BY JANE BEDARD
Special to the VOICE
I walked my kids to school as nervous as if it was my own first day at new job. I suppose it technically was, since my husband and I decided that I could take a leave of absence from work for a year to stay at home with our kids and bring some sanity to our chaotic lives. I looked around the schoolyard, excited and anxious, wondering if I would find a friend in this new environment.
What I found was an unspoken bond that linked mothers together, and when I didn’t race from the yard to get to work, or simply slow the car down near the school so the kids could jump and roll out, the circle of sisterhood (almost exclusively women) began to open up and accept me as one of their own. I was officially a member of the Stay at Home Mothers—SAHMs —Club, without even having to pay a membership fee.
On that inaugural day, after dropping off the kids, my first stop was the drugstore, where I met a mom with a stroller, squirming in her post-maternity jeans, who looked at me from the line and growled, “Goddamn hemorrhoids.” Now that I was in “the club,” I felt invited to pass on an unconventional, homeopathic remedy, which may have rattled her slightly:
“Excuse me, but what you want to do is cut up small pieces of garlic and use one each night as a suppository for three nights. Works every time.”
She looked at me nervously, like I’d just looked that up in my Wiccan spell book. In what other context could you tell a complete stranger to stick a piece of garlic up her ass and think it would be helpful? It seems disgusting, but let’s face it, so is being a mom sometimes. Despite my perceived helpfulness, however, I made a mental note to begin filtering my advice unless invited.
The next day, the woman in front of me at the coffee shop collected the largest cup of coffee I have ever seen, the size of a tennis ball can, a mucho, mucho, grande culo cuppa java. We nodded politely to each other, exchanging sympathetic looks as I glanced at the double stroller in front of her, occupied by a single traveler. She looked weary, a look with which any parent empathizes.
“I just wish they would all sleep through the night once,” she said, perhaps to me.
“How many do you have?” I asked, always ready to collect the Exasperation Medal for having three compared to the average Canadian family with 1.6 kids.
“Eight,” she replied.
“Wow, eight!” is all I could muster, as I took the mommy medal off from around my neck and handed it over.
“You?” she asked.
“Only three.” I don’t think I’ve ever said only three.
“Three is hard. I had trouble with three. After that it gets easier.”
Or you’ve lost so much sleep that you just think eight kids are easy because you’re delusional or catatonic, or hopefully smoking something so frickin awesome that it makes you forget you have eight kids. She went on to tell me her survival technique, which boiled down to five words: Don’t sweat the small stuff.
And then she was gone. She’d had her quick fix of connecting with another person who wasn’t asking for food or school supplies and away she went. I watched her in awe as she slowly shuffled down the street. My new sister. Don’t sweat the small stuff? No kidding.
As the months went on, I met many moms who gradually adopted me into their busy lives. A little part of me thought they felt sorry for me or that they had a secret society and were luring me in, fattening me up with wine and cheese, waiting for the day when they needed to make a human sacrifice. But they were nothing but genuine and inclusive and certainly not the type to throw a body into an active volcano.
In fact, the more I learned about these new friends, the more I realized how lucky I was to have fallen into their far-reaching web of kindness, intelligence, and resourcefulness.
I absorbed so much from them, including what it was to be self-aware and comfortable in my low-heeled mommy shoes. I needed to connect with those who already knew who they were and what their purpose was…at least at that point in their lives.
They didn’t apologize for their choice to stay at home, nor did they flaunt its importance or attempt to justify it to those who questioned it. They just did it and did it all without pay raises or bonuses or recognition of any kind, except from those clients who mattered most—those runny-nosed, skirt-clinging, knee-scraped, ride-needing, hungry, full, hot, cold, tired, wired, dirty, tie-my-skates clients, who offered hugs, kisses and snuggles as compensation. Besides, in mommy currency, despite our snot-smeared shirts and unkempt hair, we were richer beyond belief.
Three years have passed and I’m still at home. In order to make this situation financially feasible, our home is no longer in the city but in this small town. I will miss the friends I made but, ironically, I know that their instinctive nurturing and supportive natures helped me to grow and gave me the confidence and courage to leave them, not unlike the way they are preparing their children for adulthood.
As a parent, the measure that you’ve done your job well is that your children are happy, healthy, and gone. By those standards, my friends have raised me well.
When we arrived in our new environment, this time our whole family had to start over again, looking around the schoolyard, anxiously wondering who might be our new friends and forever finding our way. ◆