On the other hand, one not-so-nice thing about DCUM is that none of the folks who could buy and sell me seem to feel rich themselves.
Demographic data makes clear that there are plenty of struggling families in this region, but you don’t hear much from them on DCUM. It’s a rare to come across a posting that mentions being overwhelmed with debt—let alone having to cut back the nanny’s hours for financial reasons. More typical discussions involve a woman who feels let down by a spouse who only makes $45,000 a year.
Steele wishes the site were more representative of the city as a whole rather than just its wealthiest area. There are logical reasons for that, he knows: access to the Internet, a paucity of free time to monitor online debates. And then, of course, there’s this: Once you’re done being amused by angry rich people walloping one another over their stroller-purchasing choices, the free-for-all isn’t especially helpful.
SUBJECT: If Sidwell was your #1 choice for PK or K, but didn’t get in
In the DCUM universe, real estate and household income are plenty contentious. The Private/Independent Schools forum, though, is truly the site’s Thunderdome—a deadly serious subject for devotees, and a wildly entertaining one for gawkers.
Sure, I may have been baffled by the post that asked, “can anyone that has been accepted at Holton Arms in the past tell me what your WISC-IV and ERB scores were?” But I had a lot of fun with the one asking “how much do a kid’s looks factor into admissions decisions.” (Apparently, WISC-IV—whatever that is—doesn’t measure aesthetic appeal.)
And, DCUM being DCUM, the threads quickly go beyond just swapping tips on the test-taking and beauty-pageant portions of the admissions process. Before long, the parents are ripping into one another’s choices for how to spend their $30,000 private-school investments. One lively recent exchange involved the macho culture of Bethesda’s Landon School: Was it was an all-boys breeding ground for thugs like the lacrosse-playing graduate who allegedly murdered his girlfriend at the University of Virginia last year or a school whose athletic success makes others jealous?
On the other hand, a conversation about one of D.C.’s other elite private schools, Sidwell Friends, concerned whether the Obama family’s chosen private institution was “joyless.”
For those unfortunates among us who went to public school, the forum permits a peek into an entirely different world. A world, for instance, where people know what the initials WPPSI stand for. (For the uninitiated: It’s the Weschler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence. It tests the aptitude of kids ages two to six.) Of course, in DCUM world, the competition starts well before the WPPSI cramming begins: I’ve now learned that not only do certain exclusive preschools feed certain exclusive elementary schools, but that I’ll be able to help get my kid into one of those preschools by hooking up with the right playgroup. The march towards the Ivy League starts here.
Oh yes, says Steele, laughing. “It shocked me that people think about this way before preschool.”
He can’t relate. An Illinois native who moved to Washington in 1986, “I didn’t think about preschool until it was time for preschool.” His two sons are in a D.C. charter school that he learned about through the site.
I can’t relate, either. And that makes one thing clear. In the Washington race to raise successful kids, we are already behind.
SUBJECT: Is good enough good enough? Really?
Back when I was exploring the battlefields of DCUM’s stroller wars, trying to tell an UPPABaby from a Quinny Buzz, I happened across a comment by a poster named Adequate Parent. “I can’t for the life of me figure out why we have only 17 female senators and 73 women in the U.S. House,” she wrote. “Maybe because men don’t give a rat’s ass about stroller brands.”
Her post was signed, “Because good enough is good enough. Really.”
I never saw that as a subject post during my time on DCUM. It seemed that most people there, especially the moms who started discussion threads, were trying to do the absolute best in every single decision.
The problem with DCUM’s variety of wisdom—and, really, the problem with how we talk about everything in this city—is that it’s based on the illusion that there is a right way and a wrong way to do everything, starting with pregnancy. Is it OK to drink a glass of wine on your husband’s birthday? Some posters reaffirm what the questioner is looking for: Yes, they say, as long as it’s in moderation. But then the Mommy Police shows up: “Can’t you go 9 months without alcohol?”