Thursday, November 30, 2006

Bah, Humbug: The Sugar Plum Edition

Here’s the thing: my last substantial post was that whole big snippy letter to MG’s Principal, right? And everyone wrote such kind and supportive comments, for which I thank you muchly. And I promised to keep you all posted. So I will. But it’s kind of embarrassing.

I emailed the letter on Monday, and then didn't hear anything, which wasn't surprising considering it was almost Thanksgiving. Then that Wednesday, right before the 4-day weekend, I ran into the principal in the school office after MG’s after-school drama camp performance (in which she gave a stirring performance as one of six horses who didn’t want to help the Little Red Hen, played with splendid self-righteousness by MG’s friend Ginger. Which is a whole other post I didn’t write). I was in kind of a pissy mood anyway because the newsletter always has notices like “You can pick up x and y Important Forms in the office!” and the office is never open when us working parent types are there to pick up our kids at aftercare, and being in the office just reminded me of all that.

So maybe I wasn’t as diplomatic as I could’ve been. I’ve been on the other side of this kind of thing and I know the dread that strikes school personnel at even the prospect of the Pissy Parent. And I think that perhaps (just perhaps) I came off as the Pissy Parent. Though all I did at first was introduce myself and remind her of the letter, really because I wanted to get her okay to ask MG’s teacher if I could come in and do a song and dance about Chanukah.

But she got all defensive somehow and before I knew it she was going on about how wreaths aren’t a Christian symbol, not like a nativity scene or anything, that they’re secular and not tied to any one religion. And I was all, “Well, yes, actually they are. They’re a symbol of Christmas, which is a Christian holiday.” And SHE was all, “Well, really Christmas started as a pagan holiday anyway” which RW and I get into at home a fair bit so it’s a familiar trope to me and maybe I was kind of dismissive of that. Just a titch.

And she ended up backing away slowly with that terrified omigod-help-me-escape-from-this-Pissy-Parent look in her eye and babbling about how you learn something new every day and she hadn’t known that about wreaths and she certainly would look at the links I’d sent her.

I think perhaps it was not a great moment in civil liberties history.

It gets worse!

Because while I have been foaming at the mouth over the clueless principal and a couple of comments on another blog (a blog I love, whose host doesn’t share the commenters’ sentiments) about oversensitive people who want to Take Away Christmas and Santa and need to get over themselves, and generally getting ready to take up the banner of separation of church and state on behalf of all non-Christmas-celebrators everywhere, Renaissance Woman has been living up to her name and her status as PTA Board Member, and has been helping get the school’s Moosic Doscent (misspelled on purpose because I bet all the volunteers are madly Googling to get information about any similar programs anywhere) program. Which we have because the public schools are underfunded and all the arts are taught by parent volunteers.

The Chief Volunteer Moosic Doscent Hoo-Hah has decreed that all MooDo volunteers shall teach one composer each month, and that December is Tchaichovsky Month. (RW, upon being asked to vet the foregoing description: “Did you know he was gay?” Me, a little punchy: “No! Get out! You should teach that to the class!”)

Anyway, leaving aside the issue of sexual orientation, what is Tchaikovsky’s most famous work? All together now:


So, to review:

1. I wrote the principal a pissy letter about laying off the Xmas in school.
2. While hopped up on self-righteousness, I had a pissy conversation with the principal in which I gave her more bad news about more Xmas-related things I didn’t think she should have in school in December.
3. Meanwhile, RW, my spouse, through no fault of her own, will be giving a SPECIAL PRESENTATION to MG’s class, all about THE FRICKING NUTCRACKER SUITE, THE MOST FAMOUS XMAS BALLET EVER!
4. But she did decide not to hand out candy canes afterwards.

But wait! There’s still more!

RW and I have been doing some online shopping in preparation for the abundance of December holidays ahead of us. And MG, at my instigation and thanks to my dad's generosity, is going to see The Nutcracker when we go to New York this winter break. And she loves ballet and loves that book from the 70’s, “A Very Young Dancer,” which those of you of a certain age might recall is all about a 10-year-old girl who gets the lead part in The Nutcracker in New York.

So each of us, independently, ordered “A Very Young Dancer” for her from ABEBooks. Now we have two copies. RW suggested that since the whole fricking school is learning about fricking Tchaikovsky this month and the school library doesn’t have a copy of the book, we should donate it. And since I know the librarian professionally (aside from my new hobby as Pissy Parent) maybe I could email her and ask if she’d like to have it for the collection.

So, to further review:

1) I really need to email MG’s teacher about coming in to talk about Chanukah. Soon!
2) I really need to email MG’s librarian about whether she wants a book about the fricking Nutcracker Suite. Soon!
3) I should also email the principal to alleviate some of the wild-eyed Pissy Parent impression. But what on earth can I say to her, in the face of all the above?
4) I can’t bring myself to do any of it, somehow.

Meanwhile, MG asked me tonight at bedtime how to spell “Nisse,” which are little Danish house elves that come to your house at Christmas and do your housework if you leave them rice pudding. Because RW grew up Danish, we don’t do Santa at our interfaith house; we do nisse. “My teacher wanted to know how to spell it, and I didn’t know,” she said.

“Oh,” I said with elaborate casualness, “Were you talking about Christmas and Chanukah and stuff like that?”

MG, who is no dummy and can spot a loaded question a mile away, looked shifty. “She was talking about…winter. About what happens in winter. And I was the only one who knew about nisse! I bet I’m the only one who knows about Chanukah, too,” she added smugly.


