Toronto
2 min

Playing the heavy

What did I think the kids would do?

I just finished being one of three volunteer parents for a school project on “respect.”



The project was a response to behaviour problems – classes being disruptive, playground roughness, kids feeling left out, teachers at the end of their rope. The idea of a drama project came up as a kids-up solution and since word’s got round that I’ve done some theatre, I got roped in.



There were benefits for me: I’d get to know some of the older kids, work a bit with the teacher who my daughter will have next year, and support a worthwhile initiative.



I’m often distressed by the way kids are frequently assumed not to know enough. My philosophy is, if you treat them with respect and autonomy, they’ll respond by being respectful and co-operative.



So I was happy to imagine myself, hanging out with a few 10- and 11-year-olds doing improvised drama. I was keen to let all the ideas flow from them, not control them but to guide them. It would be my small contribution to a definition-free, rule-free, anti-authoritarian world.



But I have another stake in not being the bossy, no-fun, unlikeable adult. There are already enough reasons to talk about me behind my back. My hair’s too short. My glasses are too big. Smaller kids give me long looks in the playground and I know they’re trying to fit what they see with what they’re learning about evolution.



I know that’s not my problem, but I don’t want to reinforce their predisposition to dislike queers. Not to say my daughter’s school community is, on the whole, homophobic. Homo-unfamiliar maybe or homo-awkward. But kids are sponges for the surrounding homophobic culture. They know I’m not normal.



So I try my usual approach. I don’t yell at them. I tolerate their buzzing, chaotic energy. I let them know I expect their interest in the skit we’re developing, expect that they want to contribute good ideas, play their parts well, not makes fools of themselves.



The result is quite pathetic. They’re all over the place, arguing with each other. They’re all talking at the same time. They’ve discovered a chair with wheels in our rehearsal space and they whiz each other across the floor, fighting to get on or off it.



Hysterically, our play is about co-operation, and they’re very keen to show what it isn’t before they show what it is.



My only recourse is to become what I don’t want to be: the disgruntled, impatient adult. It’s discouraging, but necessary, because if I can’t earn their respect by being cool and un-authoritarian, I don’t want to lose it altogether as the helpless parent who let them get away with everything.



So I speak harshly. I invoke peer pressure, embarrassment, the failure of their careers in Hollywood. I threaten to withdraw them from the project. It works, of course. They focus, at least for a few minutes. They come up with some ideas and start to sort things out. But it never lasts very long and I can’t really relax into the cool, collected parent I wanted to be.



This isn’t what it was supposed to be. I wanted to be the lesbian mom who proves all their stereotypes wrong by being fun and easy to work with. But every time I have to put my foot down, I lose a little piece of that fantasy. I give up, relinquish being the queer parent who was – hey! – more fun than all the rest.



But maybe that’s not so bad. They put together a pretty good skit and I found myself feeling proud of them. Because, really, maybe they’re just kids and I’m just another ordinary adult, trying too hard to fit in.