Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Class List

If you ever move to London and face the loneliness at the beginning...

If you have children you might think that your loneliness will dissolve when they start school.  After all, you will see moms at drop-off and home time ("home time", such a nice phrase, much better than "pick up") and will  get a class list with contact info making it easier to socialize.  I've already talked about the strange quiet among moms at drop-off and home time.  The class list issues, however, baffle me even more than awkward intro conversations.

At home when your children start school, you get a class list with the parents names--their first ones-- child's name, home and cell numbers (it is "cell" as in cellular, not "mobile" in the US), email, physical address, and perhaps a birthday.  It might even include a child's allergies.   This is just assumed, expected, done.  It is not thought about.  By the second or third week of school, you probably receive a booklet containing all of that information for the entire school.   As you may have guessed, this is not so in London.

My children attend two different--completely different, philosophically and demographically--schools.  At the nursery school, we are into week 3, yet we still have no class list.  Last week at our PTA meeting, the headmistress proudly told us that our request to have emails included on the list was approved.  The list was out by the sign in sheets last week so that we could proof our entry.  This list will not contain first names of parents, and perhaps not the parents at all.  (The list from Fall 2008 had parents first names, courtesy of M&M being PTA chair, but names haven't reappeared since.)  Home phone numbers are more likely than mobile numbers.  The list always contains full physical addresses.  I assume that privacy concerns drive the sparse roosters so the inclusion of a physical address confused me.  An American concerned about privacy would more likely list only email, and probably has an email dedicated for school and other kid stuff.  The last thing a privacy seeking American would put down is their physical address.  Yasha thinks that since it is unthinkable for a Brit to stop by someone's house unexpectedly and because the moat and drawbridge rule dictates obscure house numbers, that Brits probably see their address as the piece of personal information least likely to result in actual contact.

I have the class list for the other school.  It is only the class list for Cupcake's class.  There are 11 other classes.  The class list contains, I kid you not, the children's names.  The girls are underlined.  The boys are not.  Despite the complete pathetic-ness of this list, I am less bothered by it.  First, this school believes that you drop your child at the door and they take care of the rest.  If they need you, they call you.  If you need them, call them.  After we moms get used to this arrangement, we rather liked it.  Second,  keeping with their philosophy, the school has no PTA, no Casino Nights, no Homeroom Moms.  If we mom's want to socialize, we can, and have, on our own terms.  There is no pressure.  Third, some experienced mom always steps up to gather parent details for the previously mentioned social stuff.

This year I am that experienced mom.  I figured I'd just show up the first week with a clipboard and pass it around.  I got about 5 Italians and one German father, who I later learned was my Turkish friend's husband dropping their youngest off, that is, I already had her details and had met her for numerous coffees, playdates, and movie nights.  Knowing that the nursery school list would be long coming, I'd tried this clipboard at the nursery school as well.  It was a complete bust on all counts.  I may as well have been one of those survey takers in a mall for all the hits I got.

This year the Reception teachers have started a little newsletter of the previous weeks events and general announcements that goes out on Fridays.  One mother, who would like simply to find a carpool buddy for school, suggested that I put my email in the newsletter so that parents who wished to could send me their details.  I thought it was a great idea so I spoke to the head teacher this morning.  They won't put that in the newsletter.  I am welcome, however, to print out my own little slip to go in the backpacks.  I should talk to the headmistress.  The headmistress is happy to do so but seemed rather baffled that I would want to put the slip in more than my daughter's class or my daughter's section (6 classes).  "You want to put the slip in all of them?"  Pause.  I nod.  "Well as long as it is all printed out and ready to go.  Thank you."  I should mention that I like this lady a lot.  She intimidating though.  Growing up all of my principles were men and/or very friendly so whenever I heard people talk about an intimidating school marm, I didn't really get it.  Now I do.  She is tiny, happy, and very intimidating.

By half term in mid-October I should finally have all of the class list issues sorted.  I might get the nursery school list tonight at the Curriculum Night.  Yes, there is a curriculum for the nursery school.  I have to attend tonight as a member of the PTA.  Do you sense another mild rant in the making?

In the few minutes before The Things' hometime, I need to schedule a coffee meet for the moms for whom I do have contact info, put in a change of address on Yasha's and my voter registrations, run get some bread for bruschetta for tonight's gathering, and otherwise soak in this lovely day.  I've been typing on my front balcony, a very un-British thing to do, but the day is too lovely to be inside.  This might be the last pretty and mild day until Spring.

