Photo Credit: Wikimedia.
Mmph… that potluck…. Wow… that potluck. Let me tell you ‘bout that potluck. But first, business:
I want to be perfectly clear about the context in which all of this happened. So let’s get some disclaimers going: I have no problem with being the only Black person in the room. I’ve been at this for a while and my ambitions have often brought me to places where I’m the only person holding it down for the colored folk. There are many folk of color out there who can probably articulate this experience better than I am, so I’m not going to talk too much about it, but I’ll just say that I’m used to it.
For further context, I should also note that there is a serious separation at Ursa Major’s school between the “toddler” moms (the group I’m in) and the “preschool” moms, who have known each other longer. There are also simply more preschool moms, it would seem. A lot of the preschool moms have been there for a while because they’ve had multiple kids come through the school. So it makes it awkward for us new Toddler moms to break into this social scene. It should also be noted that social events for this school are adults-only and husbands were part of this, too, which is an interesting injection of new people. The pick-up and drop-off scene at school is usually a women’s club with a special guest appearance from a dad every once in a while.
One last thing I will say before we get started is, as the daughter of a journalist and a good student of political science, I’ve become a great listener and I am really keyed into language. You can learn a lot by just watching and listening—and doing it while holding down a conversation takes practice.
So, in a nutshell: Only black person. Everyone else knows each other. Husbands and wives. I paid a lot of attention.
Ok, so are we clear on context? Good. Buckle your freaking seat belts.
Let’s set the scene…
I had a chaotic afternoon with the boys, but I had two meals to prep, so I was cooking most of the afternoon. As soon as dinner was on the table, my wings were in the oven in preparation for the party. The Husband came in late, so my own gussy-up time was a little bit short, but in the end, I was able to leave the house with gorgeous and spicy jerked chicken wings and looking like I kinda know how to dress myself.
So I get in the car, turn on the GPS and queue up my playlist. It was a 20 minute drive from my place to the party, through the center of town and eventually on some serious back roads. It was pitch dark with no street lights, but I’m telling you right now, I was in the fancy part of town. The stupid crazy fancy part of town. The “oh shit, that’s still the same house” part of town. The “was that a fourth door on that garage??” part of town. Ok? Ok.
I get to the house with the dramatically long driveway. A couple was in front of me and a couple behind. I walked in to what was already a pretty bumpin’ scene. Everyone had a drink in hand, the music was pumpin’, the laughs were abundant, and food was barely being touched. Immediately realizing that I didn’t really know anyone, I went seeking the hostess, one of the moms from Ursa Major’s class. She was immediately happy to see me. “Oh my gosh! So glad you could make it! Come right on in? What did you bring?”
“I brought some jerked chicken. They’re super spicy.”
“In my mind, there is no such thing as too spicy!”
“Where can I put it?”
“Oh, I don’t know, let’s put it on the table out in the dining room—“ She turns to lead me when another couple comes in. The hostess greets them with hugs, and the woman also has a plate with foil atop of it. She’s holding it oven mitts.
Woman: “Do you want me to put anything under this? I don’t want to scorch your table.”
Hostess: “Oh, I don’t know, they brought the tables from school, I think there are table cloths on them, I don’t really care.”
Woman: “Are you sure? I can put the mitts under, or if you have a placemat…”
Hostess: “Oh my God, I love that you care. Usually, we’re so ghetto around here that I don’t even bother. Seriously! No, let’s just put it on the table.”
Hmmm… mkay…. Now, I’m not the type to say anything about this in this instance. I’m in this woman’s house, I just got here.
I walk into the dining room and greet a few people with a warm smile. I peel back the foil on the still-hot jerked wings, and suddenly I’ve got everyone’s attention. I heard two of the husbands give an audible “thank you” as they walked over to gaze and then partake. I warned them—these are spicy, I said!—there were no dainty and polite helpings of those wings. Dudes just ate them.
And I’m not one to brag, but I will say that my dish was the only one completely empty when I left…
Actually, no, I’m gonna brag about that…
Anyway, so people now want to talk to me because either they want the recipe for themselves or they want to make it for their partner at some point. At first I play the “I’m a southern cook, I’m not sharing” card, but eventually I tell them what spice jar I use. “But, clearly, I doctor from there, so I’m not telling you the rest!”
