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Smartmom answers critics & kibbitzers

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Writing teachers always advise newbies, “Write what you know.” But Smartmom learned first-hand the perils of that credo after last month’s article, Ratner $$ can’t buy love, angered many in the PS 321 community.

The article — which Dumb Editor put on the front page (hmm, maybe he’s not so dumb…) — was about Bruce Ratner’s sponsorship of PS 321’s fundraising auction at the Brooklyn Museum.

Oy, it’s been quite a week.

One person called Smartmom “sleazy” because she is part of the PTA and she attended the auction. Another person wrote that members of the auction committee, who worked so hard to organize the event, felt insulted and hurt. In all, Smartmom couldn’t count all the really dirty looks and unfriendly hellos she got this week.

Now, Smartmom feels like the philosopher, Hannah Arendt, who was called a self-hating Jew for her New Yorker articles humanizing the architect of the Final Solution, Adolf Eichmann, during the Nazi’s war-crimes trial.

Smartmom’s goal was not to hurt anyone’s feelings, but to explore a very important question (and one, frankly, that everyone at PS 321 was already exploring!): What do you do when a generous and controversial benefactor comes along with a check?

Do you take the money or not?

For practical reasons, you take the money. The public schools are under-funded, overcrowded, and in desperate need of cash.

Every public school PTA in New York City works its butt off to raise money for pencils, art supplies, paper, and other very basic things. Beyond that, the PTA at PS 321 makes possible all sorts of enrichments that enhance our children’s lives.

So we need (and appreciate) all the money we can get.

But it’s still a relevant moral question. Ratner is, after all, a controversial figure in Brooklyn. Smartmom would have been remiss had she NOT mentioned that he was underwriting the event or that his name was in big letters on the program.

Some in the school were incensed about his contribution. Others were more practical: Just take the money.

The funny thing was, Smartmom was non-judgmental about the school’s decision to take the money and dance.

Ever the good Park Slope mom, Smartmom doesn’t make judgments, but is far more interested in the way these issues play out in a school with politically savvy parents.

Long before Smartmom put fingers to keyboard, the PTA had debated whether to accept Ratner greenbacks. Prior to the event, there was a meeting with the principal and other members of the fundraising committee. The final decision was made by the principal, who said that the school had to take the money because it could not discriminate.

Smartmom’s story simply asked whether this developer, who is proposing to change the character of the Brooklyn we know and love, is an influence peddler or just a good friend of PS 321. Like many Brooklyn moms, Smartmom thinks that Ratner is probably a little of both. And that’s what makes the world go ’round and keeps newspaper columnists in business.

If he’d wanted to make things easy for the PTA, he could have made an anonymous donation. But he obviously wants the recognition — and the publicity for his company. That’s showbiz.

But back to Smartmom (yeah, enough about that Ratner guy). The muddled lesson that her Park Slope friends seem to be sending is that such issues shouldn’t be discussed in the local newspaper.

That, of course, is preposterous.

After all, Smartmom, who is an insider, is actually the very person that the PS 321 crowd should want depicting Park Slope in all of its neurotic complexity.

It’s like that old Woody Allen joke about how the rest of the country thinks about New Yorkers as “left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornograph­ers.”

“I think of us that way sometimes and I live here,” Allen concluded.

Papers like the Daily News and blogs like nolandgrab.org have been eating PS 321 for breakfast ever since Ratner gave that money. If she does say so, Smartmom’s coverage was the only balanced thing on the topic so far.

Given her neurotic bent towards wanting to please people at all costs, you can imagine how much Smartmom hates being snubbed on Seventh Avenue. But she’s getting used to it and is growing quite a thick skin.

And to the people who think Smartmom was “sitting in judgment” of the PTA, a group with whom she is actively involved, Smartmom counters with this famous quote by Hannah Arendt from 1964:

“The heat caused by my ‘sitting in judgment’ has proved how uncomfortable most of us are when confronted with moral issues … and I admit that I am the most uncomfortable myself.”

With her eyes and ears open, Smartmom tries to write in an honest, and mostly loving way, about the community she is so passionately a part of.

Smartmom now knows that that’s a pretty dicey thing to do.

After all, it wasn’t the first time she ruffled some Park Slope plummage. She already lost one friend and angered another because of something she wrote.

And Teen Spirit has asked that Smartmom not write about him — too much.

And now even the Oh So Feisty One has asked for a name change.

Sorry, kid, but that’s where Smartmom draws the line!

Louise Crawford, a Park Slope mom, also operates “Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn.”
Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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