Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Confessions of a carpool mom

My daughter is still loving kindergarten. She has announced that she likes computers and playing on the playground best, and in addition to our carpool friend, she has two other little girls who rush up to her when we arrive. This morning, she entertained me with a recitation of the potential "boogers" and their origins: "Eye boogers; nose boogers; ear boogers..." This is the kind of thing that would have completely charmed her Papa, who would have entered eagerly into the game.

I, on the other hand, am finding myself stupidly resistant to her new school. This weekend, in addition to trips to her school, I found myself in two other bastions of white privilege: an impossibly expensive private school (where I attended a memorial service) and an "adult community" situated on/around a golf course. Since I live on the west coast, I should point out that none of the three settings was entirely "white"--there was a sprinkling of beige, some black hair, several Asians, and a small number of people perhaps best classified as "Hispanic"--that is, perhaps vaguely Latin in origin (given that culturally "Hispanics" include blonds with blue eyes).

And, of course, this has led to a further crisis of my benighted soul, and a backlash against the very group(s) of people I have intentionally chosen to educate my child alongside. To be fair, her school so far seems more noteworthy for its folksy hippie roots than for the wealth of its population, but we live in an area where the wealthiest among us seem to exist largely in (expensive, designer, or organic cotton) yoga gear and to drive Subarus. So it can be hard to judge economic status. And within a pretty wide range of income levels, one disheveled kindergartner looks much like (in terms of "status") another.

But I was struck, particularly at the private school where the memorial was held, by the nearly claustrophobic inevitability that obtains at this level of privilege. The students in attendance (mostly 8th grade and up) were articulate, confident, and emanated waves of self-satisfaction. It was very obvious that they were well on the way to the kind of social prominence, political power, and economic influence that their parents radiated. They were in possession of every advantage--exceptional dentistry, outstanding diet, a lifetime of lessons, activities, challenges, and opportunities, stylish and/or flattering clothes, good haircuts, etc., etc., etc. I don't mean to pick on these kids. Who among us wouldn't want to provide such advantages for ours? What disturbed me was the blatant injustice of such inherited status, and of the self-confidence it breeds.

I realize I can't possibly know which of these kids were on scholarship, or dealing with a serious illness or loss, or troubled by some secret despair. Others may well go on to rid the world of some scourge, to join the Peace Corps, to promote international adoption. But like their older versions at the adult community, these students clearly accepted their social position and its largesse with a comfort I confess to never having felt, even though my own life has been remarkably easy, by most people's standards. That sense of belonging, entitlement, and the expectation of it, seems particularly marked in the places I visited--including my daughter's school.

Part of me wants that for her--that confidence, that ease in the world. A lot of me wants all children to have those benefits. The problem is not that success is largely inevitable, or that kids have every opportunity. The problem is that the overwhelming majority of the people who experience those opportunities and successes look so much alike, and that inevitability is a self-fulfilling prophecy. I want those opportunities for my daughter, but I want her to grow up without that sense of blind entitlement, without believing that everyone in the world is as lucky as she is, or that such luck somehow makes her morally superior. That's a hard line to walk.

Do I even need to mention that in one of these bastions of privilege I encountered a public elementary school? And that it was named for a civil rights hero? The irony is all the more painful because it seems to go unnoticed by the residents.

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