That got them going. Oh how they loved that.
I’m later standing in the kitchen with another “toddler” mom whom I met before, we’ll call her Gwen. I really like Gwen, her youngest son is in the other toddler class at the school. We haven’t had a lot of opportunities to speak, but whenever we’ve stolen a moment, it has been really pleasant. She’s on the “social” committee, so she felt responsible for doing the dishes and keeping things clean. I was speaking with her as she was moving around in the kitchen. One of the “preschool” moms was trying to make room on the table in the dining room, so she’d come to the kitchen looking for a smaller plate. She decided to just put whatever mush was in her platter onto a paper plate instead.
“Oh my God, isn’t this the most ghetto thing you’ve ever seen in your life?” Preschool mom says to Gwen. I’m standing right next to Gwen
I look at my phone, but I know I’m making a face. Gwen stammers. “I’m sure you can just split that with another plate…”
Preschool mom laughs a little too loud and takes the suggestion. I look up at Gwen who is wincing uncomfortably. But she doesn’t comment about what just happen. She rolls right along with what we were talking about before. I’m not going to hold Gwen accountable for another woman’s language, so I didn’t say anything either. I noted her discomfort, though. I gave Gwen my email address—we’re going to have to get together for coffee in the near future.
But seriously, though, I love how certain people just feel so comfortable that they don’t check their language at all, even when there are “others” present. I know you see me, and I know you know that that’s not terribly appropriate. I heard people refer to something at this party as “ghetto” at least another 3 times before the night was over. Nothing is “ghetto” in the middle of a million dollar house, ya’ll. Furthermore, none of ya’ll have ever really been to a ghetto. You’ve probably driven within a 3 block radius of a ghetto, but you’ve never actually been there. You have no flippin’ concept of what “ghetto” is, so please. Please, shut the hell up.
I was only supposed to stay for an hour, but 2 hours later, I’m still there are talking mostly with my host mom, Rose, who I really like. We talked about our boys and knitting and quirky internet things in a quiet and cool room on the other side of the house. Every once in a while, someone would stumble in, a little tipsy and loud, blurt out something incoherent, and then keep moving. Eventually, I looked at my phone and realized, “oh my God, it’s 10:45!”
Rose: “I know, we’re actually out, like real people for once!”
Me: “I know…that’s nice…but I was only supposed to stay for an hour! I can’t believe ya’ll party this way!”
Rose: “Yeah, welcome to [the school]. You really haven’t seen anything yet.”
She had no idea how right she was. Because I resolved to get my plate and leave. I went to go find the hostess to say my goodbyes. She was standing with one of the other moms of our toddler class. We’ll call her Peggy. Peggy was only just arriving, she had a large glass of red wine in her hand, and she didn’t need it, because she was already pretty toasty.
“Kyra! I’m so glad you came! Where is your husband?” She yells at me.
“He didn’t come. She says he’s shy,” Hostess, who is one her third or fourth vodka tonic answers for me.
“Ohhhhh, no no no. He needs to come to these things. Tell him he doesn’t have a choice! He needs to come to these things!” Peggy yells before taking a long drag of wine. “Hey! Hey! I want you to meet my husband. Come here!” She takes a few steps over to a huge, huge man. Not huge as in fat, huge as in giant crazy tall dude. In a plaid flannel button down shirt? What?
“This is my husband, [Bill]. [Bill], this is Kyra!” Bill has a warm smile and he gives me the strongest handshake I’ve experienced in a while.
And of course, we need to talk about that, because I personally hate weak handshakes. We are now, as a group, talking about that. Until Peggy bumps into someone and spills water all over the floor. Hostess goes to take care of that, and Peggy offers to help. Now I’m standing with Bill. Being a Washingtonian, my first question is always “so what do you do?”
“I’m in finance,” Bill states. Now we’re talking about marketing materials for financial packages at MIT. Not. Interesting.
Peggy comes back. “Oh my God, I can’t believe your husband isn’t here. You both must come to the auction. Not an option! Tell him we’ll come over, put a blindfold on him, and force him to go! He gets a false choice, like a toddler!”
Me: “I mean, I guess. I don’t really get the auction. What is the point of that?”
Hostess: “I know, right? Why am I plopping down $200 for a winetasting that I’m not even going to do?”
