It has been a very long week. Rewarding and exciting but very, very long. Sunday we packed up and headed to the land of Packies (known as liquor stores in other states) and Huskies (go UConn!) so I could start rehearsals for a new play. Once there I promptly left for a one day reading process in Philadelphia (land of the “pay six dollars to get into our city by car”). The whole six days has left my kids hella crazy. Which I completely understand. So while my husband and I know we can’t let them be nutters (meaning, whiny, demanding, freak of nature children, you know, the kind that fill up Chuck E. Cheese’s) just because mommy has to work, we’ve cut them a little bit of slack this week. Just a little bit. We ain’t goin’ soft up in here. There’s till been plenty of time outs doled around, even for Mr. Huggy Bear, aka Hunter-man (30 seconds tops for the little guy. I know. I am a mean mean mommy).
So when we rolled back in to town this afternoon, I was determined to make the hours between lunch and bedtime “easy” for them. I did not insist everyone “just try” his or her lunch. Just one spoon of yogurt, hun? Oh SURE! No PROBLEM! Waste away on the toddler diet, I have absolutely no misgivings about that in the least. Not wear a sweater under your coat? Oh CERTAINLY! No PROBLEM! I will just put four extra fucking sweaters in the already stuffed to the gills diaper bag and happily lug it all over the place. Play “your music” in the car? Oh FanTAStic! I love Laurie Berkner so much, it’s my pleasure to play this freakin CD over and over and over after having listened to it in the car all the way back from Yale. LOVEly!
My Stepford mom approach included a trip to the playground, despite my wanting to start the ten loads of laundry that is waiting for me or make a dinner with spices other than the four I bought for our Yale apartment. Two of those are just salt and pepper, so you can imagine it was a pretty bland week for the Nigros.
We went to the Davis Square Park, my new park of choice. It’s got that rubber ground that makes the whole operation seem safer, although truth be told Katia has wiped out almost every time we’ve been there. It also has a nice offering of sand, but not too much. Don’t get me started on sand and parks. You’d never know I adored that combo as a kid to hear me lament about them now. But now all I think about is: how dirty can they get and how long will it take me to get their skin and their clothes and their shoes clean enough so they don’t look like they don’t have a home?
Once there I scoped out the other parents. Despite all the mother’s groups you can join (online, offline, at the Y, at Isis, with people you’ve known for years, with people with whom all you share is that you happened to get it on in the same week a year and a half ago and now are linked cause your kids are the same age) motherhood can be a lonely experience. So I usually look around to size up the other parents and see who might be willing to talk to me. Desperate, perhaps, but until you have stared down the next six hours of your life and realized you will not utter words to anyone with an emotional vocabulary that does not resemble that of a mental patient (not the Hollywood kind but the 48 hour hold I guess I need a new roommate kind), don’t knock it.
At first it was slim pickings. A mom and her toddler and two grandmas: anyone could see this new mom had her hands full, negotiating between a one year old, her own mom, and her partner’s mom. Maybe this is an ideal Saturday afternoon in the magical land of in law love, but from the weary way they were all just sitting there, I guessed perhaps not so much.
Then there was a dad and his three kids, the third of which took forever to coax out of the Dodge Caravan. “Fine, you stay in there if you’re going to whine like that”, and magically a little four-year-old head popped out from the recesses of the last van seat. The dad carried an official looking binder and proceeded to read from it for the rest of their time at the park. Katia immediately took a liking to the kids, but the dad was a no go. My guess was either his wife made him leave the house so she could clean or knock back some pre supper margaritas, or this Saturday afternoon of fun was part of his custody agreement.
I kept looking.
