High school graduate doesn’t make the grade

It’s hard to believe that summer’s practically over, and a new school year is upon us.  And yet, it’s been hard to get away from these nutty graduation horror stories.  Today, we hear from Miss Manners:

Dear Miss Manners: As a young child, my daughter Lauren was best friends with another little girl, Heather, and my wife and I enjoyed her parents as well, so we all socialized often.

As the girls hit middle and high school, Lauren joined the cheerleader squad and began to spend most of her time with that crowd of kids. Heather was not part of that group, and the two girls grew apart, and as that happened, we also spent very little time with her parents.

At graduation we discovered that Heather had garnered almost every award the school had to offer and also received a scholarship to a very prestigious university to study something like bioengineering. Lauren was an average student, and she will be attending a local community college next year to prepare for a future four-year school.

Some weeks after graduation, we received a card from Heather’s parents. It said: “Congratulations to Lauren on her high school graduation, and to you as her parents. It seems just a minute ago that the girls were flying up from Brownie scouts and now here they are ready to really spread their wings and fly.”

I thought the card was fine, but my wife insists that this is a real insult to how we did our job as parents. She has been furious about it and has been on the phone with friends and family planning how she should respond. She’s also angry at me because I don’t agree with her; she says if I was a woman I’d see this for what it was. So I thought I’d ask you if this was bad or good manners.

Gentle Reader: It is certainly bad manners to take a gracious letter as an insult, gossip to others about this and to plot some sort of return insult.

Miss Manners, who is of the same gender as your wife, is something of an expert at reading subtexts. The one she finds here is that although Heather’s parents never complained of her being dropped for the cheerleading crowd and did not brag of her scholastic honors, Lauren’s mother is dissatisfied with her own daughter’s achievements and resentful of those of someone who was, after all, her daughter’s friend and the daughter of friends of her own.

She joins you in begging your wife to stop damaging the reputation of your daughter, who will be presumed to have exhibited envy that inspired the fury.

I think Miss Manners is right on in reading what’s going on here.  I speak from experience when I also wonder if there’s also a measure of guilt coloring the mother’s interpretation of the situation.  That is, perhaps she feels deep down that she or Lauren or all of them really did wrong Heather and her family.  Whether or not she actually regrets it, she’s on the defensive now–the only communication she expects from them is an attack, so that’s what she reads into their letter.

But at least Heather and her parents can (and probably will) keep their distance.  What seems worst about this situation is how obviously ashamed of and embarrassed by her daughter this woman is.  Consider: she’s so defensive about her daughter going to community college–so very  un-proud of her–that she interprets any congratulations as obvious and inevitable sarcasm.  We don’t know anything about Lauren, really–her abilities, challenges, effort, goals, temperament or readiness for higher education–but I feel bad for her.

Like I said about last week’s kooky moms–how sad.

Hrm. I feel like I’ve been picking on (admittedly, batshit crazy) moms a lot lately, and I don’t know why that is. (Well, yes I do–it’s because these, as it turns out, have been the most interesting and/or shocking letters out there each day.  Where are the helicopter dads?)  So, disclaimer: most moms, of course, are awesome.  Hug an awesome mom today.

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