She is sitting with her back to me as we approach the park.

"Oh, hun," I hear her say. "Do yourself a favor and wait until you meet your baby to decide how you're going to parent him."

Aaron runs off in the direction of the slide. I catch her eye and give a little wave.

"My sister," she mouths. I nod, set down the backpack and sit down beside it, catching a glimpse of curly red hair at the edge of the grass.

"Yes, it's a great idea to have given some thought to these things. It's just, well, I don't think you can ever account for all the swings that life with a kid can take." She runs her hand through her hair, clearly frustrated. "Look, I've got to go. Let's grab lunch next week and talk some more about this, okay?... No, that's playdate day. How about Thursday?... Okay, see ya then. ... Love you too. ... Bye."

Her shoulders slump forward for a minute, looking for support from her knees. Then she squares herself and turns towards me.

"Family stuff?" I ask.

"Family stuff," she replies. We give each other the universal whatcha gonna do gesture and sigh companionably.

"Sometimes I wish I had your freedom," she tells me. "No one to question your every move, no one to be constantly compared to."

"No one to babysit at a moments notice," I remind her. "But, yeah, I can see where there are perks."

We sit for a moment or two in silence, each playing out our own version of how the other half lives.

"How's the teether?" I ask, nodding towards the curly-topped miniature toddling our way.

"Grumpy," she grimaces. "We had to get out of the house before I went crazy. How did the testing go?"

"Meh. No solid diagnosis. Probably not far enough on the spectrum to qualify for support from them, but at least there was enough going on to make the doctor keep questioning. She said something about sensory processing or sensory integration, but wouldn't really commit until she'd had a chance to talk to the director at his school. She did say the boy is wicked smart, though, and complimented me on how I've chosen to handle his "uniqueness". That made me feel good. The parenting part, I mean."

"Well, the smart part isn't exactly a bad trait." She pats my shoulder. "At least you know he more or less understands what he's doing so you don't have to feel bad about it when it's time for consequences," she laughs, exaggerating finger quotes to emphasize "consequences".

Aaron runs up, looking for his water bottle and to tell us all about how the system on under the boat is wires so that if there are any bad guys swimming in the water they will get shocked and then the switch on the bottom will send a signal to the tower and to the satellites and it will make a loud DING DING DING sound and then the captain of the boat will run over to the side and see them all swimming away and tell them "DON'T YOU EVER COME BACK OR I WILL RUN MY BOAT RIGHT OVER YOU!" and then they will be flattened and sink to the bottom of the ocean and probably drowned until they get recycled just like Annabelle did after she went to the doctor and they couldn't do nuffin' to make her better and so she just died and now her body is getting recycled into more dirt for the Earth and Mommy, I miss Annabelle, she was the best kitty and also my best friend.

And then he's gone in almost the same breath he came in on.

Meanwhile there has been a near bark eating incident on the other side of the playground, so I am left for a moment to myself. I put his water bottle back in the back pack and pull out my own to wash down the handful of goldfish crackers that I've swiped from his snack baggie.

"Is it any wonder I can't lose the weight?" I mutter woefully to her as she pops the other half of her daughter's cereal bar into her own mouth. She nods in agreement and we both chew our contraband in silence.

"How do you do it?" she asks. I'm visibly startled, not sure to what she's directing her question.

"How do you put yourself together?" she rephrases, with a sweeping head-to-toe gesture. "You always come off so comfortable. So confident."
It's her turn to be startled as I laugh out loud before explaining that it wasn't too long ago that there was a conversation about my attire in this very park with a decidedly different tone.

"I can't even remember her name. Tori, Terry, Tracy... or more than likely something that didn't even start with a T." In my head I add that even if I could remember, I would likely change the name. You just never know when you're talking to someone's sister/cousin/bff in a small town.

"I'm sure the conversation started off innocuously, but I don't remember that bit, either. All I remember clearly is looking at the top of my just-turned-two-years-old head as he ate sand at the bottom of the slide and hearing her sweetly suggest to me that I would be more comfortable if I would take the time to "get dressed" before I went out."

She gives me the appropriate look of horror before I continue, "In retrospect, maybe she just meant I should allow myself a few minutes each day to take care of myself, but at that moment I could feel every unwashed pore of my hastily dressed body as it burned in humiliation. I tried for a month or so, I really did, but I just couldn't pull off the cute little dresses and sandals. Couldn't find a pair of jeans that I didn't race into the house to pull off the minute we got home. I avoided this park like the plague for the better part of a year before saying "fuck it" and pulling back on my Target track pants."

We shake our heads at the foibles of motherhood.

"I guess I look comfortable because I am. I realized then that I'm never going to quite fit into this neighborhood. So I quit trying. I'm the odd one on the court and I'm learning to be okay with that. It definitely takes the pressure off since no one really expects me to compete."

"Why do we do that to ourselves?" she asks, knowing full well that I don't have an answer.

Curly-top wants to swing. I call Aaron back from the top of the hill where he has managed to fashion himself a stick/vine/leaf swingy-thingy that he is brandishing about with alarming passion. He comes down and asks to push Curly-top and she nods in agreement, pleasing us all. We stand to the side, picking right back up in our conversation despite the interruption.

"Confident?" I ask. "That's a word I wouldn't have expected to be used to describe me."

She plucks at a spot of dried yogurt/applesauce/whatever at the edge of her sleeve. "You just seem to have it all together. Bandaids, extra snack, whatever."

"Oh, that's just the OCD." I laugh. "I'll be carrying a diaper bag until he's 17."

Aaron's through with the pushing, so she takes over as Curly-top begins to squawk her displeasure at slowing down.

"I would just like to get dressed, have breakfast, leave the house, come home, and eat dinner all in the same outfit. That's when I'll feel like I have it together," she laughs as she flicks away a bit of Curly-top's cereal bar from the other shoulder.

I laugh in return,"Oh, that? That's just a matter of getting your kid to the age where he wipes his face on his own clothes. If that's confidence, I've got the laundry to prove I'm the most confident person you'll ever meet!"

We leave the park as we came, separately, no plans for the future. We're best that way, she and I, confidants-but-not-quite-friends. It's as low pressure a relationship as you can come by which is probably why it works so well for the two of us. There is no sense of obligation, no expectation between us. A casual freedom that doesn't allow for the formality of playdates or text messages. No strings attached, no strings to strain and eventually break. Sometimes I wonder what it says about me that I am more comfortable with her than with those I've sat across the dinner table from.
Another 2am puzzle, no doubt.



Jori said...

I love your writing and your honesty and everything. I feel like one of those mom's that don't quite fit in, either.

dkops said...

You have such a positive perspective on parenting and the evolution of being your own person. I enjoyed reading your blog...

dkops said...

You have such a positive perspective on parenting and the evolution of being your own person. I enjoyed reading your blog...