Spike was mumbling the words to “You’re Welcome,” which we were listening to for the second time that morning, staring at the car’s shadow on the road below and running her tiny pointer finger over her thin top lip. She always stops trying when Maui raps. I turned down the radio for my usual morning hype sesh.
“Oh man, babe … How ya feelin’ about the field trip today? The zoo is the best. You’re going to have so much fun!”
She whipped her head in my direction and said, “Yeah, did you know that of all the kids in the class there are only two moms who aren’t going?” (I knew one of them was me.)
She wasn’t being deliberately hostile. She wasn’t. She was just using her little innocent mouth to lay out the facts for me on a shitty mom platter. This would be breakfast today.
“Gosh, hon. I didn’t know that.”
“Yeah, you and Jack’s mom.” (Who is a friend of mine.)
“Yeah, Ms. Kylene’s going to let us be her partner since you won’t be there.”
“Well, that’s special!”
“Yeah, it is.”
Her eyes went back to the shadow. There would be no more talk of this topic for now.
It was that she said it, don’t get me wrong. But more than that, it was the way it lingered … like a pregnancy fart in a sauna. The way the “only” just hung out there so harshly, so ruthlessly, and then it latched on mercilessly to the “mom” and the two words gripped and clawed at each other in the front of my brain.
A played out Chainsmokers song picked up where the Moana soundtrack left off. My heart was drowning in my brutal interpretation of the situation …
You are the only mom not going. The only one who sucks … In a class of 12 kids, there are 10 good moms, one other mom, and you … If good moms and bad moms played Red Rover, you’d be the only one they could send over … Other moms make animal faces on their kids’ sandwiches using grapes and basil leaves. And then there’s you … You let me down.
I couldn’t adjust my schedule and make it happen. It was one of many, many times my cape was at the cleaners and I just couldn’t pull it off. And I hate that. Don’t you hate that? I would be missing – a noticeable gaping hole – in the standard group shot in front of the ZOO sign. I wouldn’t be on the log ride or there to help little people poke the straw through their juice boxes.
And the more I thought about the juice boxes and the group shot and the stupid log ride, the more I really started to go there. You know where … That dark place where jealousy infects your character with toxic judgements and ridicule. I thought of all the mothers in their perfect boyfriend jeans and trendy sweaters pointing out the orangutan baby to my child. I thought about all the embarrassing stories she would tell, and how I wouldn’t be there to laugh awkwardly and explain them. And I thought about how there would be this depressing white space in her preschool scrapbook where her own mother’s face should be. And down and down and down I went.
We pulled in and I held her hand to cross the parking lot. I love holding her hand. Her sweet, phenomenal teacher took the torch from my weakened grip and started hyping Spikey up for the big day. I needed to tap out anyway, obviously.
“Are you excited?” she asked. Spike nodded, shyly. “I can’t wait to be your partner,” her teacher added.
I smiled, squeezed my little bug, wished her the very best of special days, and walked out, feeling heavy as hell.
Every mother who has ever written on or for any platform or publication has covered this topic to an exhausting degree. In fact, you probably aren’t even reading this because you didn’t make it this far in. Same shit, different laxative, right? But people talk about it so much because it’s such a chronic pain. We work so that we can afford to pay a babysitter so that we can go to work. It’s a gross, sad ferris wheel, where all the riders are screaming and crying their heads off on the inside, but they can’t get off. Because if you get off, they might not let you back on when it’s more convenient for you to ride.
That said, I love my job. I’m not even lying. I do. I love it. I’m one of the fortunate people who only cries and screams on the inside on occasion, and usually Mondays. I get to write about topics that typically interest me and often help people and interview amazing people and I’m hyper cognizant of the fact that I’m lucky to get paid to do that. But with that comes the restrictive straight jacket known as the 8-to-5. (Remember the good ole’ days when it was 9-to-5?) It breeds anxiety for mothers and sets the stage for disappointment at almost every turn. Most days I’ve failed before my feet hit the floor.
Now, I know it might look like it, but this is not an argument about whether SAHMs or MOPS or working moms (who have no acronym) have it worse. I’m not dumb enough to take on that debate because there is no winner. In fact, when we argue about such extraneous crap, we all lose. It doesn’t need to be said here, but I’ll put it down just so we’re all 1000% on the same page: Being a mom from any location, in any conditions or in conjunction with any occupational obligations is a bitch. A beautiful, messy bitch that we’re all thankful for every day. Not like every minute of every day, but every day.
So, it wasn’t a shiny moment for me that morning in the car (in my head). And I said to myself, “No, Courtney. No. You will stop drinking the Hate-orade and quit being a chump right this second.” And I did. But it wasn’t until later, after Spikey shared how special her day was and how special everyone made her feel, that the real deep stuff set in. That I was able to sift through the litter box and find the golden turds of wisdom in the situation.
My family is my tribe. But the mass of other people – this vibrant collage of compassionate souls and patient beings – is my village. And I couldn’t mother without the village. Sometimes it’s hard for me to ask for help. And sometimes I resent needing that help, but I do. And sometimes help just shows up, in my friends and my family, and sometimes in people I don’t know that well. And that’s kind of really beautiful actually.
The people in my village pick up where I hit my limitations, where I run out of time, and where I fall short. They hide in the houses and schools and stores I pass through like a wild tornado every day, jumping in when I have to step out. I couldn’t possibly name them all or acknowledge them all, but when I really stop and think about it, they are everywhere in force. My village is big, and it’s kind.
My village has Kay, who potty trained and taught the girls to go down stairs when they were 1 and instilled faith. It has Aimee, who teaches them to read and be modest, and Ms. Kylene who calls them “love bugs” and makes them feel special on the days they otherwise wouldn’t, and Mrs Hurley who shares her own stories of finger sucking so my daughter doesn’t feel like a freak, and Coach Kasey who made Spikey take that unforgettable shot. My neighbors in my village are these gentle souls who let my kids talk their ears off while they wash their cars and who bring over cookies and don’t say a word about the fact our smoke alarm is going off. My village is centered around courageous, selfless women – my mom, my mother-in-law, my sisters, my girlfriends – with a few fellas peppered in.
But it’s even bigger than that. There are strangers in my village who stop by but don’t stay. They pass out smiles and warm gestures that restore my hope when I fear for the state of humanity. They bend down and say sweet things to my girls in the store. They listen to my first grader read and they put the straw in my daughter’s juice box when her mommy has to work.
Listen, sometimes it gets hairy, this mothering thing. There are meetings that can’t be moved and rain dates that crap on good intentions and, to be honest, sometimes there are just days when the best thing you can do for your kids is be away from them. But don’t let all this bologna send you to that dark place. Don’t do it. Look to your village, instead. Leverage your village. Love your village. Express gratitude for your village.
Your tribe will be the better for it.