I'm starting to wonder if I am just going crazy.  Is this class list stuff harder than it used to be at home?  Are privacy issues striking there as well?  So many years have passed since I was involved in school, I wonder if I just remember that things are easier at home.

Week 4 into school and the nursery school class list hasn't gone out yet and I have a whopping 27 out of perhaps 120 contacts for my kid in Reception.  As a member of the PTA I do have a contact list for the nursery school, and it surprisingly contains mobiles, email, and parents first names.  I'm waiting to see what information appears on the regular list.  Sounds like the limited listings might be due to a few personalities rather than the school in general.  A friend wonders if some of the privacy concerns are status markers, people trying to prove they are Somebody by citing privacy concerns.  I wouldn't stagger from shock to find that was the case.  So my analysis loses some force as a comment on Brits in general.

Yet there isn't some generally known and accepted practice about such things. Unlike at home, this stuff is complicated.  The 27 out of 120ish for the other school, however, surprises me.  It shouldn't.  After 2 years there is an email list for the Year 2 moms of 47 out of 120ish, so this 27 isn't that bad.  Some of us want to be social, and we will.  Others don't want to socialize.  That's fine.  My only complaint there is that every once in a while one of the hard to contact parents complains that they didn't get information for one thing or another.  When dealing with a school that does not control inter-parent communication, you have to pick one or the other: be on the list and get regular information or refuse the list and get info by less reliable word of mouth.

I hope that this little rant doesn't come off as too frustrated.  I'm less frustrated than surprised.  I don't understand not wanting to know the family of your kid's school mates.  I'm hopelessly American.  The Impertinence of Being Earnest, I'd guess.  Funnily enough, today I had a chat with one of the new moms, a Dane.  Danes are easy to talk to.  There is little veiling.  She said that as soon as she read the little flyer I sent out in the backpacks she thought, "Well, this lady certainly isn't British."  Perhaps 30 minutes earlier, as Cupcake and I scooted down the King's Road, my American friend Gnomz had driven by and hollered out a greeting to which we hollered and waved back.  Yes, I am certainly not British.


Anonymous said...

Ha haaaa! You are a brave woman brandishing a clipboard outside school, or you don't mind risking getting a reputation for being the token pushy American!! I am a PTA rep again, (sucker for punishment), and let me tell you, every single piece of personal information is required, wanted and requested by our parents. I have been charged with producing a LAMINATED contact credit-card size thing containing, name of child, surname, mum's name, dad's name, address, email, mobile number and age of everyone in the family. OK, so the last one is not true, (but the laminated bit did scare me because I am useless on my Mac still and even drawing up a table required 2 hours of intense concentration! Someone's kind PA has jumped in to offer to do them for us all though, which makes me yearn for a life with a PA again!). However, all the info is so useful and none of our parents have any issue with this information being available to not just our class but the entire year. I have never understood why your email was not allowed onto the contact sheet at nursery, very odd that. Yasha is quite right though; you can have my address but don't turn up unannounced. We don't live in the north you know. My house is my castle and my teabags my own until you invited to share them!

Kinsey Holley said...

The "no dropping in unannounced" is something I can get behind. It's most unSouthern of me, but I don't like people dropping in unannounced. It's all right if it's one of the Sisters, b/c I don't care if y'all see me or my house in a state of gross disrepair and if I'm too busy to yak, I can tell you. But for anyone outside the circle, I think it's very rude. (And I don't even do it to the Sisters b/c you never know. When we walk the dog, we call ahead before stopping in at Uncle G and Aunt W's. I told Diva "It's only polite. What if they're making out?" "Mommmmm! That's gross!")

The rest of it, though -- the no personal contact outside of school till you've known someone a few years, the reluctance to share minimal contact information with other parents, the fact that a Londoner wouldn't tell you your hair was on fire if you hadn't already been introduced - yeah. Weird.

When we were over there, and I was doing my solo running around, I made it a point to smile brightly and say "Hi! How are you!" a few times to people on the streets. I did not expect anyone to answer or engage me in conversation, I just did it to see the look of shock and discomfort it elicited. That was fun. On the Tube, I only did it upon exiting.

Also, wanted to make something clear about the Glitzy Contemp i'm working on - the countryhouse/Westminster orgy scene will happen offstage and the heroine will not be a participant. She'll be hanging out elsewhere, waiting for the friend she attended the party with to get finished.

I write sex scenes, but not orgies.