Before They Were Moms
You know the type of moms you meet in the playground oohing and ahhing over Galaxy (girl), Brooklyn (boy), or Dikon (not sure)?
“You did it!" They say to their kids. "Good for you.”
“Did you lose your dollie?”
“Let’s go change your di-di.”
It’s not just that they know how to talk toddler, a good skill to have when you spend more than half the day in the company of one. It’s that they talk that way to other adults. They slurp apple juice. They eat Goldfish and cut-up grapes out of tiny, plastic bowls. Their entire day is spent skipping along from one story hour to another to a playground to a play date to a sing-along class. They clap their hands when something good happens. They pull train cars and baby wipes and Cheerios out of magic bags that swing from the handles of Peg Perego strollers. They are completely devoted to the idea of kids, everything from nursery patterns to mealtime rituals to sign language for babies, even if they won’t let the ones they're in charge of take their shoes off in the sandbox or blow bubbles in the living room. And they do take care of them. In fact, that seems to be the only thing they have ever done.
Try as you might to find out what exactly their days were like before motherhood, every story begins with the moment of conception or worse, the day they began “trying”. Um, how old are you? Because, like, weren’t there at least three decades that transpired before the morning you threw your box of Ortho-Tri-Cyclen pills into the wastebasket? Was your cabinet always spilling over with BPA-free sippy cups? Did you ever not have magic wand and race car booby-traps lining the front hallway?
Because of these urban earth mothers' infuriatingly nihil ad rem replies, friendly questions start to feel prodding and intrusive. "Did you, I mean, were you, did you used to work? Outside the home I mean?" I stumble like I'm asking if they used to be hookers. They squint, and divert attention back to Dikon sitting in the baby swing all by itself (is there another option?).
I try to stay general: How long have you been in New York?
“Oh we used to be on the Upper West Side but you can’t expect me to raise a baby in a four-story walkup.”
Eventually even oblique references to that “other life” seem borderline sacrilege, like asking Born-Again Christians what exactly happened to the souls of the humans who lived before Jesus?
Whether they call themselves mama, mummy, mumsy, or another variation, these are MOMs with all capitals. There's a delay when you ask them their name. Their husbands are “Daddy”; their favorite songs are lullabies; their pancakes are served in dinosaur shapes. They’ve lost the taste for wine, even if they aren't nursing anymore. They prefer play dates to rock shows, tumbling to dancing, photos of bath time to Himalayan art. When you mention the volcano in Iceland they say, "I wouldn't know." When you talk about a nearby exhibit, they squoosh up their mouths: "Is that what people are doing these days?"as if they couldn't possibly care less because what they are doing is oh-just-so-much-more-googly-woogly-wonderful.
Maybe in New York, the cross-section of moms who choose to stay home and have the luxury to do so is so small, they are just their own species. Maybe you have to obliterate everything else, in a city with so many dreams and possibilities tempting you by the hour. To be a mom in a city that is so fabulous for singles and so not friendly to moms or their babies—no station wagons, no backyards, no dark, empty diners with high chairs and crayons—you have to stay focused on chubby baby legs and the cat and the fiddle. You have to keep your voice sing-song, no matter who you're talking to because otherwise you'll keep focusing on the trash in the playground or the cars trying to race you down or the moms who seem to do it all, work full time and have four kids and make it to all the weekend festivals. If even a sliver of an inkling of a doubt slipped in for these full-time moms, would the colorful days of yoga and gymnastics and flash cards come tumbling apart like a game of Jenga? Could it be that the nagging voice in their heads isn’t “Aren’t you just dying for a giant margarita?” but “What do you think you’re doing, exactly?" Which makes the question, "What did you used to do?" far too delicate to even entertain.
As for me, I feel the city tries daily to beat our childhood dreams of peace and expansiveness out of us. It makes us feel that we need always need more --more educational toys, more organic snacks, more structure for Breeze whose name alone could whisk her out to sea--when in truth all you need is a shovel and a patch of sunshine. Well, okay, a little more than that, but you get the point. I do wonder if I should try to do a better job of trying to hold up that house of cards like these Chelsea Piers indoor soccer moms. Instead I'm out on the overcrowded playground daily, looking for a tiny little opening between the monkey bars and the lily pads, to say— sometimes I miss meeting friends on street corners, wide open nights with no where I had to be, being up at 5 in the morning because I’m still up from the night before, not because it’s time to make the donuts.
If I could ever catch their eye when they talk about the endless joys of motherhood, I’d agree with them. "Isn’t having a kid the absolute best thing in the entire world that you could ever even imagine in your wildest dreams?" "Yes."
Yes. I’d say. It is, it really is. But weren’t there other great things too?