Last summer, my daughter wanted to celebrate her birthday by having her two best friends over for a slumber party. I emailed both moms with an invitation and some possible dates. One of them emailed back that it didn’t matter what the date was, because she didn’t feel comfortable having her daughter in my home. Ever.
Whaaaaat? Sure, I’m unapologetically counterculture, but my kids are safe, healthy, happy, and thriving. I routinely care for other people’s children without any mishap greater than sugar overload or a mud fight.
What could I have possibly done to convince this woman that I was unfit to supervise children? Had I shown up drunk at a school function? I didn’t remember doing that… maybe I was blacked out? Had she been stalking my Facebook page and found out that I “liked” the Black Panthers and Zapatistas? Was it my neo-pagan wardrobe? Was it the tattoos on my hot young lover? Because bitch, he might look like a gangster, but he would never hurt a woman or a child.
My daughter was heartbroken and inconsolable, so I swallowed my pride and emailed back: was the problem the house itself, and if so could we have the party at a different location? Was it me, and if so could somebody else host, maybe my completely inoffensive mom?
She snapped back that it was rude of me to imply that she was being intolerant — it didn’t matter where the party was or who was supervising — I made bad choices and her daughter would not be attending.
Following a different drummer is all well and good, until your kid gets shunned for it. Then the panic sets in.
Six months later, the anxiety attacks are subsiding. I think I can go to the school’s winter concert without Xanax. My daughter has been resilient and gracious about the situation. And I’ve gleaned two blessings from the experience.
First: I am so grateful that I don’t have to live with the fearfulness that this woman must have. It must be so terrible to be afraid of people who are different than you. I’m glad that I can raise my daughters to know better. I’m grateful for my joyful and diverse community of friends who agree with me that shunning a child for a parent’s perceived faults is not OK.
Second: I have increased awareness and compassion for other people who have to go through this. If my white and middle class daughter had to endure this awful attack, how many other kids in her class have gone through it, too? How many more times would it happen if I was transgender, or mixed race, or lived in public housing? How many times does something like that have to happen to a child before they internalize the shame and stop reaching out to people? How many adults secretly carry around those ancient wounds?
I wish I knew, and knew who they were. So I could invite them all to a slumber party.
With too much sugar and a mud fight.