Cupcake Controversey



I have a friend who has been on a mission lately.  She, like me, is the mother of three.   We have developed a friendship of sorts, over the last couple of years, talking sometimes while I wait in her foyer for my kids, or she waits in mine for hers, or while we both wait to pick up our kids from their common extra- curricular activities.  One afternoon as we were waiting on the deck of the local pool for the kids to finish up at a pool party, she asked me quietly, in a conspiratorial tone, “What do you think about bringing cupcakes for your kids’ birthday at school?” 

“I hate it,” I said, and I do, for so many reasons.  I told her that in the last place we lived, the school had banned birthday cupcakes. 

Her eyes lit up.  “That’s what I want!” she said.  “I want to ban birthday cupcakes!”  She had a gleam in her eye that told me she meant business.  She went on to tell me that one of her children had some pretty severe food allergies, and that birthday cupcakes had been the chief cause of several bad reactions. “I’m trying to start a movement” she laughed, “Do you want to join?”

“I’ll join your movement,” I said, I didn’t have to think about it, not for one second.  Life would be so much easier without the thrice yearly school birthday celebration, which I must organize in addition to the friends birthday party, and the family birthday party. I also have the bad luck that two of my children have birthdays that fall during school vacations, so I’m expected to throw a school party on their half-birthdays.  Sigh.  I can hardly keep up with the scheduling and shopping for their actual birthdays. 

“Let me know what you need me to do.” I told her. This was a movement I could muster the energy to get behind!

“I’ll be in touch” she called out over her shoulder with a smile, as we took the hands of our little ones and started walking toward our respective minivans.”I’ll let you know what I need.”

“What was that all about?” asked Angel #2, looking at me sideways, through squinty eyes, just the way I look at her when I suspect she is up to no good.

“Oh, nothing” I answered, attempting to keep my facial expression neutral but feeling at once guilty and elated.  The Angels have always loved having cupcakes at school as another way to celebrate their birthdays.  I felt a little bit bad about working against what makes them happy, but I couldn’t help being in favor of an idea that’s good for their health and would save a lot of my time and energy, not to mention money.  For me it was a no brainer. 

I was surprised, no stunned, to hear a few days later that not everyone agreed with me.  One of the moms at the bus stop, someone I happen to really like, said angrily, arms crossed over her chest, that there was a mom at school making noise about a cupcake ban. ”It’s a free country,” she said.  “I ought to be able to bring cupcakes if I want to!” she said.  I burst out laughing, thinking she must be joking.  She wasn’t.  Based on the tornadic look on her face, I’m sure I offended her.  I apologized, as I often must, for things that come out of my mouth, and told her I respectfully disagreed.  What I didn’t say was that I live in a free country too; I thought her freedom to bring cupcakes to school infringed on my freedom to choose what my kids eat.  I hope she and I are still friends, but at this point I’m not so sure. 

A few days after that, I met a different friend for coffee.  Guess what the main topic of conversation was?  You’re right!  Birthday cupcakes!  Parents seemed to care about this, and they seemed to be choosing sides.  My coffee friend was also in favor of birthday cupcakes. She said she didn’t mind bringing cupcakes because it made her kids happy.  Her kids would be upset if they couldn’t celebrate at school.  I felt another quick flash of guilt (my primary emotion these days).  I knew the ban would make my kids unhappy too.  I knew I was for the ban mostly because I didn’t want to do the work of three additional birthday parties a year.  I so wish I was the enthusiastic-about-school-parties, smile-in-the-face-of-extra-chores, energetic-without-caffeine sort of mom, but I’m not.  I’m more of a feel-good-if-the-kids-are-still-alive-at-bedtime, can-hardly-stay-awake-to-be-the-tooth-fairy, try-to-think-of-ways-to-get-out-of-the-fundraiser sort of mom. I suspected better parents didn’t mind the whole extra project of birthday cupcakes.  But I’m not winning any mother of the year awards, because I do mind.

But then I checked my guilt.  Just because I was feeling lazy about my kids happiness doesn’t mean all those cupcakes are good for them.  Honestly, (I’m quoting John Rosemond here) “it’s a child’s birthday, not the second coming of Christ.”  Is it reasonable for my kids to expect three birthday parties a year, or am I encouraging the growth of their already inflated feelings of entitlement by doing it?  Is my perception that all the other mommies joyfully do whatever it takes to make their kids happy a true one, or do the other mommies, like me, fantasize that the PTA would take this one small thing off the to-do list?    Besides, wasn’t a cupcake ban the best choice for the kids’ health? I knew I should make the choice that’s best for the kids.  So what if that choice also had the positive side effect of un-sticking the “bad guy” label from my lapel for a few minutes.  It’s a win-win really:  not only would children be healthier both physically and psychologically, but the big bad school administration would accept the role of villain in my place, just this once.        