5) As promised, I have to write the proper spelling of “nisse” on a piece of paper and put it in MG’s folder. So her teacher will know how to spell it.

And I will. Right after I impale myself on this handy menorah. Or a candy cane. Whichever’s closest.


Blogger nyjlm said...

sob!. I wrote a long response which is now lost in cyberspace.

I don't know if you'll feel the energy for this, but you could just send a quick email, apologizing for coming on strong. It is a sensitive issue for you and you don't want it to be a big issue for MG.

To make yourself feel better just consider that in my phone call w/the principal last year I actually said these words: Well, we used to make black people sit in the back of the bus. But we don't anymore. So traditions sometimes have to change.

Yeah. Don't know where that came from.

7:15 AM  
Anonymous rachel said...

It is really a pity that The Nutcracker and the 1812 Overture are Tchaikovsky's best-known works because they're both so overblown and kitschy. (Although, I heard a version of 1812 for accordion and tin-whistle on the CBC the other day, and that was a HOOT.)

Proposed substitutions: Swan Lake and the Symphonie Pathetique.

8:32 AM  
Blogger jeff said...

As a 28 year former school principal, I have to tell you that I enjoyed your story! Don't back down, keep writing, and frankly, you're right.

I have dealt with teachers who express their political and religious beliefs on the captive audiences of their students, and done the same battles as you. Keep it up.

10:56 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

ROFLMAO...ok, I know it was frustrating but you just made my Friday.

Personally, I think the Principal was pissy. You were just reactionary pissy but the first pissy person is the pissiest.

I know Christmas started out as a pagen holiday but so what? That's not how it's celebrated today. Besides, doesn't this Prnicipal know she's depriving the children of the whole Dreidel thing? Chocolate. Hello?

I want nisse to come to my house. Two days a week.

11:29 AM  
Anonymous baggage said...

Eh, I think that the principal needed to stop being defensive and listen to what you had to say. That's part of her job, to deal with parents and their children, whether they are pissy or not.

I don't see anything wrong with RW talking to the class about the Nutcracker Suite. I mean, it's kind of funny, but unless she is dressing the kids up in costumes and forcing them to dance, then it is a different ball game. Teaching about different traditions: good. Making the kids participate in traditions, not so good.

Speaking of, Bug just showed me a picture of a nutcracker she had to color at school

12:07 PM  
Blogger liz said...

Bring "More All of a Kind Family" with you when you go. It's got a really, really good explanation of Hanukah in it.

Also bring in the Canadian Brass's Christmas Album, which has the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy...played by a tuba. You can't get much more subversive than that.

6:48 PM  
Anonymous ppb said...

I do love that Canadian Brass version.
Um, might I suggest that you just scrap Christmas and Channukah (I never know how to spell that), and celebrate the pagan Yul instead? Suggest that to the principal. It seems a fair compromise. And then she/he can sit and listen to all the parents complain about it, and maybe THEN we'll drop the religion in school thing for once and for all.
Snowmen! Snowwomen! Snowpuppies! New year's Clocks! Auld Lang Sine (however you spell that one). Pagan rituals. What more could kids want? Other than, oh, reading and writing and music history.

7:26 PM  
Blogger Pamelamama said...

aaaaaarrrrgghhh!! gah, I can FEEL the frustration!

5:37 PM  
Blogger LilySea said...

Call it Pagan all you want but in the 21st century in the United States, it's a Christmas wreath unless there's a big sign over it saying "NOT a Christmas Wreath" which, well...I will try not to get all Derrida on your blog comments.

Anyway, "Pagan" is a religion too (albeit a vague one under that name) and has no more place in the school than any other religion.

Really. Why do they have to talk to children about religious holidays at all? It's not ba humbug, it's the friggin' Constitution.

That's it! Declare December, U.S. Bill of Rights Month in all public schools. Study the First Amendment in school and learn your religious holidays at home.

You know good and well that whoever picked Tchaikosky for December knew good and well about the whole Nutcracker thing too.

7:08 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

I'm with lilysea. I've never understood why it's necessary to have any mention of any religion in school.

Perhaps children should have a mandatory theology class where everyone learns about all kinds of religions. Other than that, people should do their praying and celebrating at home.

On another note, I really like the new template. It's very inviting.

12:35 PM  
Blogger Psycho Kitty said...

Oh girl.
There is a big brouhaha in my town right now because the city won't put up a menorah along with all the Xmas trees and so forth because--get this--they have a policy against displaying religious symbols. Which is all good and well, but Xmas trees aren't religious symbols? I mean, come on. Who ever puts up a Solstice Tree?

2:13 PM  
Anonymous wiredferret said...

Made me think of you, and this:

11:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Moosic Dozent HooHa specifically ordered we do Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker for December. There's a big production at the ballet here (with Maurice Sendak sets, no less) and a lot of kids know about it. Though now that the windstorm canceled my chance to present it in the appropriate month, I'll have to see if they want me to skip it.
Not that I'm nuts about the Nutcracker, but it'd be kind of a shame to waste the hours of preparation I did, not to mention the chance for the kids to hear the Very Best Ever rendition of the Sugar Plum Fairy -- played entirely on bicycle parts. You can hear (and see) it here:
Couldn't happen to a nicer fairy.

Happy Holidays of all flavours and Happy New Year to all of you,
- Renaissance Woman

11:49 PM  

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