Mad Skills

We just completed our first photo shoot as family. We’ve seen the sun shining on the changing leaves maybe once on a Sunday this fall, but today was the day—we finagled good weather on a weekend. The colors were stunning. Caroline posed like a professional, which was a tad alarming since she has surely acquired a relaxed relationship with the camera by celestial means. Neither Dave nor I take to cameras with anything resembling ease, but Caroline was a natural, and Lexi, naturally, had no interest in looking at anything but the pine needles blanketing the path. We wouldn’t have been out there by a dilapidated barn in the middle of a Maryland field, had it not been for baby Oliver, our painfully cute soon-to-be-one-year-old neighbor. Dave and I saw black and white photos of Oliver, and even though Oliver himself is picture perfect, we could not believe how well the shots highlighted his adorableness. “Did Liz take these?”

“Yes, she’s great,” said Mom-of-Oliver (named Corrie), which now leads me to a thoroughly researched, earth-shatteringly thought-provoking thesis: Some moms got mad skills. But, who would know it when all we talk about are these darn kids????

It could not have been raining heavier last Thursday when Caroline, Lexi and Mom-of-Caroline and Lexi (that would be me), struck out on our own, two of us donning matching Hello Kitty rain boots, and three wearing gear appropriate for the temperate rain forest in which we’re apparently now residing. After exactly 1 and ½ minutes of complete dousing, we arrived at the house of Mom-of-Hayden (named Susanne) for playgroup. She had been all worked up about hosting because some of our kids are toddlers. She worried that Hayden—a wee babe—might not have the appropriate toys to keep the three-year-olds entertained. Hanging like monkeys on newly cleaned drapery, oddly enough, kept the kids happy and the moms refilling the wine glasses. We attempted conversations, as three-year-olds pin-balled across the living room, tripping over two-year-olds with babies cushioning their falls. “So, how was New York?” Mom-of-Charlotte and Jacqueline (named Lee) screamed to me from across the room.

“Oh it was—hey, Caroline, leave Austin alone.”

“But we’re having fun!”

“Well, no, actually, I don’t think Austin is having fun. You’re cackling in his ear. Step away. Anyway, what I was saying?”

Mom-of-Hayden had baked some serious banana bread, and because fruit is good for me, I was well into my third piece when Mom-of-Owen and Cameron (named Jordan) released into the air a few words about her own pending trip to NYC. Something about a girls’ weekend and something about—well, I didn’t catch the rest as aforementioned toddlers speed-skated into the kitchen to discover that the unique spill proof system on the DrinkMoreWater water cooler was not, in fact, spill proof. Zamboni required. And a quick exit. “Sorry, Susanne. We’ve been a little cooped up.” It’s not only that I want to have a complete conversation with friends in the neighborhood, but I’d like to do so without a child pole-dancing around my legs. And that banana bread. Susanne makes a mean banana bread. What other magical foods of hers might I sample, if only we had more time?

The following Monday, I had just finished consulting the treadmill about three slices of banana bread and had then taken the girls to the playground, when Mom-of-Owen and Cameron drove by. I asked her how she did in the race she’d run over the weekend. “Did you win it?” I joked.

“Well, actually, yea, I did,” she said. “First in my age group.”

“What???!!!” I didn’t know she was a runner. “What was your time?” She told me. “That’s a 7 minute mile! I had no idea!”

“I ran track in high school,” she said as Owen began his sit-down-strike against the Subaru safety feature that prevents a complete window roll down. He couldn’t get a clear visual of Caroline and Lexi, so he gave us all a clear audio. “Gotta run!” said his mom. “Owen’s tired.”

And so am I—of sometimes feeling that I know more about my friend’s parenting strategies than I know about my friends. Jordan and I spend at least 42 hours a week together and I was pretty secure in the knowledge that she was a volleyball player. For all I know, Robyn is recognized in other circles for her translations of Petrarchan sonnets from Italian into English. Cheryl may have swum the 50 meter free in the 2000 Olympics. Though it is helpful at times to discuss potty training techniques or vent about a child’s penchant for cheap-shotting the neighbor’s Chihuahua, it is helpful also to talk about other things. That’s how I made friends in the past. That’s how, presumably, I’ll make friends in the future. I must continue to practice basic social etiquette. When I meet someone, I must avoid asking how old her child is in months.

Caroline, Lexi, and I made it to story time at the mall a few months back. The woman reading was soliciting audience participation as she paged through a cutesy animal tale. “What does a cow say?” All of the mothers looked lovingly at their little ones, saying, “Moooooooo.” There was lot of “Meowwwwwing” and “Oinking” going on between respective parents and children. Pottery Barn Kids is a bit cleaner than my house and is a short walk to Starbucks, but other than that, I might as well have been in my own home since I was only interacting with my own children. Oftentimes it really is hard to communicate with other mothers because I get worried that my kid is going to fall off a chair, disappear, or –god forbid—yell out “QUACK!” when the reader asks what an elephant says. So I was trumpeting emotively into Lexi’s face when, suddenly, beside me, a mother who’d been sitting quietly with her infant throughout most of the reading, made the most realistic elephant noise I have ever heard from a non-elephant. It was miraculous. It was exquisite. I cannot over-emphasize how remarkable this elephant sound was. All I wanted to do at that moment was congratulate her. I would have asked her, “Is there a class for that?” I would have insisted that we become friends, but in an instant, the woman reading was closing up shop and doling out stickers. In an instant, Lexi was yelling “QUACK!” while falling off of her chair, as Caroline disappeared into a sea of pink pastel kitchen utensils. In an instant, the elephant mom was gone.

Staying home with Caroline and Lexi can be lonely work. I have been known to lose my sense of humor, especially after three full days of rain. I’ve lost my sense of self on occasion during the last three years, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. People often say that this time is short—when your kids are young—and that the rest of your life will happen soon enough. Believe me, I’ve waited a long time to have these gorgeous girls, and I refuse to rush into any next stage, but I’d like to avoid pushing the pause button altogether. It’s possible to raise and love your kids, while also maintaining past friendships and creating new ones. It’s possible for a mother of three to bake muffins for a new friend when that new friend has a child in the hospital. It’s possible to hire a sitter and then spend a couple of hours talking to someone about all the cool jobs she’s had—all the wonderful places she’s traveled. It’s possible to raise two rowdy boys during the week and then win a fun run on the weekend. It’s possible to drive carpool on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and then, in your few free moments, take beautiful photographs. Mad Skills.

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