In any case, the idea that seemed like manna from heaven to me was upsetting to other parents.  My friend’s little ban-the-cupcakes idea was turning into a controversy.  As the few weeks passed between my first conversation about the issue and the vote at the PTA meeting, I heard a lot of moms say they were in favor of cupcakes.  I heard it in the grocery store line.  I heard it in the Starbucks line. I heard it from the next aisle at the Home Depot.  I realized two things.  One, the moms around here don’t have enough to worry about (there are death, disease, homelessness, and starvation in the world, and we’re all worked up about cupcakes) and second, my support of the cupcake ban was more galvanized than ever.  

There are so many good reasons to find some happiness causing alternative to food treats for birthdays.  The first, and clearly most important of these, as my ban-the-cupcakes friend knew all too well, is the issue of allergies.  Lots of kids are allergic to nuts; even more are allergic to Gluten.  At the very least, allergic kids get left out of the celebration, which doesn’t feel good.  At the very worst, it’s possible for a child to die from birthday cupcakes.  No joke here, no sarcasm.  Nut allergies and other food allergies can be lethal.   Do we really want to take that kind of risk?  Even for happiness?

Good nutrition and health are another issue to consider.  Think about it:  If each child has twenty-five children in his class, that’s twenty -five more chemical laden artificially colored cupcakes with two inches of shortening and sugar gracing the top per year.  Add that to all the other junk food our kids eat, like Halloween candy, Christmas candy, and now Valentine’s Day candy. (Valentine’s Day used to be about paper cards, now the cards are required to have a piece of candy taped to them.)  Then comes Easter, which has somehow morphed from hiding colored eggs, the kind that come out of chickens, into another day of gorging on high fructose corn syrup. There is no doubt in my mind that soon MLK Day, President’s Day,  Saint Patrick’s Day, and gosh-darn Confederate Independence Day will be candy holidays too.  Plus, it seems like everywhere we go, some well meaning person hands my kids a coke, or a lollipop, to be nice.  It never seems to end.  Couldn’t we just skip the birthday cupcakes?  Seriously, it’s not like the kids will go without sweets.

Even if it’s okay with you to exclude children who are unlucky enough to have allergies, even if it’s okay with you if your child has all those extra servings of junk food, let’s consider the time and energy spent by school staff on Birthday cupcakes.  My kids attend our neighborhood public school, nothing fancy, but the staff there is made up of highly trained, highly skilled, highly qualified professionals who get paid next to nothing.  Most of them hold advanced degrees.  I suspect the teachers at your kids’ school are the same.  Do we really want them to spend their precious time and expertise serving, supervising, and cleaning up the mess from cupcakes?  I don’t.  In these lean educational times, fraught with early release and furlough days, I want the teachers to spend their limited time teaching, not waiting on my children.  I want my children to spend their limited time at school learning, not being waited on.

Besides, there are so many other healthy and educational ways to make kids happy on their birthdays!  Songs, a special hat or badge, or having the kids all write a birthday message to the birthday girl or boy are some suggestions.  I would be happy to come to school and read my child’s favorite book to give them a treat for their special day (or in my case their special day plus six months).  How about we replace cupcakes with a non-food treat?

Then I got the E-mail from my brave ban-the-cupcake friend.  She gave me the date and the time of the PTA meeting and asked that I show up to speak in support of the cause.  Surprise, it turned out I couldn’t make to the PTA meeting because my schedule was already full.  (My three kids had three basketball practices in two locations and it was my husband’s bowling night).  It was just as well; I express myself much more clearly in writing, and after  all I had heard, I was feeling mildly intimidated by the opposition.  I know from experience that political dissent against the PTA has the potential to get very nasty.  So, I wrote a letter instead.  I gave my opinion, emailed it to my partner in crime, and told her she could use it any way she wished.   I don’t know if she used it or not, but low and behold, cupcakes were banned in a unanimous vote!  I guess I’m not the odd mom, out after all. 

The icing on this particular cupcake is that the Angels weren’t unhappy at all.  There were no fits or tears.  None of them mentioned it.  They didn’t even notice that cupcakes had disappeared from the classroom, which inspires me to start another movement.  Do you think they’d notice if blue ”juice” and candy bars disappeared after Saturday morning sporting events, to be replaced by a crazy little thing called a healthy lunch?

Anybody want to join?


Elite Sports for Kids

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Let me tell you our story; you decide what you think. 

