Every once in a while as a parent you realize these glaring holes in your teaching. Like the other day Bob came running around a corner with a heating pad trailing her; the cord wrapped neatly around her neck. And I thought holy crap did that kid brush her teeth today. Cause you know what they say about bad oral hygiene. Not really. I thought oh crap have I explained the dangers of electricity (and oh yeah wrapping things around your neck). I don’t think I have ever explicitly said, don’t take a bath with your radio cause you already have a frizzy head that I’m unsure most days how to fix and if it gets any more frizzy, Sugar you are on your own. And when you realize you’ve left gaps in the survival traditions that we humans have passed on since we were primordial goo so that we could rise up and become the fittest of all species, you panic. On the surface you are thinking my sweet precious child could be maimed, dismembered or killed if I don’t get this right. But somewhere deep inside you get all primitive. Because I’m not just letting down my one child, I am letting down all of humanity. I am not doing my job to further the human as the fittest of all species and we’ve worked really hard for that. All of the cavemen who came before us and died from trying to plug in their heating pad without proper training will have given their lives in vain. So you go into hyper explanation mode. Trying to give all of the information about whatever aspect of basic survival you have forgotten as if the existence of the human race depends on it. By the time I was 18 my Mom had simplified this into one statement, “You have a very bright future, don’t do anything to screw it up.” Before that however she too dove into hyper explanation throwing out dramatic scenarios that she pulled from her arsenal of “I work for DHS, trust me it can really happen,” examples that generally ended in “people die that way.” So that is about where I am on the parent time line. People die that way.
It is funny when you move. It is not the people that are integral in your life that you realize you are going to miss. Because they’ll still be in your life. Maybe in a different way depending on how far you are moving. But still you can call them. You can e-mail them. Or Facebook or Twitter. You can still keep in touch. But when you move all of the sudden you become misty and nostalgic about the people who are integral in your life that you didn’t even realize were integral. I have absolutely no reason to call or e-mail the man who owns the gas station by my house. But I’ve seen him at least twice a week for nearly 5 years. At least twice. I’ve had a 60-mile a day round trip commute for a little more than a year and a half so we are very good customers. He is from Pakistan although he’s kind of nervous to tell you where he is from when you ask him. I can’t say that I blame him. He lives in a town that doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being a center of diversity or sadly sometimes acceptance. He has six kids and we joke often about his wife being ready for the kids to go back to school in the summer and over the winter break. He gives them a hard time about school and tells them to do well so that they don’t have to work in a gas station when they grow up. One of his sons works there sometimes at night and on the weekends. He gives me a hard time with my ID if I buy a case of beer on a the way home on Friday evening. There is a third man who works there on the nights when the son doesn’t. We call him the short one. I am not exactly sure where he is from, but he doesn’t speak English very comfortably. But he tries very hard. And if he finds that you are patient with him, he will talk your ear off. He appreciates it. Once he told me a story about a lady who thought he was calling her a bitch when he was giving her the total of her purchase. When he first started he asked me if I knew of any classes that he could take to learn English better. I found him one at the library. They ask about my family and if they haven’t seen me in a while they ask where I’ve been. “How’s the gang?” the owner will ask me in the mornings. They tell me when my husband was in last. They know my cars, my patterns, where are I work, how long I’ve been there, what kind of cheap, domestic 3.2 I consume when I forgot to hit the liquor store in enough time to have a cold beer waiting at home on Friday evening. They don’t have pay-at-the pump, but I go there because I like them. I enjoy the conversation. And they don’t enforce the pay before you pump with me. They wave at me when I pass them driving through town. And now I won’t see them very often and have little reason to have a relationship with them other than our 5-year history of morning chats over my credit card transaction. It occurs to me now that I don’t even know their names.
