I don't get intimidated easily. People's level of wealth or education neither truly impress me nor make me cower with insecurity. What I do have is absolute respect for intelligent people, especially well accomplished women who have a commanding, self-confident presence about them. I tend to want to be around such people, to glean from their knowledge and learn from their experiences. It wasn't always this way for me, I admit. I was raised to be in awe of people's profession and money, that for a long time I thought you had to tiptoe around such people. Then, I became a full pledged adult, read plenty of success books, engaged in conversation with intellectuals, and eventually concluded that while successful folks deserved genuine respect, they were people who truly fit the ultimate cliche--you tickle them, they laugh, you cut them, they bleed, etc., etc., (I've never tickled nor cut such people but you know what I mean.)
I remember interviewing a couple in a school I run in Brooklyn, who hoped that their child would be accepted in our program. I've interviewed many parents from all walks of life but for the last two years, I've found myself sitting down with more and more successful parents. I remember seeing the couple by the door, the wife a picture of beauty, a tall redhead who was perfectly put together. Her husband, like many fathers, was dressed in a suit. But you could tell that the suit was of the highest quality. It didn't take a long time for me to realize that he was used to people shuffling quietly around him; his very presence evoked wealth and unfortunately for him, arrogance. He had an air of impatience about him, glancing at his expensive watch repeatedly, as though his precious time was being wasted in my small, crowded office. I leaned forward and said to him, "You know, the teachers out there are assessing your daughter to see if she is a right fit for our program. Do you know why you're in this office with me? So that I can assess whether I like you and if you're the right fit for me." It wasn't true, of course, and I am almost always an advocate for the parents walking in, but he was smug and his energy suffocated me. He humbled down immediately, and I relaxed. I was able to proceed and tell him truly the reason for the interview.
I realized at that moment that I had strayed far away from my upbringing. Wealthy professionals no longer floated in the air. They no longer sat on gold plated pedestals. Not once had I ever sat across any of these parents--or anyone of great caliber for that matter, and felt inadequate.
Unless...I sit across a pinterest, super mom. Any form of confidence and self-assurance come crashing down. I'm not just talking about any kind of mom. I mean, moms that bake cakes and decorate them with pretty flowers. Moms that knit matching hats and scarves for their little girls. Moms that show up at every PTA meeting and are at a first name basis with the principal. Moms that have squeaky clean homes and squeaky clean hair and squeaky clean nails.
I stay far, far away from such women so that I can manage to still keep my chin halfway up.
How do these women do it? I couldn't knit a 2 inch line with full manual guidance from an expert. I've never successfully baked a cupcake. I mean, my kids are alive and are fed. That's quite an accomplishment in my book. My nails are cut to prevent dirt from building up underneath. I have no idea how the principal looks like in either one of my kids' schools. They go and do well. Job done. Let's not even talk about my hair...
I dropped off gift bags for my daughter's birthday last month and I came home to my husband chuckling. "Nana said you wrote the wrong room number on the bags."
I wrote her room number?
"I told her you never go to her school so she can't expect you to remember. I said, 'You know, mommy is never there. She can't remember what room you're in this year.' And you know what she said?"
"She said that you never forget anything about work but you never remember anything with her school."
I stood in that dining room, hands in my pocket, in absolute silence...
My husband continued talking, chuckling every now and then. He said something about explaining to Nana about my work schedule and something about her somewhat understanding, etcetera, etcetera. I couldn't respond. I found a chair and sat down, my hand finding my mouth.
I said, She didn't say that.
No, she didn't say that.
"Yes, babe, she did."
Forget the knitting, baking moms. I was outdone simply by present moms. I was overcome with horror and gut-wrenching guilt. What I always feared--my children believing work was more important to me--has happened.
I canceled meetings and home cases the following day and called off work. I drove Nana to school and picked her up after and took her out for pizza. Then, I brought up the wrong room number. I explained how even though she'd rather stay home sometimes, she has no choice but to go to school. Mommy's work was the same way. I'd rather be home but...
"Daddy explained all this already," Nana said dismissively, waving her hand.
Okay...Do you understand?
"I don't hate school," she said. "You don't hate your work, do you, mommy? But you have to go. I have to go to school."
I nodded quietly. I doubted she truly understood. I didn't understand it myself.
I called my best friend that evening and left her a voicemail. She was probably in the operating room, or doing her rounds, or saving another life at the number one hospital in the country. The notion that somewhere, someone I know is just as absent from her children as I was, was not comforting that moment. We exchanged texts the next day. We planned to drive and meet each other halfway to work with our hectic schedule so we can sit, catch up, and exchange guilty mother notes.
Who knew that it would be the hardest, most intimidating role? The judges are brutally honest and their verdict constant.
I've cut some hours off my work time. I make sure I'm home most days to look over homework, to supervise shower time, and to say prayers and cuddle up at bedtime.
I will never be able to knit or bake or have perfectly manicured nails and know the principal's nickname. I continue to duck around such women. To me, they float on air and sit on golden pedestals. I know my limitations and I know when I'm inadequate. But I can at least be present.
And I recite a room number every now and then. 202. 202. Just in case I'd have to write it again on gifts. Not remembering just isn't going to cut it.