My oldest dest daughter loved the game of softball.  She always had.  She’d been playing since the spring of her second grade year, when she asked to sign up to play.  Baseball is something my husband and I both love.  In fact, we conducted a good deal of our courtship at Fulton County Stadium, cheering for the Atlanta Braves. He played very serious baseball growing up, and was excited about her interest, so we let her do it.  She had a great time, some seriously great coaching, and the price was right. The whole family was enjoying her participation.  There’s something absolutely wonderful about a Saturday morning at the ball park with the smell of hot dogs, the crunch of the peanut shells under your feet, and the red dust wafting through the air.  Even better to soak up the sun from your folding chair, watch your baby turn a double play, and listen to the coach tell you that your kid has heart, and potential.  

We threw a wrench into the machinery of Daughter #1’s plan for greatness in the sport of softball when we moved to Colorado during the summer of 2009. We signed her up for the local recreational level team as soon as we arrived that summer, but it just wasn’t the same.  She had skills the other girls in her age group didn’t.  Nobody on the team could catch, even the easy fly balls, and the players didn’t know where to throw the ball if they did happen to catch it. There were grounders going between legs, and outfielders crashing into each other while the ball drops five yards away. To make matters worse, the league rules required the players to take turns at each position, which meant  Daughter #1couldn’t play shortstop, her favorite position, consistently. She was bored and frustrated.  So was I.  My husband couldn’t even stand to watch.   

The rec team coach sought us out after a game near the end of the season. He told us that daughter#1 had talent, and that we should seek a higher level of play if we had aspirations for her.  “We can’t teach her anything new at this level,” he said.  “If you want her to play in high school”, he said, “You should get her into a ‘competition’ level program, so she can maintain her skills and make the team.”  We listened for a few minutes about the stellar reputation of the coach at our local high school, about her winning record, and the fact that a lot of the kids she coached went on to play softball in college.  (I was to learn later that the words “play in college” were a euphemism for earning scholarship money, but I didn’t know that then).  My husband wore a huge toothy grin the whole way home.  He was bursting with pride.  I knew I should feel proud too, and I did, but I also felt pressured.  “Does this mean if we don’t get her onto a ‘higher level’ team, that she wouldn’t be able to play in high school at all?” I asked him from my side of the front seat.  My husband said he thought it did.  “If the other girls are practicing and playing,” he said, “and our daughter isn’t, the other girls will be much better than her by the time high school tryouts roll around, and she probably wouldn’t make the team.”  I really didn’t like that answer.  It made me feel like they (whoever they are) had us over a barrel.  Besides, I didn’t think it should matter whether we wanted her to play in high school or college.  The question was… did she?  

Then one beautiful Friday afternoon, the first week of school, she came home saying that she had been invited to try out for a “travel team”–a term interchangeable with “competition level team” or “elite team”– that very afternoon.  The wheels began to turn in my head.  This could be the solution our problem, I thought.  Maybe a “travel team” would be a better match for her ability. Maybe this team would help her keep her skills up so she would have the option to play in high school, if she wanted to.  I was willing to consider it for her, if she wanted it.   She said she did.

So I called my husband, who left beers with his buddies, and the three of us attended the tryout.  Daughter #1 did well that day.  She slammed a bunch of machine pitched balls far into the outfield, and she ran the bases fast enough to make the coach smile as he clicked his stopwatch.  The coach spent some time talking with her too, which gave her a chance to show that she knew the more intricate rules of the game.  Honestly, I was nervous during the tryout.  I wasn’t entirely sure she had the “right stuff” for this “higher level of play”.  Most of the other girls trying out outweighed her by at least twenty pounds and she was not so good at accepting constructive critism (I wonder where she got that?) but the coach said she was good enough to make the team.  I don’t know why I was nervous.  Girls who played at a much lower skill level also made the team that day.    

It was only $1200 dollars, the coach told us, a reasonable fee compared to most ‘elite’ teams.  That amount would include her uniforms, he said, a calendar year of instruction with practices twice a week and weekend games during the fall, spring, and summer.  There would be no games during December, January or February, but practices would be held all year.  What did he say?  $1200 dollars?  I was used to paying $75 to $100 for a six to eight week season in the spring and again in the fall, so $1200 seemed like an outrageous amount of money to me. My husband, however, didn’t bat an eyelash, and since he was the family expert on sports, I repressed my concerns about the money, tried hard to quash my incurable thrifty nature, and stayed quiet.

 My husband told the coach that we would sleep on it and give him a call in the morning with our decision, but I knew by looking at him that it was a done deal.   The kid really wanted to do it, and for some reason, some reason vaguely related to never having had a son, I thought, my husband was emotionally invested in letting her.  “I don’t want her to miss this opportunity,” he said, “like I did.”  (When he was a high school senior, he was offered a spot on the baseball team at Virginia Tech, but passed it up thinking he would not be able to manage the demanding engineering program and baseball.  It is a decision he’s always regretted.) In time for practice the next day, he wrote a check, and our girl was on the team.  She and her dad were excited, really excited.  I had some un-examined and un-named reservations about the whole thing, but I was determined to be supportive.  Since everyone else seemed so happy, I would try to be happy too.