Next was a mom whose darlings were the same ages as mine, roughly: a preschool seeming daughter and a baby son. But she was the type of mom I probably would avoid if in my right mind. She wore a long skirt, very large wide brimmed hat, and booties. Not the type Kim Kardashian would wear, but the kind my sixth grade teacher would have worn: quilted looking and mud brown and possibly made by Isotoner. I will admit I was intrigued. And later when we did get to talking, I found her to be very very nice and also very very funny (“Duncan! My, my, my you are very aromatic!” she exclaimed just before she had to strip the poor kid from the waist down and use half her supply of baby wipes on his butt). While at first peek it would seem she might be a holier than thou mommy, ready to pounce on my disposable diapers and prepackaged non organic snack raisins, I was proven wrong when she pulled out a huge bottle of coke and downed it in large meaningful swigs. We were also similar in our choice of generic baby products and the way we both narrate everything—kinda a bit too loudly—so that both kids have a clue as to what the hell is going on and not have one of those toddler style panic attack shriek fits. But a mommy with two kids who are not yet four is a distracted mommy, so our conversation went something like this:
“How old is yours oh come back honey, okay, mommy—. Sorry…”
“…Oh, no worries…”
“…Is she three? Oh! Akk. Come back sweetie—. Sorry…”
“…Two years and two months apart. I’m so tired all the come back, come back please—. He’s a quick one. Sorry…”
After about an hour of my Stepford mom park experience, I was ready to pack it up and head to Foodmaster so we could have that more than four spice dinner.
This of course entailed leaving the park.
Which takes a certain amount of finessing, unless you have Stepford children, but those are sold separately from the Stepford mom model.
To leave the park with most children you must first give “the warning”. This includes a time limit. It can’t be too long, because the non Stepford kids have no idea what the hell time it is. And it must be exact, because the non Stepford kids will never have any chance of learning about time if five minutes turns into thirty while you discuss babysitters with the new parent who just walked in the playground gate.
I usually dole out a five minute, a minute, and a thirty second. I make sure I make eye contact so Miss Lovey knows I know she heard me.
This afternoon my five minute, during which I mentioned Foodmaster and STEAK!, was met with “But that’s BORING!” from the divorcee’s oldest, who had befriend KK during a game of tag. “I know. It’s very boring. But we have to eat!” I had the Stepford going on Go-OOD!
“Got that, Katia Kai?” I chirped.
She reached into her pocket and placed her sunglasses on the ground. Which was distressing. As this is a gesture you do when you are planning to STAY in a place, not merrily follow your mother to Foodmaster to buy STEAK! and whatever else your mom will bribe you with to make the night remain in the cheerful category.
“Did you hear me? Katia? KK! Lovey?”
“You heard me?”
“I heard you.”
“Good. You know, how about I hold your sunglasses for you? Okay? Off the ground?”
And as I stepped out of the playhouse where she and her new friends were cooking pails of sand, she said, in a rather chipper ring “Can you take my glasses?” It was a sweet request. Not the demanding parentally demeaning growl of the THREE year old that makes my husband and I feel like we are raising a brat and keeps me in particular up at night doing google searches about normal preschool behavior and then slinking to bed sadly when it seems this IS normal preschool behavior and the only way to deal is with limits and boundaries and consistency and set bedtimes and set meal times and and and all those things we all do but still at the end of the day, have THREE! to contend with in a way that makes you very very sleepy.
But while I was basking in the sweetness, someone else was decidedly not.
I’d noticed him a bit earlier.
He looked a little ridiculous.
He wore a felt semi cowboy/semi Indiana Jones hat and kick ass beer guzzling boots but since he was in a playground, it just looked like this was an outfit he did not get to wear much because now he was a dad and could only go out in the daytime like the rest of us, and yet still he wore it anyway.
His own kid could not yet walk. Maybe he had more kids at home. Maybe he felt he knew how to commandeer THREE! Or maybe he’d just read so many parenting books and websites that he felt he could utter what he did, despite probably not even having to really child proof his house yet because his kid was still a BABY!
“Say PLEASE!” he said to Katia, and I immediately smirked and thought, you are an asshole.
I took the glasses and said “Thanks very much, lu lu.”
Uber-parent looked up at me (cause, you know, he had to hold his kid in the upright position cause um SHE is still a BABY! and so was on the rubber ground) and smiled.
