information? Not to make any excuses for her because I agree with the comment that folks do more research and give more information for their pets.

I give my sister the 3rd degree if anyone outside of daycare or 2 friends is even thinking about taking care of my niece.

So, in the circle of life, you were a blessing to those little girls even if it was just overnight.