 I learned pretty quickly that the $1200 fee was only the beginning.  The original fee only covered the basics: two jerseys, two pair of baseball pants, and a jacket.  We were responsible to buy everything else. To meet her potential, Coach said, Daughter #1 needed better equipment, including a three hundred dollar bat, special jerseys that would protect her heart, and a wide selection of Under Armor (like long johns, but sporty) to be worn under her uniform for comfort in various weather conditions.  There were special shorts that prevented injury during sliding. There were practice pants and t-shirts. There were the ten or so pairs of different shades of orange socks to match her uniform.  And then there were the shoes.  The “right” cleats were unbelievably expensive.  My softball player was twelve years old.  Really?  Even my husband took issue with the price of the bat, and got her a slightly less expensive one, but he bought all the other stuff she “needed.”  He replaced her shoes when she outgrew them, twice.  Plus, it seemed like every time I took her to practice I was shelling out cash for additional fees for batting cages, softball camps, and what they call “clinics,” which is a fancy word for more practice, except with a different coach.   What I call the “Band Aid budget” went up dramatically.  Every week I was buying gauze and tape, ankle braces, band aids, ace bandages, and gallons of Neosporin with the weekly groceries.  Expenses related to softball were beginning to add up, but I was still able, for the time being, to talk myself out of my worries over the money.  It was okay with me, I decided, if she was happy, and interested, and challenged by the game.  It wasn’t so much saying goodbye to money that bothered me, but the impression that we were being gouged.  But…I told myself it would all be worth it, if we can help her achieve her dream.

It wasn’t just the expenses I worried about.  I also worried about injury.  I worried about severe injuries like concussions, broken arms and legs, or a sudden heart attack from being hit hard in the chest with the ball. (The team kept a defibrillator on the field to deal with such incidents, so it must have been a possibility.) I had visions of emergency rooms and physical therapy.  Sarah already had a weak ankle from a bad slide when she was eight.  (She was safe, but her ankle wasn’t.)  It hasn’t been quite right since.  I’m not sure it will ever be quite right.  Just like the expenses, her smaller injuries began to add up.  She constantly jammed her fingers, which were often black and blue and purple.  Skinned knees and elbows were a regular occurrence.  I worried that all the little cuts and bruises would have a cumulative effect.  I had visions of my perfectly formed baby as an older woman in a tattered housedress, working her way slowly from a recliner in front of the TV to her kitchen for a cup of tea because her body didn’t work so well, with hip, or knee, or ankle, or god forbid, brain problems.   And for what?, I wondered.  Softball is neither an Olympic or professional sport.  If she worked hard she could play in college, but was that worth a lifetime of pain? Of course I said nothing.  Sublimating my worries was becoming a habit. 

I also learned pretty quickly that “travel teams” are called “travel teams” for a reason.  We traveled by air out of state for one tournament and my husband and daughter traveled hours by car every weekend for others.  I am not exaggerating.  There were tournaments every weekend, which started at 7:00 am on both Saturday and Sunday morning and lasted all day (so much for church, we now worshiped the sport of softball).  My younger daughters and I joined them when our schedules allowed, but most weekends, the family was split.  I missed them sorely, at first, and then I grew resentful that the team demanded so much of our family time.  Besides, I thought it was odd that our team always seemed to be playing against the same five other teams, no matter where we played.  The whole league, all five or six teams, would take themselves to another city, in another part of the state or country, and then play the same game that they could have played in the park where they practiced, which was within walking distance of our house.  I didn’t get it.  Certainly there must be enough girls who are good enough to play “elite” softball in our own city (population 2.7 million) to make up a league, but I dismissed my thought, thinking the experts must know what they were doing.   

Early on I noticed that every time I sat down on a set of bleachers, some parent said something to me along these lines:  “We are so pleased with this team.  Our daughter has improved so much since she’s joined.  We understand that college scouts attend club games more often than high school games.  We just know so and so (their daughter) will be able to get some scholarship money, so she can go to college.”  I would smile weakly, and say nothing, but I didn’t agree with the logic. I thought if we all put the huge amount of money we are spending on softball into a college savings plan, a four year education at a good in-state university would be paid for in no time. I thought if the kids put the time into studying that they put into softball they would all earn academic scholarships.  Every time I had this conversation, which was a lot, I got a sinking feeling.  Didn’t any of these parents know the statistics about how few kids get athletic scholarships?  Shouldn’t it just be for fun?   Was I missing something?  Was there something about this hope-for-a-scholarship thing that I didn’t understand?  

