I drop my daughter off at school every morning, and every morning I see this young woman dropping her son off. She has her other two children with her, a toddler and a newborn. She doesn’t look very old, but I’m not a good judge of age, so she could be older than I think.
I’ve never spoken to her. Her son isn’t in my daughter’s class so we don’t have much common ground to strike up conversation. She seems shy and quiet. I’ve tried to make eye contact, but she always looks away. I wonder if she feels out of place around all the other women, including me, who appear to be so much older than her. I want to reach out to her, to connect with her. I’d love to see her new baby.
Back in the Fall when she was pregnant, I thought I might get a chance to talk to her, to ask her when she was due, if she knew what she was having, or whether she was worried about the impact a third child would have on her family. I wanted to have all those conversations that come so easily to new mothers, but not so much to a mother of a 4-year-old and 2-year-old. You see, I’m past the new mom phase and for some reason, people don’t speak to you as readily when you have older children than when you were just starting out on the motherhood path. Everyone wanted to connect with you then, impart their parenting advice, spend a few moments in the glow of new motherhood and a new life.
But the opportunity never came for me to speak to this woman. She walks her son into the schoolyard in the morning, pushing her double stroller with her head down and lines up against the wall in front of the kindergarten door with her children. So, rather than speak to her, I have just observed her and wondered what her life is like.
I know she’s married and I know she lives in an apartment building not far from my house. I wonder if she works, if she’s a stay-at-home mom, if she worked before she had kids, if she studied at a university or college before starting a family. I wonder if she’s happy with her choices to raise a family and not work if she is a stay-at-home mom. And lately, I’ve wondered more basic things like what does she feed her children. Does she prepare home-cooked meals or does she make Kraft Dinner every night? Does she spend the day playing with her two youngest children and teaching them things while she waits for school to be out to pick up her oldest or does she let the children play on their own while she does other things? These observations have made me realize that there could be other mothers in the schoolyard looking at me in the same way, wondering if I work or stay at home, cook elaborate healthy meals for my children or let them eat the easiest thing to come out of a box.
So I started to observe myself. I’m dressed for the office when I drop my daughter off in the morning and when I pick her up in the afternoon, so people could assume that I have a job. But sometimes I don’t dress up. What do they think of me then?
I usually keep my head down or I stare off into the distance when I’m in the schoolyard, and I try very hard to strike up conversations with my daughter so that I don’t have to stand there looking shy or snobby or nervous or out of place.
I really don’t care what other people think of me. I’m not worried that the other mothers will think that I’m a snob. I’d love to connect with some of them; have someone to chat with while my daughter plays with her friends. But what I thought was going to be a natural place to meet other parents turns out to be a rather stiff, uninviting place.
Maybe that’s why this young mother keeps her head down. She knows that trying to connect comes with the price of possibly being rejected. But connecting also fills an emptiness.
Maybe tomorrow, I won’t keep my head down.