Friday, February 24, 2012

Why Cupcakes Trump Children

I recently read a Facebook vent from a woman who had her first run-in with a Cupcake Queen. For those of you who are unfamiliar:
Cupcake Queen (noun) \kəp-kāk kwēn\: a wife or widow whose royal offspring require constant feeding throughout the school day with sugar-based treats created ONLY in the royal kitchen. When confronted with the possible removal of said snacks, Cupcake Queens have been known to spew vitriol, sabotage social relationships and even target the non-royal offspring of others.
Some Cupcake Queens are immediately obvious and march right over to the superintendent's office to complain the day they receive the "your child has a child in their class with allergies" letter. Others are more subtle and only show their true colors when it's class party time:

Allergic child's mother: "I'd really like Susie to be able to participate in the class party this year."

Cupcake Queen: "Yes, we all totally agree. So I'll make the cupcakes and Susie's Mom, you can do the decorations."

ACM: "If you make the cupcakes, Susie won't be able to eat them. What if I make them, or we purchase the cupcakes from a safe source?"

CQ: "Well,we could do that..."

Any of you with older children know how this ends up. The Cupcake Queen brings the cupcakes no matter what you say. The teacher hands them out because she doesn't want to deal with a bully. Susie watches everyone else eat the delicious cupcake while she chews on her fruit snacks and hides in the corner, not wanting to make a fuss, not wanting the other kids to see she's upset. Not understanding why it isn't her party too.

What in the world is going through the Cupcake Queen's head when she sees that little girl, on the verge of tears, watching everyone else eat those cupcakes? What warped values system allows her to marginalize another child just so her child can have the treat? Many years of watching these Cupcake Queens in their own habitat have allowed me to draw some conclusions:

  • The cupcake isn't just a cupcake. For some CQs, the cupcake represents "full out mother love". A purchased cupcake, or one that came from the hands of another mother, just doesn't jive with the idealized childhood school experience the CQ either did or did not have, and now wants (WANTS!) for her child. Cupcakes are also one of the few opportunities some moms who stay home have to show off their mothering skills in a public forum.
  • Control...who has it, who doesn't. Cupcake Queens are control freaks and usually Queen Bees. Controlling classroom treats is really about controlling other people.
  • Competition. It isn't that the Cupcake Queen doesn't see your child, but she puts the needs of her own children first. She knows that in life, some kids end up "winners" and some "losers" and your kid is likely already a loser, so why invest time? 
  • Lack of empathy. Some Cupcake Queens really just don't see the tears as any big deal. "It's the real world - she's going to just have to learn to suck it up" is the type of statement you'll often hear from them.

Ironically, Cupcake Queens occasionally have children with food allergies. These are the parents who are willing to bulldoze through the school to fight for their child's -- and only their child's -- rights. These parents don't do the rest of us any favors, as administrators can get burned out by unreasonable demands to the point that they won't make any accommodations without a huge battle.

America's focus on individualism ensures that there will be at least one narcissistic mother in your child's classroom. Sometimes common sense and altruism from other moms will save the day, but odds are there will come a time when you have to decide whether to fight the CQ, back down and let your child experience exclusion, or try to get the school administration to either make or enforce rules about food in classrooms. (See my earlier post about lip service.)

Unfortunately, there is no winning strategy. Schools do not want to get involved and have fought hard to categorize food allergies as a non-504-eligible disability. Recent lawsuits in the area have been mixed. That means your school is likely to go with the path of least resistance, which results in administration basically ignoring what goes on in the classrooms with regard to food and parties.

Taking on Cupcake Queens successfully depends on your social savvy and support group. As a working mom with limited social ties in the schools, I never won these battles, but I have heard (from the friend of a friend's cousin's friend) of supportive communities where children are included and bullies vanquished.

Or, there's the route we ended up taking: having one parent quit a job and always be there with an alternate treat. This is clearly not something every family can afford financially and it only works up until about 5th grade, after which the child is mortified by "being different" and would prefer to just slink down in his chair, hoping that the other kids don't notice he's not eating.

They do get used to it. It does make them stronger. As a result of their experiences, our children generally are more empathetic than the children of the Cupcake Queens. But it's tough to look ahead to that outcome when your child comes home miserable and withdrawn yet again.

When my son was a fourth-grader, my mother had HAD ENOUGH of the cupcake queens. She heard my stories about how the class party was going to be filled with treats my son could not have, so she showed up with a homemade three-tier cake.

It was amazing - a work of art. It had pillars and squigglies and more candy than the witch's house in Hansel & Gretel. She brought it into the classroom and said "Grandson, this is for YOU." The implication that it was for him alone was clear. The other mothers bristled.

And just as the silence and tension peaked, a little girl next to my son said "can I please have a piece?"

And my son said "yes, of course, EVERYONE can try my cake!"

Everyone. What a concept. Damn cupcakes.