I wondered too, after these conversations, what about the kids whose families couldn’t afford the time or the money required for participation in “elite” softball (or baseball or football or soccer, or any sport)?   If what the other softball parents said was true, that college scouts came to more club sports games than to high school games, wouldn’t the players without a lot of money get left out of the mix? Wouldn’t the whole sport suffer as a result? What if today’s system had been in place thirty years ago, and the parents of Pele or Joe Namath or Mary Lou Retton couldn’t have afforded “elite” sports?  Soccer and Football and Gymnastics would have suffered a great loss.  This system, this race for scholarship money, seems fundamentally unfair to me.  It seems that you have to have the money for club sports in order to get the scholarship money for college. I began to think that the word “elite” in elite sports referred to a young athlete’s socioeconomic status, instead of their ability. It was a disturbing thought. 

Meanwhile, back on the field, our daughter was becoming disillusioned.  Her team was losing, a lot, and they were embarrassing losses, massacres.  If there is one thing I can tell you about my eldest daughter that can in no way be refuted by anyone who ever met her, it is that she likes to win.  No, she needs to win.  There were problems with the coaching too.  There was a lot of yelling, stomping around, and kicking up dirt on the field, which was tempered by precious little encouragement. This kind of coaching was a poor fit for daughter #1, who is a perfectionist (I wonder where she got that?).  When she made a mistake that caused the coach to yell at her, she couldn’t let it go and move on.  She would miss the next play because she was still thinking about it.  Her performance on the field got worse, not better.  She would come in from her games and practices with a hangdog look on her face, complaining of stomach aches.  Once, she threw down her glove and walked off the field, mid game.  Another time, she spoke disrespectfully to her coach.  She was exhausted from the long hours the team kept, and her school friends were dropping out of her life because she didn’t have time to spend with them.  She threatened to quit.

My husband and I were horrified.  We weren’t raising a quitter, or a brat that sassed adults and threw temper tantrums in public.  Her behavior was clearly unacceptable, and I told her so in no uncertain terms, but internally I was torn.  I didn’t want her to quit, especially after our mounting investment, but I could see how unhappy she was. 

When I spoke to my husband about it, he said I was coddling her.  When I suggested we were wasting our money if she was no longer happy in the sport, he told me I was insufferably cheap.   He was right, I was coddling her, and I am cheap, but to me, the issue was happiness.  To him, it was commitment.  People were relying on her, he kept saying.  She needs to be a team player, he kept saying.  I could see his point, but softball had become a constant source of anxiety for all of us. My husband and I disagreed about the importance of softball in our lives, and we argued about it sometimes. My other two daughters were missing things they wanted to do, like birthday parties and piano lessons, because of the softball schedule.  Softball was taking a toll on our whole family, but I swallowed hard, bore up to the strain, and encouraged my other daughters to do the same.  I wasn’t so sure anymore that we were helping her to pursue her dream.  She was no longer having fun.  Neither was I.  Not even my husband was having fun.    

When Daughter #1 and my husband came in from practice late one night, talking about going to a nearby ski resort for  yet another tournament,  I said ”Hey, let’s camp out!  It should be perfect weather up there this time of year, and we can save a few bucks.”  It just slipped out, the thing about saving money. I shouldn’t have mentioned it.  I told myself to get over the money issue. Nobody was going to go without because we were paying for softball. 

And then… my husband said to me (I remember this part in slow motion, because it was the moment of my epiphany about ‘elite’ softball) “Naw, we need to get a room.  If the team doesn’t buy enough rooms, we can’t play in the tournament.”  He leaned against the counter and chewed a bite of the sandwich I had made for him, not noticing the light bulb that was slowly illuminating over my head.  In my mind, the niggling discomfort that I had been feeling from the beginning crystallized into anger.  I began to feel like a chump, a mark, the victim of a scam. This is a business, I realized!  This whole exhausting, expensive, worrisome thing is not about teaching kids skills and sportsmanship.  It’s not about supporting our daughter in her goals.  It isn’t about financial help with college tuition.  It isn’t even about softball.  It is about out selling hotel rooms, and equipment, and batting cage time, and maybe even sports medicine appointments.  Suddenly it made sense to me why the girls who weren’t that good made the team!  It was because the only real criterion for making the team was the parent’s ability to pay the fee!  Then I felt the punch in the stomach of the harder realization:  my daughter probably isn’t talented either, but the coach/team/league just wanted to get the fee.  Suddenly it made sense to me why we always seemed to be playing against the same four or five teams, no matter how far we had to go to play them.  Suddenly it made sense how a grown man had the gall to tell me a twelve year old girl needed a thousand dollars worth of equipment.  It was because they were making a profit!  It’s a racquet, and the “experts” to whom I had been deferring were actually profiteers.  It isn’t just a business, it’s an entire industry!

