There she was, in real life, tall, bottle blonde, tan and wearing spandex as it was meant to be worn. She had pep in her step, pearls for teeth and a perkiness that indicated silicone (if you catch my drift). She emerged from the church carefree and unburdened as I was walking in with a baby slung up on one hip, and a toddler gripping my free hand. I was schlepping, she was practically bouncing. She had style, she had grace, I probably had graham cracker on my face. (No, seriously, Erica had been munching on them on the way in.)
So what was she doing here, at this mega-lo-church, where I was dropping off my kiddos for four hours of social interaction? I was already a bit harried, as we were running 15 minutes late the first day of the summer program (Anna had a meltdown over my insistence that she wear bloomers under her favorite sundress). I was also intimidated, as I’ve never taken my children to a large daycare facility, only to an in-home care provider who’s known them since they were born. Harried, intimidated, a bit insecure, and there she was.And to make matters worse, she wasn’t merely an au pair or summer babysitter, she was an actual mother, dropping off her own children. (At least they called her mommy when she picked them up later.) I am completely supportive of moms taking care of themselves, but why did she have to look that good? And she wasn’t alone. The entire collection of Workout Barbies made an appearance, all wearing coordinating high-end fitness gear. Where did these moms come from?
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t sporting my frumpiform today (old shorts and faded tank top). I was actually dressed up for a business luncheon later that afternoon. I had on a dress, heels, makeup, jewelry and yet I felt horribly out of place in this honeycomb of a facility. We’re really just country bumpkins at heart. Oh, and I forgot their lunches. I swore the paperwork said “meals provided,” but it didn’t. Fail.
As I stood in the doorway of Room 206 (Erica’s), the teacher scrunched up her face and asked, “Is she walking?” Not, “Hi, how are you? Who’s your darling child?”
“No, she’s running,” I flatly replied. This caused a bit of a panic as teachers hollered from one room to the next, “We’ve got a walker! Where can we put her?” (Voice inside my head: She’s not a walker, she’s Erica. My baby. And if I hadn’t already paid good money to be here and had good recommendations from friends, I might leave about now.)
We got her settled into her room, and the strangest thing happened. They put masking tape…on her back. It had a practical purpose, as it labeled her as “Erica” and not “The Walker.” To many parents, this is completely normal, but to me, it was so odd. After all, when your child attends a facility with six kids total, this is not an issue. (Not judging large facilities, just not what I’m used to.)
Then, we began the wild goose chase up and down stairs, through long hallways, and in and out of rooms to find Anna’s class. She made a momma proud, holding tightly to my hand, and patiently waiting while we searched for her new friends. We finally found her class, and I stayed with her while she did her business in the little bitty toilet that was just her size (she was thrilled about that). This was after I’d wiped it down from the previous little pee-er, a little boy who urinated around, rather than in the toilet (grateful to have girls right about now).
And now for the moment of truth. “Anna, mommy has to leave now, but I’ll be back real soon. Remember? Like we talked about?” The look of calm left her face, quickly replaced with a panicked “there’s no way in hell you’re leaving me now” look. Oh yeah, this is what working mom guilt felt like. I remember now.
I briskly walked away while she stood whimpering outside the playground, and knew that she would be fine shortly after I left. I peeked in on both girls when I returned with their lunches (organic, no Lunchables for fear of being judged by Workout Barbie, or my dietitian friend).
I went on to my business lunch, enjoying the sound of click-clack-click-clack heels on the sidewalk instead of flip-flop-flip-flops. I saw old friends, shook hands, and learned a few new things. It was nice. Very nice. Then, I left early as I had to go pick up my girls. As much as I enjoyed being among adults, I didn’t feel like I really belonged there, either. I’m caught in the middle. Not a Workout Barbie mom, and not a full-time working mom.
As I heard my baby squeal with delight when she saw me in the doorway, and saw my toddler’s eyes light up at my arrival, I felt at home. The time apart did us all good, but I found where I belong, with my girls.