Let the Mothers’ Coffees Begin

POSTED ON Aug 30th 2013 BY LESLIE LOFTIS UNDER Housewifery, Motherhood, Reverse Culture Shock

It is day 5 of school, and the start of the mothers’ coffee circuit. Two years ago, when the reverse culture shock bombs rocked my world with some regularity, I had this to say about the coffee circuit: [British vocabulary the result of only being home a few months when I wrote this.]

I knew I had underestimated the transition right from the start.  In London I was above average for mother involvement.  Actually, I was slightly above average for the nursery school, whereas for Hill House, I annoyed some mothers because they thought I was a busybody, that American with the clipboard.  Since the move home, I have not changed my level of kid involvement, but here, within 6 weeks I realized that I am just a notch above complete slacker.  By the end of last term, I started receiving personal emails from teachers and homeroom mothers reminding me of things I could volunteer to do. (More on that below.)  Two mothers were shocked to learn that I didn’t work.  They just assumed that I was a working mom.  One even mentioned how I dress! (The idea that I am well dressed is shocking to me.  I strive not to be a slummy mummy, but the London merely-not-slummy apparently equals Houston yummy mummy.  In truth it is probably that I didn’t wear my gym kit to dropoff, which is standard uniform for stay at home moms.)

So what exactly was I expected to do?
I have 4 children in two different schools and was, therefore, invited to the before-school-starts coffee for each school, the school start coffee, the grade level coffees for the older children, and class coffee for the Things.  That was seven coffees in half as many weeks.
Another example, I started this post last Fall, in the parlor of the Things school.  I dropped them at 9, but that day was the Fall Festival, to which parents have to accompany their children.  My Things slot was 10:30 to 11:30, so I had a little over an hour, which any experienced mom will tell you, is not enough time to be getting on with anything.  The festival is in the soccer field across the small–in American scale–school’s parking lot.  The Things’ class has eight children and two teachers.  That is, the 4:1 ratio class has to walk perhaps 25 yards across a dormant parking lot to an enclosed football pitch, yet the mothers must attend.  Someone might get hurt, lost, need to go to the loo, I guess. A mere six weeks into school, and that was the second mother participation event.   The girls missed a trip to a farm two weeks prior that mothers didn’t have to attend, but had to drive their own children.  The farm was a little over an hour out of town.  I didn’t think I could make it back in time for the school bus for the older children. Plus, even if I didn’t need to go into the farm, productive activity for a housewife is limited in the country from 9:30-1:30.
But American mothers are far more likely to have a sense of wanting to experience the joy of such events with their child.  In fact, I would bet that most American mothers reading this wonder what I am going on about.  On the other hand, I fully expect any British mother reading to have to stop to shake her head and sputter.  And here lies the heart of the problem: it hasn’t occurred to American mothers to mind any of this.  British mothers would have protested by the third coffee.

With perspective from time, that post could use some tweaking, toning down in some places and toning up in others. I’ll get to that probably do that in book form. I’ve had two womanhood books trying to get out of my head for a while. This blog is starting to look like a bunch of rough drafts to me.  This week I’ve just enjoyed my new wide open days, and spent time catching up on the news. Unfortunately, more on that later too. For now, though, coffee.


  1. Linda said:

    Yep, it jives with my memory of the UK. It was so strange to not be “wanted,” at first I wondered if it was because I was an outsider. But no, they just had the mentality that when the children were in school, the parents really should just get out of the educators’ hair and let them do their job. I didn’t like feeling as though my presence on school grounds was an intrusion, until. We moved back to the states, and the school started piling on activities and projects and fundraisers. The ridiculous level of paperwork, project help, and field trip volunteering was one of the many things that lead me to homeschool. Homeschool is like the educational equivalent to your own small business, rather than working for a major corporation. And hey, you get to be your own boss.

    One thing I remember it never seemed to occur to the British moms to care when the school released the kids late. We’d be stood there in all kinds of weather, younger siblings in pushchair bubbles, sometimes 15 minutes beyond end of school time, and no one would ever. ever. knock on the door and ask for their child.

    Was that a typical thing, do you reckon, or more an isolated idiosyncrasy of the village we lived in?

    Great idea on that book. I’d buy it.


  2. Leslie Loftis said:

    Re: isolated idiosyncrasy, probably not so isolated. I can’t remember our schoolhouse doors ever opening more than a few minutes late for pickup, but I can’t imagine the British parents knocking if it ever happened either. Actually, as we attended the international school, I can imagine a small international incident over to knock or not to knock. Americans, Aussies, and various Med countrymen would want to knock. A discussion would break out, as the American ranks would be mostly New Yorkers who would be impatient to knock but wanting to know they had approval of the group. They’d want to persuade. An Italian or Turkish mom would roll her eyes and knock while the British moms raised their brows or pursed their lips. Don’t know if that’s how it goes in my head just because of the specific personalities I know.

    Now you’re going to have me running scenarios and giggling for a few hours. So many of these little things would produce varied reactions. (Remember grocery store trolly right of way rules?) It was always interesting and enlightening to watch.

    Thanks for the book encouragement. They really need to get out of my head. One on Motherhood for Lawyers (and Accountants, Doctors, Engineers or Any Other Smart, Successful Women Who Changed Their First Diaper in the Hospital) and the other for our daughters, A New Life Plan for Women, which was the epilogue of The Feminine Mystique. Not the actual titles perhaps, just my working draft titles, and the latter isn’t really book length potential. Don’t know exactly how I’m going to do that one. Write it to say what needs to be said and then see where it lands, I guess. More info on those later.

    This is year 2 of homeschool for you? Easier?

  3. Linda said:

    Glad to give you a laugh. We lived in a tiny village in Cambs, and we Yanks were as international as the school got. The last year, an expat German mom arrived, and she was even more annoyed with the school than me. lol.

    This is the 3rd year homeschooling, unless you want to get technical b/c the first year was virtual school thru Kansas public school district. But yes, it is easier. And yet just as hard in its way. The freedom is worth it, as well as the fact that Older Son gets a chance to excel at things he would not otherwise get the chance to try. And that’s no matter how much money we had to spend on tuition. Truly individualized education is something money really can’t buy.

    I look forward to more info on book ideas.


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