QUEENS FOR THE DAY
Last Thursday Taylor and I had the privilege of spending the morning with a group of amazing moms at PS 186 in Bellrose, Queens; who watched Lucky Ducks and then took part in a two and a half hour Q and A with us afterwards.
You heard me, two and a half hours. And it could have gone another two as the hands were still shooting up and we were still talking and the stories kept coming and the sharing continued and if they invited me I would go back tomorrow, except I’m in LA, but I would go next week for sure.
It all started when Harriet Cabelly contacted me after Taylor and I hit the cover of The Post. She sent an email and introduced herself as a social worker in the NYC public school system from Queens. She had seen the film and felt in her words. “I think this is a must for all parents to see, certainly in our society today. Because as you say, it starts with the parents.”
I told her if she gathered a group of parents I would be thrilled to come talk with them. She said being a public school (and we all know how they have been hit) they didn’t have funds to pay for speakers. I said I wasn’t in this for the money; I made this to reach out and hopefully shine a light.
I told her pick a day after Taylor got back from college and we would be there.
Harriet quickly became a member of the tribe and we met up by happenstance after she read my blog on the Nail Spa and we ran into each other there one afternoon. We sat and talked for hours and it felt like I had known her forever. It’s the only time I actually sat long enough to let my toes dry properly.
But what was so amazing about last week and what sticks in my mind is the whole experience reinforced something I always knew about Lucky Ducks – that it is not just a film about the Upper East Side or Beverly Hills. It’s not just a film about privileged kids or moms who may spend too much for a handbag.
It is a film for all parents and the issues are fundamentally the same.
The moms who gathered at PS 186 were as diverse ethnically, and socio-economically as they were in age; some had kids as young as five, others as old as thirty.
But they all had the same questions; which were the same questions I have been asking myself, the same questions we ask in the film and the same questions any good parent asks. What are we doing? How are we doing it? And how can we be doing it better? And what part does our past play in our present?
Every one was concerned about spoiling and spoiling comes many forms.
Saying no is huge, and saying it for the right reasons and sticking with it. We all agreed we had trouble with this one.
Moms were worried about how much freedom to give and when to give it.
Everyone understands we need to give them wings, but how hard that is to do.
And the five year old who just needs a few feathers attached is different than the seventeen year old who needs a full set and perhaps may take a few years before they learn how to fly. But we have to often times stand silently on the sidelines and watch them fall until they figure it out on their own. We agreed that making them dependent on us was not a good thing, though we secretly liked it sometimes when we felt like we were still needed. But, we want to send strong, independent people out into the world to find their own way. And do that we really have to step aside more times than not.
They just wanted to share their experiences, hold them up to mine and together see how could we find some solutions. They also really wanted to hear Taylor’s point of view, a glimpse into what the often times silence of a kid really means.
There was the mom who was worried about giving her five year old too many things.
“I want to buy her things, but how much is too much?”
That is a hard one to answer, as we all want to spoil our kids, for a variety of reasons, not all of them good.
When I asked how many moms go in and pick up for their kids, if a hand didn’t go up a smile or raised eyebrow indicated that we were all guilty as charged. How many nights have I been in Taylor’s room at midnight folding t-shirts and hanging up jeans?
We also all agreed that so often we are the parents we wanted to have as opposed to the parents our kids may be looking for. Most of the time your child does not need what you were lacking. This takes a lot of self-reflection and then behavior adjustment and these moms were so up for it.
They exhibited my favorite characteristic, fearlessness. They opened up and admitted their shortcomings and since most of them knew each other they were all willing to help each other out. Something I don’t see in my parental neck of the woods very often.
And when one – as we all do, might not have tagged herself correctly;
“ I don’t hover” Six women good-naturedley chimed in “Oh yes you do.”
The honesty made me proud, proud of them, proud to be a part of this group and proud that the film had sparked this lively discussion.
But at the same time it distressed me, as the people who should really be watching this film, are not the ones who are willing and able to own their parental shortcomings and search for ways to amend them.
The parents I know all too well, the ones for the most part who have kids in many of the private schools in New York and the rest of the country, the parents who are so self protective of this image of perfection of both themselves and their kids that they refuse to watch the film or own their participation in what could or is wrong with their families.
“The film should be shown at every private school in New York” At least ten psychologists and doctors have told me as much.
I’m not saying this because I made it. I’m merely repeating what has been said. I happen to agree.
But do you think one will show it?
Every private school in the city knows about this film, not one has asked to see it, show it and have us come speak. But Yeshivas have contacted me; public schools in New Jersey have contacted me. Apparently after the other day more schools in Queens and Long Island plan on showing it. And if they want we will go with it.
I see who buys it and it’s not the private schools. It’s the public ones all over the country, some Catholic ones and social workers like Harriet who understand what has to be done.
A friend out of state took it to their private school and felt strongly that the parent body should be forced to watch it. They refused, the response being “ We don’t want to upset the parents.”
What they really don’t want is to threaten their capital campaigns. And if you start insinuating that maybe giving junior a black Amex and use of the G4 is not a good parenting tool you may lose your new gym. Or if you suggest some one’s daughter may not just have an over active metabolism but is suffering from anorexia, well – kiss that pledge good-bye. And heaven forbid one suggests four tutors doing a kid’s homework while in the short run may get an Ivy League acceptance, and make the school’s college list that much more impressive; but in the long run it will not teach the self-reliance and competence one needs to really tackle life.
I just finished reading New York Magazine’s cover story on the suicide at Dalton last year. The article does not paint Dalton well. It basically accuses them of denying the suicide took place in different ways; like taking classic books such as Hedda Gabbler, Anna Karenina and Death of a Salesman out of the curriculum. So we are not just going to pretend this didn’t happen and that the natural feelings that accompany such a trauma don’t exist, but we shall dumb them down as well?
The article goes on to talk about how on the anniversary of the young man’s suicide the school “squelched any meaningful group observance.” This apparently infuriated students and some parents. Sounds like a good way to teach kids how to cope with life to me!!!!???
“Dalton’s actions gave the appearance of protecting it’s reputation, not it’s students.”
I would tack on capital fund to reputation.
Thank heavens for the moms of PS 186 and the other schools out there who are willing to bring us in and look at the tough issues, and search for ways to fix them. And do the really hard thing and look at themselves.
And bless you Harriet Cabelly for seeing the truth and helping others find it by not being afraid of it.
And most importantly, the mothers of PS 186 – Bellrose, Queens, you are Queens every day as far as I’m concerned.