Which is when I felt a torrent of emotion. You don’t tell my kid to say PLEASE! I I tell my kid to say please. And after a week of crazy bed times and pizza two days in a row those first days which is a sign things are wonky cause mommy did not cook and hours upon hours of no mommy and not being able to see her beloved Albie at school, a sweet non please prefaced request when I am about to yank her from the one spot of bright fun she’s had all day works just fine for our family, Mr. my kid still uses a bottle and I have not given one time out in my entire life yet. I don’t live in your village, you do not get to discipline my kid.
This torrent of emotion surprised me.
I like to think I might do well living in some communal housing situation. I’ve even looked into it. My husband and I were thinking, since we don’t belong to a church and dropping two kids off at a friend’s, even one that offers, seems intrusive, that living in a co op might be um nice…? But the ones in Cambridge have pictures of these shared dinners on their websites and my husband and I agree there’s only so many gluten free vegan no nuts no meat no dairy free rangey Sunday dinners one should eat in a life time if one enjoys bread and nuts and meat and dairy in an almost obscene way normally.
But after this afternoon I am realizing I don’t think I could handle having someone in my shit in terms of child rearing.
And I agree, years ago when all the neighborhood parents had license to tell you which way was up, there was more community accountability. I remember making a disparaging remark about the housing project next to my private school—something like how that was why we had plastic windows at our school, because of the poor people next door, and my friend’s mother saying “So! Those people are just as good as anyone else!” I will never forget it and she was right and I am thankful for it. My snotty little eleven year old self needed that and right quick.
But my friend’s mother knew me. My friend’s mother had respect for me and my family.
In the car on the way to Foodmaster I thought about it.
Cause what this guy lacked was knowledge of our context. And to be fair, I was not very open to learning more about his context, either.
Perhaps this guy just saw another newish parent and thought, oh, we’re in the same boat, we live in the same area, we have similar values and so I will tell her kid how to ask her mother to do something for her.
Or, maybe, this guy saw a youngish looking mom with two kids she is narrating to like a crazy person, and thought, she needs help disciplining her child, I can be that help! (It’s that you look so small and like maybe a teenage mom or something and that’s why people want to help you, my sister Kaitlyn has said to me more than once. But if I am so small how come my size fours won’t fit any more, I’d like to know).
So I look like a teenage knock up in need of parenting classes as opposed to a mother of two kids under four, maybe.
Or, what if this person is just as judgmental as I can be, and went about assigning his own context to the situation. Youngish looking mom (he can’t see the grey, but it is there, lemme tell ya), two kids close in age, black, kinda, cause the daughter seems not but her hair really is, so black but maybe white, too, and that little girl is pretty, and she can’t get away with treating people like this just because she is a cute kid, and maybe this cat thought, hmm, it is up to me to instill what I know on to this family because I know what is best for this family even though I never met this family.
And a torrent of emotion flooded through me because I do not know what exactly was behind this moment. It was probably harmless from his point of view, but I do know it felt wrong. It did not feel like a warm village hand was patting my daughter’s forehead while gently showing her another, kinder way to be in this world. It felt like a yahoo was denting the easy afternoon we were having because I had to drag my kids to another state so I can work and finally I was saying “just BE. We’re back home and you can just BE, for a minute, before I start in on the Pleases and the Stop that’s, and the this is your warning 1, 2, THANK YOU! GOOD JOB oh don’t oh okay oh this is your warn--. GOOD JOB. I LOVE YOU.”
‘Cause I don’t think that guy loves my kid.
Maybe it was the way he said what he did but maybe it was also the way he stared, smug, as I buckled my screaming kids into my double-wide. After the thirty second was issued. See. Those kids ARE bad. She should say please. I pictured him at dinner, his baby girl quietly eating mashed something the way serene only baby children do. Happily. Eagerly. Not the chaos that descends when there is more than one and both are toddlers and want to run away. “You should have seen it honey there was this mom at the park and her kid, well I told her to say please, Bethie’s not gonna behave like that. Kids have to learn. I told her to say—“
And I’ve been there, I’ve told Ron how some kid at dance class was a real stinker and no way were we gonna raise a jerk like that.
But it still does not feel right, that interlude in the playhouse on the rubber ground.
Cause I don’t think that we live in the same village.
I don’t think that guy loves my kid.