There are so many wonderful options available by which to torture your children and, God knows, I try to take advantage of as many of them as I can. As if forced church attendance weren’t enough to qualify me for “Mean Mom” status, I also make my kids put their dirty clothes in the hamper, put their dirty dishes in the dishwasher and, heaven forbid, complete their homework in a timely fashion.
But of all the tortuous tasks I inflict upon them, by far the most onerous to date has been Social.
The purpose of the program is to teach 5th and 6th grade children social responsibilities and skills. Specifically, the children receive lessons in ballroom and contemporary dancing as well as training in guidelines and responsibilities for social situations they will encounter throughout their lives. These responsibilities emphasize courtesy, kindness and respect for others.
There is a dress code for the program. Boys must wear a coat and tie or a suit and girls must wear a dress or a skirt. The children are given assignments that involve such things to practice as telephone etiquette and proper introductions.
By all accounts, Social is a wonderful thing. After all, who among us parents doesn’t want polite, well-mannered, properly socialized children. Add to that a child who can stumble his way through an easy tango or cha cha and you’ve got a real gem on your hands. As you can see, I’m a huge fan of Social.
The views of other family members with regards to Social are somewhat less favorable. Natalie enjoys dressing up and loves the drama and gossip that goes along with each class. I actually think she secretly enjoys Social, but her spoken opinion is one of resigned tolerance.
My 11-year-old son, Jacob, however, considers Social to be akin to one of Dante’s circles of hell. He looks at Social as a form of child abuse and if he only knew the phone number of Child Protective Services, I have no doubt that he would have filed a complaint. Jacob hates Social in the way that normal people hate things like ticks.
In my defense, I am not the only mother around forcing her kids to participate in Social. The class is full of fidgety, nervous, stiffly-dressed 5th and 6th graders. Around here it’s somewhat of a rite of passage. Plus, truth be told, if there was ever a boy who needed some guidance in manners and etiquette, it would be Jacob.
That’s not to say my insistence on his participation hasn’t come at a price. Jacob is a stubborn boy. But I’m stubborn too. And, to my advantage, I’m still a little bigger than him.
As if the ordeal of agreeing on appropriate Social attire wasn’t bad enough, getting Jacob out of the car and into the fellowship hall proved to be a pure battle of wills. I had hoped that carpooling with his friends might provide enough peer pressure to ensure proper, if reluctant, obedience but I underestimated my strong-willed son. By the second class, I realized a more forceful approach would be necessary.
Everyone had left the car and headed inside, but Jacob remained stubbornly seated in the car, refusing to exit the vehicle.
“Jacob, you’re going to Social. We can do this the easy way or the way that involves public humiliation, but either way, you’re going to Social.” Glaring and bad-tempered, illiterate grumbling followed. I sighed. I guess he was opting for Choice B. “Really, Jacob?” My query was followed by more glaring and grumbling.
I opened his car door, took his arm and “escorted” my unhappy son to the fellowship hall. We were surrounded by nicely dressed, jittery 5th graders. Mrs. P, the impeccably proper director of the program, sensing unrest, rushed over to our side. “Is there a problem?” she asked.
“Yes, actually Mrs. P, we do have a problem. My son here and I are having a bit of a disagreement over his participation in your worthwhile program. I’m worried that his reluctance to exit my car and enter the fellowship hall might be extending to his participation and I want to make sure that he has been acting appropriately in class and not causing any problems.”
More glaring and incoherent mumbling. I think I may have heard the word “hate.”
Mrs. P assured me that Jacob had been a model student in during the previous class.
“Well that’s good. But I do want you to know that if there is but one incident of disrespectful behavior, I want to know about it. I wouldn’t want to subject any of the sweet girls in this class to the unnecessary trauma of having to partner with an insolent boy. If there are any issues, I’ll just come to each class and be Jacob’s partner myself.”
“Oh, I assure you that I’ll keep you informed of any problems. And really, we would simply LOVE you to participate in Social if the need should arise.”
And I would simply LOVE to participate as well! Jacob and I shared a long, meaningful stare. Message given and received. I left the building and returned an hour later to a boy in much better spirits.
Jacob will probably never love Social, and he continues to fight me about getting dressed in appropriate attire, but he’s been a lot better about exiting the vehicle and walking to the fellowship hall. He knows me well enough to know that I do not bluff . . . and that I would love nothing more than to spend an hour dancing and reviewing rules of etiquette with my handsome son.