My parents made my sister change schools when she was a freshman in junior high. She was not happy. Like not happy in the way that Evander Holyfield was not happy when Mike Tyson bit off his ear. Or not happy in the way the Bella was not happy when Edward left her. Whatever paints the picture of a really hurt and sad person most colorfully for you. On her last day at the school she had gone to since kindergarten my Dad told her that she’d still get to see her friends. She told him it wasn’t her friends she would miss. It was all those other people. I totally get it.
It’s the guy in the grocery store. It’s the daycare workers that you trusted with your kids every day. It’s the lady who served you breakfast every Saturday morning for 5 years. It’s the old man who waved at you when you passed his house during your morning commute. It’s all those people that make up this background to your life that are all of the sudden replaced by strangers … where all the strangers before had become familiar.
So I am officially a working mother. I mean, yeah, I’ve been a working mom for five years now. But there was always this daydream that we might win the lottery or find some way to make a lot of money that wouldn’t take A. any work B. any time or C. any upfront investment, wiring of money to an exiled prince of Nigeria or purchase of a distributor’s kit and I would get to stay home with the girls. Some mornings I would lay in bed and think, if I suffocate Jay with his pillow before he wakes up I can cash in the life insurance policy. Then I’d have enough money pay off the house and quit my job and bake cookies and have tea parties all day. All those people on Oprah talk about how peaceful their near death drowning/suffocating experiences were. So it’s not like he’d suffer that much. In fact, according to those Oprah people it is kind of nice. So I’d really be giving him the treat of a lifetime. Then I remember that he does the laundry and takes out the kitty litter and so obviously offing him is not an option.
So today my baby started Kindergarten. Full day Kindergarten where she’s gonna be responsible for getting off a big yellow bus and carrying a tray across a cafeteria with out spilling it. And along with her any opportunity or dream of staying home with the kids, skipped off to Kindergarten with a huge backpack and High School Musical folder. It is sort of gut wrenching, you know. It’s like that last day of vacation and you start to think what if I never get to come back here. I didn’t eat at all of the restaurants yet. And some local in a souvenir shop tells you it’s too bad that you can’t stay just one more day because tomorrow is the day that special day each year that Marty the humpback whale actually sprouts legs, comes onto the beach and plays with all the kids until dusk when he helps usher freshly hatched sea turtle babies to the ocean under the full moon. And you just start to panic.
I started to panic. The kind of panic where you’re moving in slow motion but everything around you is flying past on fast forward. Nola was in Junior High, then dressed for the prom, then graduating. I never got to take her on a field trip or help with a class party. Because I am a working mother. An insecurity hit me that nearly took me off my feet. The stay-at-home-moms will never call me to help and if they need someone to carpool and someone mentions Nola’s mom one of them will say, “Oh she works,” they’ll all nod, “Ah.” They won’t even call to ask me if I want to. Those bitches. I had failed as a mother over my kid’s entire life in a matter of moments standing there in the kitchen this morning. It was just over. Then I remembered that some of my best friends are homemaking engineers and they are pretty alright and stepped outside of myself and little and wondered how Nola was feeling. I started to panic again. Did I prepare her enough? Did I even tell her that she was starting kindergarten today? Who would make sure she got to the bathroom when she needed to go? Is she nervous? If I ask her if she is nervous, will she think that she should be nervous and then get nervous?
She was a champ. She marched right into her room. Found a friend she knew and got down to the business of playing. After backing away slowly from our Kindergartner making sure she was going to be OK even though it was painfully obvious that she was, her father and I took our places in the hallway with all the other parents dropping off their teeny tiny babies to that huge school. There was a guy there who looked like he was probably a pro at flipping people the bird as he cut them off with his hog. He was a total blubbering mess. His kid was consoling him. Then I realized. No matter how tough you are, this stuff is hard. I remembered track meets all hunkered down in my blocks knowing that at any moment the gun was going to fire and I’d have to start. Dreading the gun. When I’d have to leap up and run. It was terrifying and there was nothing I could do to stop it. And here we were the first day of Kindergarten. Runners to your mark. And there she goes.