Home Room Mom

My husband took our youngest child to kindergarten orientation one morning this week. He came home with a folder full of learning materials and a very excited little boy.  He also came home with a story that’s become a minor source of irritation for us.  It wasn’t even a story that upset him particularly – more a little resigned aside about people that still haven’t figured it out.

He’s been a stay-at-home dad for four years now.  While he does run a business out of our home, his primary focus is on the kids.  Before that, he worked in a nearby town and almost all matters pertaining to the kids such as drop-off and pick-up or school functions fell to me.  Now they are all his.  He doesn’t do it the same as I would and I sometimes feel left out, but he does a good job.

He gets them to school each morning.  He picks the oldest two up from school and shuttles them to any after school activities.  He’s the one who first hears how the day went.  He’s the one to run stuff back up to the school when they forget.  He attends their music lessons at school.  He’s the one that would help with class parties or presentations, etc.  If anyone was interested, that is.

And so off to kindergarten orientation he went, with his kid and about 30 or 40 adults with their kids.  At one point in the proceedings, the PTA President stood up to speak.  She was our middle child’s Pre-K teacher some five years ago.

“She kept going on about Home Room Moms and about how we need people to step up to be Head Home Room Moms and I was just thinking, ‘Really?’  I mean, about a third of the adults in that room were men,” he said.

My husband is a very helpful and involved guy.  He is.  But if you make it clear you are after moms, you’ve lost his help.  He shrugs you off and decides that you aren’t interested in his help.  And why shouldn’t he?

If the roles were reversed and some guy was actively requesting help from men when it was something you could do, would be willing to do, would love to do?  I can already hear the indignant outcry from the feminist quarters!

My husband is a feminist.  A true one, in my humble opinion.  One who recognizes that feminism is about giving everyone a level playing field, about making opportunities available to everyone.  About not treating people differently because of their gender when gender, quite frankly, is irrelevant to the situation at hand.

Some men would push their way in, just like the women of old did.  They’d defiantly sign up anyway.  They’d push the issue.  My husband’s perspective is this: I’ve got plenty to do and they are the ones asking for help.  If they can’t figure out on their own that they are missing out on a source of help… not my problem.

Some people have figured it out, at least on a semantics level.  Over the years, we’ve attended many a Meet-The-Teacher night.  There’s always a sign-up sheet for people interesting in helping with the PTA’s involvement in that room.  If the sheet says Home Room Moms, we move on – me included.  If it says Home Room Parents, he puts down his name.

Now… progress is slow, to be sure.  He’s put his name down a time or two, but I don’t know that he’s ever been contacted.  But I think that’s more a matter of small-town cliquish behavior than anything.  Or perhaps the use of “Home Room Parent” was simply an attempt at political correctness and they weren’t sure what to do once a man actually did sign up.  Baby steps, I guess.

Then again.  This is 2014.  A third of those adults at Kindergarten Orientation were men.  A third of them!  There are men stepping up to the parenting table all across this country and some people still haven’t noticed.

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Tell Me How It’s Fair

Chivalry is dead. Actually it’s not, but I kind of wish it were. Don’t get me wrong – I think being kind to someone is a good thing. And I think helping someone out who is weaker than you or who needs help is a wonderful thing. I just don’t like the assumption that in any pairing, the woman is the default one who needs things done for her.

I’ve had this discussion with many people and they always argue that the man is just being a gentleman. He’s trying to be nice. And I’m sure the particular man in question is. But I feel like the cultural underpinning, the long forgotten motivations behind it are actually harmful to women on the whole. And I wish people would spend more time thinking about it.

I don’t mind someone holding the door open for me if they get there first and I’m close behind. What I don’t like is someone rushing past me to get the door, actually impeding my progress, just so they can hold it open for me, as if I am incapable.

I don’t mind someone helping carry something heavy either. But when I’m already competently carrying it and a bent over man thirty years my senior shuffles over to try to take it from me, I’m baffled. What crazy societal rules dictate that he should struggle to carry something for a young, strong woman?

I also don’t mind someone opening a car door for me. As long as I’m not sitting captive in the car while I wait for him to run around the car and open it for me. Unless I happen to be wearing something that would make it difficult for me to get out without assistance, that is. But who are we kidding? I’m never dressed like that.

On a recent school day, as Hal and I exited the preschool and approached our car, another mom was opening the back door of her SUV so her two kids could climb in. There was a little boy and a slightly older little girl. I’m guessing he was four and she was perhaps six.

I’m not sure who was initially closer to the door. I wasn’t paying that much attention until the woman grabbed the boy by the arm and yanked him out of the car that he was already halfway into.

She hissed angrily at him, “You don’t get in the car first! She’s a girl! You let her go first. I don’t want to have to tell you this again!”

I was befuddled. And more than a little heartbroken for the poor little boy. The problem, according to her remarks, was not that he had shoved his way past his sister, which would universally be considered rude, but that he should have known to always let her go first.

Why?

Seriously. WHY?

Ladies first? Why should his sister get to get in the car first simply because she lacks a penis? Huh?

I mean, there are logical, sensible ways to determine who gets in the car first. Whoever was standing by the door would be a good criteria. Or, since they were both piling in from the same side, whoever was expected to sit on the far side would make sense. Or, even, the youngest gets in first because the older is more capable of being patient or remaining safe while outside the car. But simply because one was a girl?

How is that fair for the boy?

Women have fought to gain equal rights for so long. Equal rights isn’t just about gaining what the men get. It’s about being equal. That means we don’t get to be placed on a pedestal and pampered simply because we are women. The whole reason women have been treated like that over the years is because we are viewed as the weaker sex. People that need to be cared for and protected.

I’m not a fool. I know that women are, on average, physically weaker than men… on average. With the added tool of rape, I recognize that women have more vulnerabilities than men. I know all that.

But we can open a door. We can carry stuff. We can wait our turn to get in a car.

That poor little boy is being taught a cultural standard that really doesn’t make any sense. Which is probably why he’s having such a hard time remembering it. If I were him, I’d be thinking, how come she always gets to get in the car first? And quite frankly, the only way it’s fair is if he gets some sort of special thing that she doesn’t.

Which, in the archaic society in which so many of these gentlemanly acts came from, he does. He gets to be in charge when he grows up. He gets educated. He gets to make the rules. He gets to basically own the woman.

But wait. He doesn’t get to do all that anymore. She can be in charge. She can make the rules. She can outpace his education. So any way you slice it, one of these kids is getting robbed. Either she’s being held back because she’s the weaker one who needs to be allowed into the car first but from whom little is expected. Or she’s fully equal to him and he still has to wait for her to get in.

How’s that fair to either of them?