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Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Other Mother

They walked into the Mexican restaurant a little bit later than your typical lunch time just like they did every Saturday. With a 2 year old and a 4 year old this was the best time since the restaurant was not so crowded. She had broken a sweat and was winded from getting the 2 girls out of their car seats and into the building in the 90 degree heat wave they were having. Of course they both wanted mommy to get them out of the car for some reason. As she mopped the sweat from her brow she caught a glimpse of a woman across the restaurant. The woman was sitting with two girls who appeared to be as close in age as her two but much older. Maybe they were 14 and 16.

As it would happen the other mother looked over right at the same time and their eyes met in the commencement of an almost magical dialogue. Mary, the mother of the two toddlers went first. “You have no idea how good you have it right now. You probably take it for granted that your girls actually walk into the restaurant by themselves! I mean, look at me! I am always winded and sweaty when it is this hot outside. Do you know what I would give to be able to sit down at a table in a restaurant and not have to catch my breath?” The mother of the teenage girls, Emily, answered with this, “they may be able to walk into the restaurant on their own two legs but they could at least allow me to walk beside them, or even beside one another. They are so afraid to be seen as ‘un-cool’ by one of their friends that they don’t dare allow that. When we walk into a restaurant it is usually in a single file line and by the time we sit down I may not be winded physically but my soul feels suffocated for some acknowledgement from my girls.”

When they arrive at their table Mary puts the 2 year old down while she gets the 4 year old situated. In the 5 seconds she has her hands full the beautiful 2 year old baby girl has decorated the table with the salsa that the server had just delivered. The four letter words start flying through Mary’s head as she does her best to keep her composure and clean up the mess without further upsetting her already irritated husband. The fact that neither girl wanted daddy to get her out of the car had gotten him off to a slow start on the happy train as it was. “What would you say now? Are you actually envious of me having to clean this shit up? I mean I turn my back for one second and look what she does! Not to mention that I am starving and now there isn’t even any salsa for me to eat with my chips! I wish my girls sat so quietly and ate their food without such a mess!” Emily replied with her eyes with “well you are right they do eat neatly and no I usually do not have to clean up messes like that anymore. But boy would I trade cleaning up a mess like that every meal if I could just get them to talk to me. They eat so neatly and quietly that I feel like I am by myself. Instead of pouring a jar of salsa on the table to show me she is feeling rambunctious I spend most of my time guessing what my 16 year old daughter is thinking. Is she mad or sad or hurt? How can I craft a question for her that she won’t think is stupid and may open up a dialogue with her?”

The mess is finally cleaned up and the clock is ticking. How long will the girls behave? It is a constant game of keeping their attention moving in the direction that you want it to instead of where it is naturally drawn. Mary pulls out a sticker book and a coloring book and the girls proceed to want one another’s activity. “Why?! Why in the world does one girl always want what the other one has? It is just not possible to always get two of the exact same things. You would think that they would enjoy sharing so that they can get to play two different things. When is our food going to get here??” As Emily looks at the 2 toddler girls and then at her own she recalls, “ I remember the days when a sticker could buy me anything. From a clean room to a kiss on the cheek and anything in between. I had a sheet of stickers stashed absolutely everyplace so as to ensure an easy access ticket to a smile. In fact, I think I still have some in the glove box. I wonder if I will be able to exchange one for a smile today…”

Both meals end at almost the same time since Emily and her girls stayed for dessert. As both families rise from their respective tables the mothers exchange one last and prolonged glance.
Here is what they said:

Mary: “I hate to say it but most days I feel like I can’t wait to get to the stage that you are in with your girls. My favorite time of the day is bedtime. Everyone tells me to enjoy where I am but between the cooking and cleaning for, the whining and crying of and the threats and scolding to I am still trying to figure out when to enjoy.”

Emily: “How I wish I could feel the tickle of baby-hairs on my nose in the middle of a good, long hug. How I miss their sticky faces and immature voices. The way they smelled right after a bath. The indescribable softness of baby-skin. We mothers are so much the same. I have been there and I remember feeling the way her face tells me she feels. How I felt like everything required so much effort. The difference is that you will one day have what I have; I can never have what you have again.”

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