Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Field Guide To Moms

We've all heard about Tiger Mothers. In fact, I see them at every PTO meeting I attend (although, I confess, after three years serving as the PTO secretary, I haven't attended much lately — PTO burnout). These are the moms who arrive on time, sit up straight, take notes, and ask questions pertinent only to their little genius/diva/Olympic champion.

"I have a question," they begin, smiling at the group complicitly as though, surely, we all have the same query. "If my daughter is already taking 5 AP classes, can she still start a third language this year?"

Or, "Why does woodwind ensemble meet at the same time as lacrosse? It's really impossible for my son to give up either, and he has his heart set on winning student body president this year."

Or, "Is it possible for the kids to get extra credit for their summer jobs? My daughter is spending July in Geneva, curing cancer."

In a town like ours, Tiger Mothers are everywhere. They regularly email teachers to protest grades. They challenge school committee members, principals, and the superintendent in forums both public and private. They push their National Honor Society tiger cubs into excessive extracurricular activities to build their resumés. 

(Question: shouldn't you have to actually do something before you have a resumé?)

We also have the so-called Dolphin Mothers. These are the liberally educated PBS types. They wear embroidered jackets from Tibet and chunky jewelry. They drag their offspring to cultural events. While their manner may be more fluid, they still expect extraordinary things from their often ordinary kids.

While Tigers and Dolphins (and Helicopters) may be the most famous, here are some other mothers you may see out in the wilds of upper middle class suburbia:

The Ostrich Mother, who buries her head in the sand. As far as she knows (or wants to know), her teen is doing fine. No school issues, no friend troubles, no eating disorders, no inappropriate use of digital technology. All fine here. Thank you. Nothing to see. Move along.

The Harp Seal Mother, who sacrifices everything for her teen. In nature, the harp seal nurses her newborn 24 hours a day for 12 days. (Yikes!) During this period, the pup gains 60 pounds while the mom loses 84. (I repeat, Yikes!) In humans, this phenomenon can be observed in what teens and their moms are wearing: Uggs and Abercrombie vs. the clearance rack at Marshalls. 

The Octopus Mother, who has her many hands in as many things as possible. She runs the church youth group, coaches softball, tutors reading, organizes fundraisers, volunteers at the local thrift shop. She is generous, dedicated, utterly tireless. You see, if she stays really involved, she won't really have to let go.

The Koala Bear Mother, who carries all the weight. These moms are über supportive. In fact, they want their little joey to succeed so badly that they don't just jump in and help, they happily take over. Teen daughter's too tired to finish her essay on Ayn Rand's Anthem? No problem. The Koala will write it for her, and still find time to mash up a nice meal of eucalyptus leaves.

Most moms I know blend characteristics of all of these types. I've certainly helped with homework (stopping well before all-out ghostwriting, but I can understand the temptation). My daughter does indeed dress better than I do, and she'd be the first to complain about my high expectations and how often I insist we go to plays and museums. And, although I don't completely hide from awkward teenage truths, I have been known to turn the occasional blind eye.

So, which mother am I really? 

You'll have to ask my daughter.

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