Life hasn’t been the same since Little Miss started Kindergarten. At least not for me. The back-and-forth trips for pickup and dropoff and managing the schedules of two girls in two different schools have me in the car a lot, which I loathe. That’s the price we pay for finding a home tucked away at the end of civilization. Sure, we get to watch bunnies and deer (eating all my pretty flowers – agh!) in our yard, but that also means there’s no walking to anywhere for us. I know I’ve mentioned this before, and this will probably keep coming up because of all the changes we’ve made since our move here from Chicago, the inability to reach anywhere on foot may be the biggest and worst adjustment I’ve had to make. For nearly 38 years of my life, I’ve always been able to easily reach many places on foot – restaurants, cleaners, convenient stores – and now I think my body is creaking in a funny way from the lack of use. I also feel cut off from the rest of the world, and when you’re new to the area, the isolation is more acute.
Maybe that’s why I was eager to join the PTA at Little Miss’ new school. I wanted to know more families around us – perhaps people we could walk to visit! – and I needed to rebuild the community we lost when we uprooted from our last real home. And that’s how I found myself organizing the annual school picnic scheduled for the end of the month. When I saw an open slot for this I quickly volunteered because me? Plan a party? I could do that in my sleep. I am also on the Board now because I’m the committee lead for communications. Surprise, surprise. My inbox has more PTA-related emails now than work-related ones. Yes, I’ve become that parent. I just need one of my kids to get into soccer to complete the picture. But the thing is, I’m okay with it.
My Guy had to leave town for five days the week both girls started school and admittedly, I was not happy about the timing. Really? Could he have found a more inconvenient time than the first week both girls were back in school with two different sets of needs coming from different directions all at once? After the first-day-of-kindergarten fiasco, I was pretty sure I was going to stumble again somewhere. Except, you know what? I’m happy to report that I didn’t screw up once. Lunches were made, no one was late, nothing was forgotten – it was a freakin’ miracle. I was amazed at how quickly we embraced the routine, as unfamiliar as it was to us.
And I have to say, I’m loving this new life. Not only do I get to savor my Mondays and Fridays alone with Pickle while her sister is in all-day kindergarten, I pick Little Miss up from school at 2:45 every day while Pickle is still in preschool so we get to spend the afternoon together. We’ve established a mini routine there, too, where we get home, I check her backpack for school announcements and crafts, I unpack her lunch bag, and we sit down to read and chat together for a little bit before moving the conversation to the kitchen, where I start dinner and she’s learning to help, or she’ll just keep me company, all the while talking about her new school, new friends, new teacher – anything she likes. I absolutely treasure this part of my afternoon with my big girl because when it’s just the two of us, when she doesn’t have to compete to be heard, she’s a different girl, and this girl is an absolute delight. I love how we can now actually laugh about the same things, dream about a far-off vacation or discuss life in general: friendships, heartache, challenges. And I think to myself, you know, as a mother of daughters, that’s the stuff; this is it right here.
What do you make when you have a sous chef and tomatoes in abundance from the garden?
Spaghetti and meatballs from scratch of course!
On Friday, to celebrate the end of a successful week with my girls, I took them to a mom-and-pop bounce house near our neighborhood, we had popsicles and watched a movie at home in the evening. I made kale chips instead of popcorn, which the girls gleefully devoured. Oh yeah, we know how to party. That weekend, I took the girls to one of Austin’s best places for kids – the Thinkery, a kids’ museum but with plenty of science-based play – with another mom and her kids, and for lunch, they didn’t have to twist my arm when they suggested In-n-Out Burger. I was really digging the solo-parenting thing; I guess it’s easier when I feel like I’ve got this.
My Guy would be home on Sunday, but on Saturday, after many evenings at home, I hired a sitter so I could go out with six other moms to see an 80’s cover band in an outdoor venue. I only knew one of them and met the rest for the first time. Four out of seven of us met for dinner and drinks first, and during introductions, a mom with a demanding career said, as she pointed to each person at the table “so you’re an entrepreneur, and so are you, and…” then she pointed to me, “what about you?” It took me by surprise that I didn’t really know what to say. “I write,” I feebly attempted, then added, “I also stay at home with my girls,” which steered the conversation towards the direction of oh how nice to be able to stay at home, which always makes me a little uncomfortable because I don’t know if people say that to be nice or if they really mean it, and it somehow makes me second-guess my own choices.
In a group of ambitious, career-driven women, I felt self-conscious about my own lack of ambition. I work part time from home, I don’t aim to be an executive at some corporation, and I don’t care to run my own company. I’m exactly where I wanted to be, yet, in this setting, I felt suddenly unsure about my own choices. I am that PTA parent in stark contrast to their leaning in in a way that would make Sheryl Sandberg proud, and I forgot how I was once closer to their end of the spectrum and had been unhappy. I forgot how rewarding it is to spend unhurried time with my girls in the middle of the day. I forgot, as a latchkey kid with full-time working parents, how I’d wanted to do things differently for my girls so they would have someone to be here when they come home, to be available for school functions and activities, to be involved in a way that my parents weren’t or couldn’t be.
But as the night progressed, and as we whooped and hollered at songs that took us back to our childhood (“Girls Just Wanna Have Fun! YEAH!”), I was starting to forget my own insecurities as well, because in the end, despite our different backgrounds, as moms, we had more in common than not. For one thing, we all shared the gratitude for an evening away from home, untethered to little creatures demanding our constant attention. At one point during the show, I think we all looked up and around us, observing the downtown buildings towering above, the low moving clouds reflecting the city lights, the (somewhat inebriated) people having fun around us, and we exhaled in relief that there we were, feeling like real people again, having real conversations without the mommy this and mommy that interruptions, and at the same time, trying to recall the last time we saw the city after dark.
When we left, we knew it was back to the usual – the routine of juggling needs that are mostly not ours, the working guilt, the parenting guilt, and now, the PTA emails. All of us isolated in our own way, all of us grasping for some sense of balance to keep going. Always hoping and wondering, but never sure, that what we’re doing is enough.