A Glimpse into Another Life
My sitter had an appointment today, so I picked Emily and Ian up from school following their half-day kindergarten. On our way home we pass Small Town Park, which apparently has become the favorite hang-out for 4-year-olds and their moms. I know the sitter takes the kids there regularly. Having pretty much cleared my schedule for the day, I turned into the parking lot and set my two children free to run and play with friends. I walked over to join the circle of stay-at-home moms.
Let’s just say that I stick out like a sore thumb in this kind of setting. These mothers are now a tightly knit group, talking of teething babies, best buys on sandals, the t-ball schedule, what errands they had to run next, etc. My only ‘in’ was with a neighbor of mine that I already know from other circles. I felt like the interloper or the wallflower, trying simultaneously to fit in and disappear.
About that time Emily came running over to see if I would go with her to the big kid swings on the opposite side of the playground. “Watch me and see how high I can swing!” she said happily. One of the moms said, “She’s really gotten good at pumping her legs. She’s really good now.” Now I know she said this to compliment Emily, who was still standing eagerly in front of me listening to every word. And Emily glowed when she heard it. But let me tell you what I heard. I heard something like, “I come here everyday. I’ve been here regularly watching your child improve. I know better than you do what she does on the playground. Too bad you’re not a stay-at-home mother like me.” Mind you, she didn’t say a word of that. In fact, she probably didn’t even think it – although I guess you never really know. It was my own Inner Critic talking, the one who attacks everything from my writing to my pastoring to my appearance to my parenting. Damn Inner Critic.
I gladly retreated with Emily to the far corner of the playground. I helped her jump up into the high swing, gave her a small starting push, and watched as she did indeed pump her legs and rise higher and higher into the air. In just a few minutes, one of Emily’s friends – a petite blonde pixie of a child – came running to join us. I helped her up and got her started. She wasn’t sure how to pump her legs so I kept her going while Emily instructed her on the finer points of leg pumping. Then a shy little girl began hanging around, keeping a safe distance. I asked her if she wanted to swing. She timidly shook her head yes, so I lifted her up and got her started. The next thing I knew three of the boys ran to join the fun and I became the official swinging mom. (Yes, I know you could read that two ways. Don’t go there!) It was fun! I looked across the playground and saw the circle of moms still standing there, hands on hips, deep in conversation. I decided I was in the better place.
After awhile, one of them came to join me. “I wondered if you wanted someone to share the swing duty,” she commented in a friendly voice. A few minutes later another one came, this time bringing conversation that was open to this lonely outsider. Slowly the clique cracked open a door for me to enter – just with a visitor’s pass, I’m sure; at least I was in for the day.
As a rule, I am content with my life as a single working mother. I can’t quite picture life as a stay-at-home mother, although I don’t think I’d mind giving it a try under the right circumstances. I don’t really think about it often. Today, though, the realization came rushing back to me that my family is not ‘normal,’ that I do have to utilize childcare so I can work for the basics of our life. I don’t have a husband whose paycheck lightens the load (or carries it!) or who could join me in the joy of raising the children. I put up a good front that it doesn’t matter to me or that I never think that much about not having that male influence in the house for the kids or the companionship for myself. My front is so well crafted that I sometimes even fool myself.
All it takes is a short glimpse into another life to remind me of the real person behind the front.