I felt like an idiot.  Stupid!  How could I have fallen for this gigantic line of BS? How could I have believed in those sales-pitch words like ‘elite’ and ‘competition level’ and the worst of them, ‘scholarship’?  And what’s worse, how could my smart, athletic, and heretofore sensible husband have fallen for it too? How could he stand there chewing when our hard earned money was draining out of our accounts like water from a sieve, and our daughter was miserable?

I quickly added in my head all that we had spent in the past year on softball.  (I had been doing it all along, but I couldn’t admit it to myself.)  The total was in the neighborhood of $5,000.  $5000!     

It was then that I began to yell.  “Are you kidding me?  Are you kidding me?” I screamed.  (I am usually more articulate than this, but I was so angry that my vocabulary failed me.)  I didn’t care if the children heard me.  I didn’t care if the neighbors heard me.  I didn’t care if my husband concluded that I had lost my mind.  Maybe I had.  I was mad at myself because I hadn’t listened to my gut, and at my husband because he hadn’t listened to me, either.  I was mad because we were out $5000, a year of our lives, a thousand other more educational and valuable experiences that we had not had time for, and it was all because I had not spoken up.  Well, I was speaking up tonight.  I recovered my ability to speak intelligently, and I covered all my aforementioned concerns at the very top of my lungs.  It was a bad night.  My husband and I didn’t speak for a day or two.  He remained committed to the team.  I couldn’t.

When I cooled down and we were finally able to talk about the issue rationally, we decided to stick with it through the rest of the season, because we felt that it was better for our daughter to learn to stand by her decisions.  I yelled and clapped for her and the team just as loud as ever, but I was faking it, and I suspected she was rolling her eyes at me under her batter’s helmet, rather than resolving to hit a homer.  I had to drag myself, and her, out of bed for softball, where in the beginning she had jumped up eagerly to get ready for her games and practices.  When I sat on the bleachers, I felt like I had the word “sucker” tattooed to my forehead and wondered why the other parents didn’t feel that way too.  I had never quite fit in with the softball parents, but now I really felt separate.  I just wanted it to be over.

At the end of the season daughter #1 quit the softball team, to the great disappointment of her father, and to the great relief of her mother, and she has lost her love for the game of softball.  On high school orientation day this spring, she passed by the sign-up sheet for the freshman team without a backward glance.  She couldn’t get away fast enough.  She has moved on to basketball now, which was before, something she did in the off season to keep in shape for softball.   Even though she says she loves the game of basketball and shows off her scrapes and bruises with pride, I can’t say she loves basketball the way she loved softball, way back when.  I hope so, but I can’t see it in her eyes, or on her face.  She seems jaded and wary, as if basketball might hurt her too. 

I feel bad.

I feel guilty because I wonder if my feelings, which I truly made a herculean effort to keep under wraps, could have affected (infected?) her anyway, and ruined her first love.  I feel guilty because it may have been me that caused her to fall out of love with the game of softball.  If I had not behaved so badly, if I had been more supportive, if I could have found the right way to encourage her, or if I found a coach for her that was a better fit, might she someday be a star?  I don’t know.  I don’t know, and that’s the hard part.  There is no doubt I could have done a better job helping her achieve her dream, but for the life of me, I still can’t figure out how.

There has to be a better way. I just wish I knew what it was.

From the Don’t Get Me Started File: The Cookie Sale

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How do you feel about an organization that uses second graders as their sales force?

Yes, we are talking about the esteemed Girl Scouts of America. 

Honestly, I have a lot of nice things to say about the Girl Scouts.  Each of my three daughters has had a great, no, lots of great experiences with their respective Girl Scout troops.  They’ve been to every sort of museum, had every kind of outdoor experience you can think of, and volunteered for deserving charity organizations.  They have learned to work and play with other little girls without the three’s-a- crowd drama that happens between little girls in elementary schools and at birthday parties. This last one is big.  If you have daughters you know what I mean.

The Girl Scouts have also given my daughters excellent female role models. Every Girl Scout leader we have ever encountered has been unbelievably generous, and each has been patient.  God knows they are patient.  Each has been very organized; they have to be.  Most are working mothers who truly don’t have the time to give all they do to my daughters, but they do it anyway.  Girl Scout leaders, I thank you, truly, from the bottom of my heart. 

