I took my two girls to see a movie tonight.
I’m not going to lie: it was a trial.
My daughters spent mid-day with their Dad, and unfortunately came home without having had lunch or naps. It was all-around ugly.
I put the little screaming one in my bed. Naturally she wet it. After nap/laundry time, I ran the gauntlet which means I attempted to brush the little one’s hair. She does not take kindly to such indignities.
Then the older one had a nervous breakdown over her shoes. She wanted to wear the scuffed awful ones that make great tapping noises. I wanted her not to look like a ruffian. There were tears. For the sake of my dignity, I’m not saying who they belonged to.
Most of the time, I let the kids wear whatever they want. It pains me, because I suspect other parents see my kids and think that their mother hates them or at the very least neglects them and most certainly doesn’t tie her identity to their appearance because where are my lululemon pants and Tom Ford sunglasses and what kind of mother am I, anyway?
NOTHING challenges my self-esteem like the school drop-off scene.
As a child, I walked to school or took the bus, or later when I got breasts and learned how to use them, ferreted rides from geeky boys with hopeful cars and V8 hearts.
Then, there was no drop off scene. Now, the drop-off mayhem – there’s no parking for BLOCKS, very few men, and no kid unattended anywhere in suburbia at any time – unmoors me.
Friday’s fashion, for example, was AWESOME. The little one wore fuschia flowered leggings, an orange and yellow flowered dress, a backwards pajama shirt (over top the dress, of course), white and red striped socks and black satin mary janes.
And she was proud. I asked her how her clothes made her feel, and she said “fab-boo-liss.”
Somewhere a rainbow was blinging in concert with the glow and the glory of my three year old.
But when we go places – big social, public places – as a family, I get a little self-conscious. I’m conscious that we’re three people and not four. I’m conscious that we’re not all the same colour and that means something big to people with small minds. I’m conscious that scuffed shoes and mismatched clothes don’t signal “let’s her children make their own decisions” so much as “inattentive single white mom who’s not taking care of her brown kids.”
One of my daughter’s caregivers became a mom at 17. People – especially older women – were nasty to her, to her face. The nurses in the hospital attending her while she gave birth said snide things that sounded a lot like “this is what happens when you…” Old ladies on the bus asked her, horrified, “is that YOUR baby?”
She told me that the burden of perfection was her best defense. Her child was always well scrubbed, beautifully dressed, even better behaved. She might have been an unwed, teenage mom, but she was a Good Mom. Just look at her kid.
I carry that burden, sometimes. Being shiny and looking like money means I’m not One of Them.
You know, Them: the selfish, irresponsible and therefore rightfully impoverished slutty single moms who sleep with black men because they wanted a cute mixed kid they could name Jade or Rain.
“Those women” are imaginary. They’re caricatures of what we fear: women who think they have the right to control their own sexuality and fertility and that they – WE – know best how to care for ourselves and our children. Women who do what women have been doing ever since there were women: have babies, or don’t, and survive.
And none of us are cartoons. We’re all moms who love our kids.
But money is my defense. If my kids are shiny and well put together, I might escape that judgement.
(Although let’s be real: I’ll never escape that judgement.)
If my kids are well-dressed, well-coiffed, and shiny, maybe I’m not irresponsible, selfish and slutty for having children in a loving relationship that later imploded forcing me to make the no-win, no-one-escapes-unscathed choice to stay in something that was leaching nutrients from my wilting soul, or go. With my kids.
Because what else should I have done with them?
(Note: Obviously, they didn’t get here without assistance. I’ve not mastered agamogenesis. Yet. But watch out if I do.)
All of this is to say: I’m conscious of the eyes on us and if they’re going to run us over, I’d like it to be with love, not petty, ugly judgement. I’d like the assessment to be something like: look at that pretty little family. What lovely ladies.
Not, look at those ragamuffins. The mother had time to put on red lipstick and do her hair but lets her kids go out like that?
Subtext: selfish selfish selfish.
So I made my kid put on un-scuffed shoes and a mental note to throw out the offending footwear when she’s not looking. Because I’m an awesome mama like that.
Trashing the trashed shoes is pre-emptive and proactive. Lots of my life is all about anticipating the rough patches and avoiding them.
Like getting dressed in the morning. My little one is basically possessed by demons before 10am so I work around The Wicked. I dress her before bed. We don’t do pajamas. We do tomorrow’s clothes. Better wrinkled than embattled (and embittered).
Another pre-emptive strike is thinking through just what a movie line-up will be like with little ones.
I’ll tell you: hell.
I took the girls to see The Princess and the Frog the day that Avatar opened.
The lobby of the theatre was a flash mob. We were packed in there so close and tight that I’m pretty sure that by the time I bought tickets I was pregnant. By several people.
My three year old, who is as high as my hip, clutched my leg and rode on my foot. My then five-year old folded herself around my waist and tucked her head into my armpit.
