I remember being at the park with the mom’s group I belonged to at the time with my two kids. Andrew wasn’t around yet. Michael was probably just under 4 years old which would make Kris around a year and a half old. Every week we would join the other moms and kids at the park. For me it was a lifeline to other moms who were in the trenches along side me.
It was no small feat, facing that outing. It required great planning. I had to make sure our blanket was clean- and still in the car. I had to make sure I had a large supply of snacks and water bottles and a little juice. (Too much juice just bought you countless outings to the porta-john- and if there’s one thing I wanted to avoid, it was visiting there at all.) We needed sunscreen and bug spray, wipes, paper towels, changes of clothes, bandaids, diapers for Kris. The list was endless, or so it seemed. And after loading up the car and taking one last trip to the bathroom, we would head out for a morning with our friends.
We all looked forward to going to the park. Michael and Kris had many playmates to choose from, in addition to the playground equipment and exploring the grassy area, trying to climb the trees, digging in the dirt. And the best part of all is that I got to see the other moms. We sat on our blankets, swapping war stories, sharing advice and new discoveries while keeping an eye on our kids. Park days were the best!
One morning stands out in my memory. It began just like any other park day. One by one or sometimes in pairs, moms arrived. Depending on the ages of their children and how light they packed, they might bring the kids out of the car first, asking the other moms if they could keep an eye while they unpacked their car. Others, like me, were determined to do it all in one trip- kids, blanket, bags and all.
This particular morning I remember this mom, Cathy, who did not travel light, taking 3 trips back and forth as she brought food, chairs, blanket, bags and toys. Her children, Eric and Ashley, were the same ages as mine and Michael loved playing with her son. As she brought the kids up along with a bag and blanket, Eric ran off weaving in and out of swings in search of friends. He almost collided with a younger child who had come down the slide and skidded to a halt when he found Michael, giving him a friendly shove down. Cathy reprimanded him, reminding him to be careful around the smaller children. Before she had even completed her 2nd trip, Eric was throwing dirt. Cathy told him to stop throwing dirt as she was walking up with the chairs. Her back was barely turned before Eric had bent down to grab another handful. Michael had caught my eye as he had also squatted. All it took was a menacing, “Michael” from me for him to straighten up. Michael was no angel but he knew, as did Eric, that throwing dirt was not allowed.
The rest of us moms all sat on our blankets, failing miserably at holding a normal conversation, as Cathy walked back up. She set down the diaper bag and this time as she took in Eric, both hands full of dirt, arms raised, the weariness that lined her face was obvious. We stumbled at conversation while she gave Eric his first official warning. Then she uttered the words we all avoided like the plague. “If I have to warn you one more time, we are leaving.”
Yes, she went there. She had issued an ultimatum. I think we collectively held our breath.
Eric considered her threat and his arms slowly lowered, his hands opening to drop the dirt.
We could breathe again. The moment had appeared to pass.
Cathy unpacked her belongings, set up the kids’ little chairs, smoothed out her blanket and sat back, ready to join in on the conversation.
And then it happened. Without warning, Eric scooped up a handful of dirt and flung it at a passing toddler.
I will never forget the defeated look on Cathy’s face. She couldn’t look any of us in the eye. I’m sure she was fighting back tears. She sighed and got to her feet. She slowly began the packing up process, folding the blanket and chairs, placing food and drinks back in the bag, gathering up toys. She turned our direction as she loaded up everything for one trip and asked, “Could you please keep an eye on them?”
We all nodded and/or murmured our consent.
And as she trudged back to her van, arms loaded, a cry arose from the playground equipment. It was coming from Eric, who had just realized what was happening.
A very resigned but determined Cathy scooped up little Ashley, who had never quite made it onto the playground area, and grabbed Eric, whose cries had escalated into screams. As Ashley realized that she was not going to be playing today, her sobbing joined her brother’s.
We sat in silence until the cries were muted by the closing of the minivan door and we watched Cathy back out of the parking space.
We talked quietly of how much we respected Cathy for following through on her threat. We felt awful for her. We knew that she had been having a rough time with Eric. Like most of us who had kids over the age of 2, 3 had been a much more trying year than 2 could ever be. We did not judge Cathy or the choices she made. If anyone had needed that morning out among her people, it had been Cathy. On any given day, one or more of us WAS Cathy. Although our parenting styles varied as much as our personalities, we still shared a common bond- that of being women who chose to leave their professions to raise their children. We did this at a time when being a stay at home mom was not valued as much as it once had been. Parents who worked did not know what it truly meant to be home with your children full time, or maybe they did and that’s why they worked. 😉 We were each others’ lifelines.
The next week when Cathy arrived at the park with all of her stuff, she brought a much 1 week wiser Eric who had learned that there are consequences to your actions. Or maybe he just learned to not get caught throwing dirt. Regardless, we greeted Cathy with a warm welcome back and sat back and listened as she shared the recounting of her week. We shared some of our own horror stories and frustrations and we felt the tension melt away. We were among friends who understood, not only because they were caring, empathetic people, but because they had been there too.
Recently for the first time I sat at a table talking with other parents of transgender children. There were five us. Other than one fleeting conversation 6 months ago, I had never had a live conversation with another parent going through the same thing I had been experiencing for the past 4 years. It was so nice. Although I’ve always known I wasn’t the only one with a transgender kid, I was sitting there thinking, I’m not the only one. As one of us spoke, the rest nodded their heads, not just nods of sympathy, empathy, compassion but nods that said, “Yes, I know exactly how you feel. I feel/felt/experienced the same thing.”
And I was reminded of those long ago days, sitting on my blanket, talking to other moms. This connection with other parents is priceless.
Park days were the days that got me through. They were the best.
They still are.