The only thing that gets under my skin is the annual cookie sale.  And the Cookie Sale REALLY gets under my skin.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m told that learning to sell is a great experience for children, and that it’s a skill that will serve them well in life.  Maybe that’s true, but the annual cookie sale is a gargantuan pain in the neck, and not for the little girls so much, but for their parents. For the better part of four months, we moms and dads are expected to get our daughters to regular meetings, to extra  “cookie meetings” and activities, to find the time, energy, and locations for our daughters to sell, manage the forms, the money, the pick- up and delivery of cookies, and the return of cookies that don’t sell.  I would be remiss, in this rant of mine, if I did not mention how difficult all this is to add to the schedules of other children we might have, the other activities of our girl scouts, and some other stuff we might like to do (like eat and sleep).

Around Halloween the leaders start feeling around to see who might be willing to be a cookie mom.  God bless the cookie mom!  The best advice I can give you is to run and hide.  One year I volunteered to be the cookie mom, not really knowing what I was getting into.  Let’s just say I would have benefitted from a Harvard MBA, which I don’t have, to handle all the money issues that arose.  Sales proceeds were lost and/or miscalculated.   Customers ordered too many boxes of cookies, too few boxes of cookies, and the wrong boxes of cookies.  Customers asked for refunds if they didn’t like the cookies.   All the money problems gave rise to emotional problems.  More than one Girl Scout mom wound up crying in my kitchen.  It wasn’t pretty.   I ended up fifty bucks in the hole, and I was irritated.  Wouldn’t it have been much easier to just give my fifty dollars to the Girl Scout troop?  They would have gotten the entire fifty dollars instead of just a small percentage per box, and I would have been much happier (and thinner).  

Now that I know better, I don’t volunteer to be the cookie mom.  But I still dread selling cookies all through the Christmas season.   Sometime shortly after New Year’s Day it begins:  the first e-mail arrives announcing all the cookie events that are coming up.  Last year my two girl scouts were taught about marketing at one meeting and were asked to make a promotional poster to send to their parent’s job, so their dad could sell cookies at work.  Has it occurred to the powers-that-be that perhaps some employers may not be thrilled for The Girl Scouts to do business on their company time?   If so, they haven’t acknowledged it.   My husband’s company has been extraordinarily understanding. They’ve been happy to allow our little girls to come in for an hour one afternoon every year to do their selling.  They would be well within their rights to say no. One Girl Scout Dad I know works for a company that has banned the sale of cookies in their building. His bosses say that he isn’t paid to raise money for charity.  I’m afraid I agree.

There was also a cookie “rally”, in the tradition of Amway, where the girls go to get all pumped up so they can go home and bug their mothers relentlessly to knock on the doors of strangers to beg for money.  I’m told that many little girls commit at the rally to sell hundreds of boxes of cookies!  I’m opting not to send my daughters to the rally this year.  More pressure to sell is the last thing I, I mean they, need.     

Oh, and don’t forget the booth sales.  That’s four hours selling cookies, in February, outside a grocery store, in Colorado.  It’s just eight more hours in the cold I’d rather be doing something else.  Truth be told, booth sales are the easiest way to sell cookies.  There always seems to be an older gentleman who stuffs a couple of twenties in the jar but won’t take any cookies.  Last year, however, an honest- to-God paranoid schizophrenic glommed onto us (as we froze our brownies off) and told my eight year old all about how she got probed by aliens.  Lovely! 

The absolute worst, though, is that both my second grader and my fourth grader were put on a sales quota!  Each child was responsible to sell eighty boxes.  Turns out they made their quotas, but it wasn’t because we care all that much.  Sure, we’re happy to offer cookies to the friends and coworkers that want them but we won’t be applying pressure or “marketing” to anyone. The kids have school, homework and an array of extra-curricular activities, which is as it should be. Children should be spending their precious childhoods (and I use the word precious in the truest sense of the word) learning and growing, not fueling the huge machine that Girl Scouts has become.

What I don’t get is how competitive some of the parents get about the cookie sale.  I’ve seen numerous cars painted with advertizing.  I’ve seen a sales banner across someone’s front door.  I’ve been told behind the backs of hands that some moms are cheating by selling too soon, or after the deadline, or over the internet (which apparently wasn’t allowed last year, but will be this year).  Accusations are flying around the neighborhood via e-mail about unfairness, and that some girls are selling in someone else territory.  What?  Territory?  Wait just a minute there, mama, calm down and take a breath… aren’t your daughters supposed to be doing the selling?

And another thing, is it even moral to sell Girl Scout Cookies?  A look at the ingredient list will tell you that they are basically chemicals wrapped in transfats and then dipped in sugar.  That’s not healthy for anybody, is it?  I wonder how many heart blockages were caused in part by Thin Mints, which have 25% daily allowance for fat, or by Samoas which have a whopping 30% daily allowance!