Peggy: “That’s not the point! The point is, you must be there!”
Me: “Alrighty, [Peggy]. We’ll make those plans. Anyway, I’m probably going to head out—“ I look at my cell phone, “because it’s freaking 11:15! Oh my God!”
Peggy: “Welcome to [The School]! We’re going to break all of your habits!”
Me: “Well, yeah, but I’ve gotta get out of here…”
Peggy: “Hey, wait a second,” she takes another good drag of wine, “I was telling [Bill] that you are buying a house. When is that happening again?”
Me: “This upcoming Friday. Thank God,” I look at Bill to keep him included, “I’ll be so grateful to have the house in my possession. It has been a long process.”
Peggy: “And where is the house? It’s in [Hillston], right? Isn’t that far from the school?”
Me: “I mean, not really. We currently live in [West Battleboro] and I think that the new house is only another 5 minutes or so away. Not that far at all.”
Peggy: “Oh, but I mean, wouldn’t you rather have [Ursa Major] attend schools in [Hillston]? You know? Get to know [Hillston] people? That would be so much better for you!”
Me, shocked: “I mean, I don’t really think so. Everything is so close together anyway, and [Ursa Major] is making friends, so…”
Peggy: “I mean, I really think you ought to withdraw your little guy right before kindergarten and register him in the Rainbow School or whatever the preschool is over there in [Hillston]. That would be so much better… you know, so you can get established and stuff. Yeah, that would be so much better.”
Wow, really? Really, lady? You think I did all of this work to get over here, spent all of this time purchasing this house, and went through this lengthy process to get my kid into a good school, and you think that I’m going to just withdraw my kid because you want me to? Have you lost your God damned mind?
Did I say that at the party? No. Why? Because it was 11:15, I was in a million dollar house and the only Black person there, Peggy was clearly drunk, and so was the hostess of the party. There was no way I was going to get anything by making a scene. The narrative would have been “oh my God, did you see Kyra flip out on [Peggy] at the end of the party? What was up with that?”
Besides, and this is where my angry Black woman super powers come in. Peggy gave me all of the power in this situation on Friday night. I know exactly who she is, I know exactly how she feels about me, and she basically told me that my mere presence pisses her off. That’s perfect, because all I have to do to ruin her day is show up and be awesome. So now, not only am I gonna be at this school, but I’m gonna, like, run this shit. Because the best way to piss her off effectively is to pretty much be the most excellent self that I can be. My boys need keep being cute, I need keep being likeable and friendly, and we need keep establishing ourselves in this community.
That being said, I seriously doubt I’ll be showing up at any of these things again. While I certainly had a lot of pleasant interactions that evening, the point of the matter is that these are a certain kind of people who I don’t want to really hang around with. I just think that being over the age of 30 and getting drunk is public is just gouche. I don’t really like hanging out with self-important people, and I certainly don’t want to hang out with people who have internal class/race issues. I don’t know if Peggy wants me to withdraw my son from the school because we’re brown, or because we’re (relatively) poor, or maybe cause her daughter totally has a crush on my son (and I’m sure that Ursa Major won’t be the last little brown boy that she’ll be chasing around). I do know that the best way to deal with Peggy is to remain in perfect control, not yielding anything to her, and not allowing myself to be pulled into a space where I actually have to really, really embarrass her.
Because I can. I know I can. I actually don’t think that it would be that hard.
And of course, I was upset when I got home. I really felt like a fool… how could I have registered my precious son in a school with these kind of people? This was a totally irrational space to be in—this wasn’t my fault, this was about the actions of stupid drunk people around me. I also had to remember that not everyone at that party behaved that way. I had plenty more pleasant conversations at that party than I did unpleasant ones. I have to latch on to the pleasant and expand on the connections I made with some of the cooler people.
I can’t wait to go to school with Ursa Major tomorrow just to see what people remember and what they don’t. Just to know what the decided narrative of the event was. I’d noticed that none of the teachers had been at the party, and I’m excited about cornering one of my favorite teachers to find out why none of them were there. There is definitely an “upstairs/downstairs” feel going on around here, and I want someone to spell it out for me.
I’m sure that there will be more fallout from this. And more run-ins with Peggy. It is good to see the entirety of the gameboard and all of the pieces. You know I’ll be sharing!