By Susan Buttenwieser
You don’t know these other Moms very well, haven’t gotten past the small talk phase of friendship during late afternoon pick-up, when everyone just wants to get home. You’d been hoping that socializing with them might produce kindred spirits, maybe somewhat of a support network even.
The Moms from Toddler Room A have the night off. They are letting loose at the back table in a T.G.I.F. knock-off.
“Get your husbands to baby sit,” the email from Cruise Director Mom instructed earlier. She’s the self-designated organizer of the monthly snack schedule, teacher thank-you gifts, and lice outbreak alerts. “Because tonight is MOM’S NIGHT OUT!!!!”
Immediately, the Reply Alls started rolling in.
Compara-Mom was the first to rsvp. “So TOTALLY psyched!! Can already taste the salt on my margarita! I am ready to PAR-TAY!” Her main reason for getting out of bed each morning is to display her vastly superior child-rearing skills.
Cheery-Bitter Mom chimed in. “Literally cannot wait! Stuck at home all week with two sick kids and they are driving me crazy! Let’s get this PAR-TAY started!” She makes baby food from scratch, sews all her children’s clothing, and loathes them.
“Just wish we could start the PAR-TAY right now!” Overly-Aerobicized Mom signed off with her signature yellow smiley-faced emoticon.
Now here you all are in this brightly lit restaurant with no discernable cuisine. It is mostly empty except for a few happy-hourers anchored to the bar. The Moms pound umbrella drinks and nibble at nachos smothered in cheese and hot chilies. Nearby speakers blare that one Edie Brickell hit that gets Cheery-Bitter bouncing in her chair.
At first everyone is giddy and the conversation is easy. It is seven p.m. and you are in a bar. Not home navigating baths or bedtime stories or scraping barely touched chicken nuggets into the trash. So giddy that everyone is able to overlook the fact that the Cruise Director chose a place that is subpar to an airport lounge.
You discuss the preschool teachers where you all know each other from. How hard it is to find something to wear that feels remotely flattering. How hard it is to find time to exercise. How hard it is to find time to do anything for yourselves. How lucky you all are that the Cruise Director organized this.
But then that first sheen of excitement wears off and an awkward lull washes over the table. You are missing the social crutch of attending to your children’s constant needs in the confines of the playground or the pre-school hallways. The Cruise Director tries to flag down the waitress for another round. Compara-Mom tells Cheery Bitter that she looks like she’s lost weight. Overly Aerobicized agrees. And then there is more awkwardness.
So the Moms turn to the one subject that comes so easily: husband hatred.
Compara Mom won’t let her husband buy groceries. The Cruise Director can’t trust her husband to take their kids to the playground because he doesn’t provide “appropriate supervision.” Cheery Bitter’s husband always fucks up the laundry and Overly-Aerobicized’s can’t cook.
“He still hasn’t figured out how to put a diaper on!”
“He won’t get up with the kids in the mornings. Not even on Mother’s Day!”
“He thinks cereal is a suitable option for dinner. Sugar cereal!”
“He has no idea what he’s doing!”
Another round of umbrella drinks arrive along with baskets of Buffalo wings and fried mozzarella sticks. One Eagles’ song after another plays, followed by a Randy Newman double shot. The fluorescent lights beat down on as the grievances fly around the table.
“He never even thinks about buying wipes.”
“Oh don’t get me started on wipes.”
“They think the wipes somehow appear mysteriously in the apartment by themselves.”
“He won’t do anything about a routine.”
“He’s let’s the kids watch TV whenever they feel like it.”
It is hard to get a word in edgewise as the outpouring of vitriol grows louder and more vicious. Then Overly-Aerobicized over-shares about sexual problems.
A long silence follows. Finally the Cruise Director comes up with a lighter topic.
“Do you remember right before you gave birth? Those last few days of freedom,” she slurs. “What is your favorite memory from The Before?”
The Moms clamor to share their memories: getting breakfast in bed, foot massages, candlelit dinners.
You decide to keep yours quiet. The week before your daughter was born, you and some friends went to a strip club in your neighborhood, which has since been shut down and turned into a bagel cafe. It was a no frills dive, a rarity in the city now. A small stage lined the whole of one mirrored wall with the bar directly opposite it. At one point during the long evening, the dancers all gathered around you, placing their hands on your outstretched belly, squealing whenever they felt movement. “Bless this baby,” the women said a few times, in between quietly complaining about the lousy tips they were getting that night.
You don’t feel like these Moms would understand how at that particular moment, right on the edge of motherhood, it was just the boost you so desperately needed. The dancers’ collective excitement at your huge belly was like having your own personal alternative cheerleading squad.
Remembering this right now only widens the chasm you have been feeling all evening. You don’t know these other Moms very well, haven’t gotten past the small talk phase of friendship during late afternoon pick-up, when everyone just wants to get home. You’d been hoping that socializing with them might produce kindred spirits, maybe somewhat of a support network even.
Instead, after making up an excuse about needing to get back home you leave some money on the table and start gathering your things. When you stand up to leave and push your chair in, the Moms seem to barely even notice your imminent departure. As if you hadn’t really been there in the first place.
Susan Buttenwieser’s writing has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and appeared in Women’s Media Center Features and other publications. She teaches writing in New York City public schools and with incarcerated women. This piece is part of a collection that is being developed with the artist/illustrator Sujean Rim.
Photo: Patrick SchÃ¶pflin