I’m not sure whether it’s age or yoga or a random boon of awesome people or what exactly, but I actually look forward to the afterschool playground ritual this year. And I feel completely comfortable being myself. I clearly had to come from where I was to appreciate where I am. Because, let me tell you, just two years ago this — all of this — was not the case.
Yesterday it was raining. Sitting in the minivan at carpool pick-up, I looked out the windshield and immediately felt a rush of disappointment. I wanted to chat with fellow moms on the playground after school, dammit! Two years ago I would’ve felt a wave of guilty relief, but not now. After realizing that shift I began to wonder, was I more excited about afterschool playground time than my kids were?
Probably not. Nevertheless, this mindset, this enthusiasm, this comfort and outgoing confidence was a clear sign of how much I and my life had changed over the last two years.
Two years ago when my eldest started kindergarten at her current school I felt like the new kid on the block. Except I was a new 33-year-old “kid” with a curly mom bun and yoga pants wrangling a Barbie-carrying 3-year-old boy and a bumbling troublesome toddler through the carefully manicured schoolyard shrubbery. It was not a proud year.
It was not just challenging in that I was constantly telling a child not to lick, eat, sit on, or walk off of something, but I was also trying to find connections in this new school. I stressed myself over including others while trying to get to know fellow moms yet also presenting myself well.
Now, I’m no Pinterest style diva so in terms of presentation it wasn’t as if I was fastidiously curating my physical appearance beyond avoiding post-nursing nip-slip or swaths of knee-height toddler snot stains. I was, however, trying to ensure I came across as a generally kind fellow mom of basically sound mind (I was a mom of a 1-, 3-, and 5-year-old and was at a catholic school… these fellow carpool moms had a reasonable expectation for maternal “sound mind” given my parental state. They had kids… often quite a few of them. They knew.) Still, I worried.
Most every day I left carpool pick-up feeling defeated. I missed 3/4 of every conversation. I rarely completed more than two sentences. I was — in my mind — failing. How could I be so close yet so far away? How could I not manage to do what everyone else seemed entirely capable of doing?
The playground after school was even worse. That’s where moms and kids convened to socialize, network, and bond. Instead I was running around scaling playground equipment after my newly walking 1-year-old who had a developmentally appropriate yet anxiety-inducing affinity for self-endangerment. His goal every day was to attempt to defy gravity, but generally he just tested my reflexes and bladder control.
As I bounded across chain-link bridges and under climbing poles, I saw blurs of moms chatting in groups. I so wanted to be them. I ran by moms seated on benches. I envied them. I heard moms laughing in unison. I yearned to join in. But that wasn’t my life stage. I wasn’t there yet.
Two years later, I am. Two years later I can simultaneously herd my wild brood — now aged 3, 5, and 7 — in afternoon sun while rehashing the day with fellow school moms. I can laugh. I can chat. I can’t yet sit down, but that’s ok. It’s still medicinal. It’s fun. It’s so far from where I used to be.
And as much as I loved baby snuggles and newborn nursing, young toddler hugs and slobbery chubby-cheeked kisses, I enjoy where I am now. Some moments I — in reflective sentimentality — miss the cuddly, sweet, wholly messy, sleep-deprived years, I appreciate how far I’ve come — how far we’ve all come — and treasure the now. I had to be where I was, be who I was, and experience what did to fully appreciate who and where I am now.
Now I can be exactly who I am without worrying how I’m being perceived. I can stress less. I can envy less. I no longer compare. I still wrangle and chase and have not-so-proud moments but it’s less intense. It’s lighter. It’s exactly where I’m supposed to be.
I survived and now I savor.