For the first fifteen minutes. After that the attention-span-of-gnat-tiness emerged.
I’ll spare you the details, but we very nearly didn’t go to that movie because my nerves were shot before we even got to the cashier.
And that’s not because they’re bad kids who don’t know how to behave. It is because one of them is three and part-tornado.
All of this is to say that tonight, when thinking about the line for tickets, I thought no thanks and bought the tickets online which my printer then refused to acknowledge in any paper-based form.
So then I went to Kinkos to print the tickets. Kinkos was closed. Crap.
I decided to go to the theatre and ask for help. I can’t be the only person who has a persnickety printer.
Ah yes. Maybe I am. Upon telling my sad tale, I got a blank stare accompanied by a silent wall of notgonnahelpyou.
(Which I understand. When employers pay people the least they are legally able to get away with, employees reciprocate with the least effort they can get away with while still breathing. It’s a fair deal.)
The cashier told me to buy new tickets and later go online and refund my tickets. So I bought new tickets while suspecting It Was Not Going To Be That Easy.
(Update: It Is Not That Easy. there’s no place to refund the tickets anywhere on their website. Colour me impressed.)
So that was the race I ran just to get to the theatre: cranky, hungry kids, bedwetting, laundry as a result of bed-wetting, two pitched fits over hair-brushing and shoes, $89 for six tickets when only three were required, and an ever-present thundercloud of worry that the world thinks I’m an irresponsible, selfish woman for having and raising my children.
In other words: just another day.
It was magic.
There was lots of action, tussling (and cuddling) with dragons, a kick-ass girl Viking, and a great father/son coming-of-age story. My girls loved it.
It was maybe a little too wild for my little one, but she loved it even though she had to take off the glasses and cuddle into my arm every once in a while.
For a little one, it was a big movie and evoked big emotions. At each scary part, the little one chanted: I wanna go to Daddy’s house, I wanna go to Daddy’s house. And then she’d get really excited and animated and exclaim: I LOVE THIS MOVIE!
An older lady who was sitting behind us sighed and sniffed loudly every time my kids made a peep. I thought, It is a kid’s movie! You can expect kids will be in attendance, and that they will be behaving like…kids.
At the end of the movie, the little one was so hopped on excitement and happy endings that she did something entirely unanticipated by someone who’s an expert in anticipating her (that would be me).
She bolted from the theatre into the hall.
The other one, meanwhile, was frozen in her seat and entirely unresponsive to my pleas to move. Dilemma.
In an instant, I decided to fetch the one at most risk. I parented from the youngest up. I chased after the little one because clearly the big one was not going anywhere.
She had stopped at the end of the hallway and was waiting, smiling, waving. An older woman was standing beside her her. It was the same woman who was behind us in the theatre sighing loudly at my daughter’s wanting-Daddy’s-house chants.
The woman called to me as I raced frantically down the hallway, “Little red coat? She’s right here.” Then when I got to them, she said to me, pointedly, and with all the quiet evil she could ooze, “This is why it takes two people to procreate and raise children.”
I said, “Bitch.”
And scooped up my child, fetched the other one and struggled not to burst into tears. I marvelled at the weight and biblical proportions of the word “procreate”; at the snub; at the judgement that I always know is there but that, mercifully, few people have the temerity to express in anything other than sideways glances; at the fact that I called another woman the B-word in anger (who am I?) and that I did it in front of my daughter.
I was so distracted and distraught that I couldn’t remember where I parked my car, and so I paced the dark parking lot with two tired little girls in tow.
I worried that the car was stolen. I worried that I was incompetent. I thought, who forgets where they parked their car? Oh, I know: irresponsible people. Who calls another woman a bitch, in front of her own daughter? Impetuous, selfish, bad-tempered women. Who can’t manage two kids on her own in a movie theatre? A bad, single mother. Me.
I found the car, and I drove the long way ’round so I’d have time to cry silently but be finished with the hot, wet salty stuff before we arrived home.
When I pulled into the driveway, I saw the reflection of my headlights in the garage door. One was out.
The headlight. There’s so much to that headlight. At the end of my first date with Very Bad Lying Man, I leaned against the grill of my car. We stood close, without kissing while wanting to kiss, for a long time. He looked at the car’s headlights and told me they needed brightening. He said he would do that, for me. He’d take me to Canadian Tire and show me which lights I needed, and put them in for me. I brightened. He said he’d respect and desire me. And then he kissed me.
Later, when I drove around the corner and out of sight, I pulled over and shook. Everything in me said, yessssssssssssssssssssssssss.
I’ve never had that. I’ve never had a man who had my back. Or my headlights.
So this stupid single headlight made me feel even more like a stupid single mama. Lone and lonely.
I wanted to cry, more, but I sucked it up. I don’t like to scare my daughters. They feel responsible for me when I’m sad and that’s too much weight for little shoulders. I can carry that.
So that was our night. It was a bit fraught. The movie was good, though.