Back in the days when Girl Scouts sold cookies to fund their camping trip, it was cute.  Likewise, it’s not a bad idea for children to learn to sell something.  But four months of training, added activities, and relentless pressure to sell, sell, sell, is a little over the top.   It takes over my life.  And the mommies, I’m telling you, seem a little out of control.  Somewhere, a line has been quietly crossed by the Girl Scouts.  This is the line that, when crossed, turns a band of gap toothed smiling little girls with mismatched clothing into an army of a sales force almost solely responsible for funding a very large non-profit organization.  I find it distasteful, at best. 

I want back on the other side of the line.   I have fantasized about taking my girls out of scouting altogether, just to get out of selling cookies, but that isn’t a viable option because they love their leaders and their scouting friends so much.  So, Instead of responding to the pressure by selling more and more cookies this year, I think I’ll limit the selling to an hour or so in the safe, well-known setting of my husband’s office.  That way they’ll have the experience without all the pressure.  I’ll let them off the hook for all the other stuff, stop feeling resentful, and if they don’t make their quotas, I’ll make a donation large enough to cover their activities for the next year.   Bitchy and elitist? Probably.  Go ahead and judge me for having the money to throw at this problem.  It will be worth every penny, I say.  And…. I’ll be so much happier.    





Notes From the Bored Housewives Club: An Overview


Notes from the Bored Housewives Club:  An Overview

Once upon a time I was a professional woman.  I wore a business suit, jewelry, and pretty shoes.  Long ago, educated people trusted my opinion and followed my recommendations, and sometimes my recommendations changed lives.

My career was social work.  Over the course of ten years I worked in a battered women’s shelter, with the child victims of sexual abuse, and with perpetrators of sexual abuse.  I worked in a non- profit agency whose goal it was to end child abuse.  I worked in a modern day orphanage preparing teenage girls for the world. (It was a great job). I worked for the government finding educational opportunities for kids who didn’t respond to traditional teaching methods. I found foster homes for children who needed them, and I placed abused and neglected kids for adoption (the best job ever).

I had power.  I believe I was able to use it to change the world for the better.  But…that’s all over now.

About four years into my career, I got married (a good choice. I think it’s probably going to work).  Immediately thereafter we decided we would like a baby.  We both wanted to be parents and thought the time was right.  According to God’s schedule though, the time was not yet right.  It took four years, a team of experts, various pharmacological potions, more than a few hypodermic needles, countless hormone induced rages/crying jags, and about ten thousand chats with God to achieve our goal.

When I finally became pregnant, I chose, for a million reasons, to stay home with my baby.  After all, she was so hard to get, I didn’t want to give up even one minute of my limited time, with probably the only child I would ever have, to some child care provider who couldn’t love her like her mama would.  Besides, as a social worker, childcare cost more than my salary. (Sad isn’t it?) How hard could it be?”  I asked myself.  “It can’t be as hard as finding happy, permanent homes for 17 severely disturbed foster children,” I answered myself.  So, completely without trepidation, armed only with an overzealous work ethic and an overdeveloped sense of guilt, I became a stay-at-home mom.

It turns out I was right; being a stay-at-home mom isn’t harder than finding forever homes for severely disturbed children, but it is almost as hard, The challenges are different than I expected.  The most difficult part of my job is boredom.  I mean, how many times can one perform the same task, say, picking up the same tiny pair of shoes, over and over, before life starts to feel a little meaningless?  The next most difficult part is the isolation.  Some days, no, most days, I spend alone with very little adult interaction, and that for me, is hard.

Regardless of the challenges, I’m very glad I quit my job to become a stay at home mom. We were lucky and blessed (and surprised) enough to be able to have two more daughters, which has caused joy beyond my wildest dreams, and the pride I feel in my children is worth all the hard days and short nights.  It’s been fourteen years since the fateful day I began my second career.  It was a good decision.  When I miss the power, my husband lets me boss him around, a little.

To combat the boredom and the isolation, I write. I write about the things I think about, from my perspective as a woman, as a wife, as a mother, and as the maker of a home.  I write about the issues that affect my life, and maybe yours.  I care about education, the environment, the food supply, how to raise good kids, how to keep a marriage happy, and how to keep myself sane, so I write about all that.  When I just can’t keep my mouth shut any longer, which will be pretty often (my husband says), I write about politics.  For fun, I review books and movies; I’m especially interested in the ones that are relevant to family life.  I also write responses to the magazine and news articles that get me thinking.

I fancy myself a sort of Carrie Bradshaw, but for the older and less fashionable, or something like Andy Rooney, but for the younger and more fashionable, or, I know, an Irma Bombeck for the new millennium!

Here’s what it is, basically: smart girl settles down to keep house, and trouble ensues.