I’ve been missing my son recently. Between play dates, writing, nanny time, obligations, and larger family time, we haven’t actually spent much one-on-one time together that doesn’t involve errands. As time goes by, I feel the pangs of this chapter ending. The chapter where it’s just him and me. The chapter before school, before friends, before external timelines and expectations. I have another year before he starts preschool and I want to soak it up as much as I can, and fill my heart with all the golden toddler smiles I can, not only because it’s wonderful, but because of the potential added long-term benefit of combatting the sullen teen years that I know are destined for us all.
So when I looked at my calendar today and saw it was completely blank, I decided to take my son to the zoo. The weather was determined to be lovely, we have a membership we rarely use, and it seemed like a great idea to do something fun, just the two of us. Besides, in my tenure as a stay-at-home mom I’ve learned that a wide open day is a fickle beast. Sometimes it means there’s plenty of time to let the day unfold organically and I’ll even surprise myself with spontaneous creative activities and ideas. However, too often if I let the day lead, it forges ahead down a thunderous path of tantrums, meltdowns and tearful stand-offs that has my husband opening the door at the end of it to pajama-clad, tear-stained chaos (I’m the one in pajamas and crying in case that wasn’t clear). So today, the zoo.
It was pretty packed for a weekday morning. Standard summer camps aside, it was just a whole lot of parents taking their little ones to the zoo. I find that I am constantly surprised at how many parents and kids there are, just out there, all the time. This sounds so dumb, and it probably is, but hear me out. Parenting can be such a lonely business, especially for stay-at-home parents. I have had days, more so in the beginning, where I would make up errands to do just to have people to talk to and somewhere to go.
“Yes, I do need to take this check to the bank and not use my mobile app because the bank is right next door to the post office and I have to mail off this gift I got at Target yesterday where I also bought laundry detergent and a firewood basket and a glue stick and a baby rain jacket because I needed all of those things right then on that Monday morning in the middle of summer.”
More often than not, I’d see another tired mama wandering the aisles and wish I could say something that wouldn’t sound creepy beyond measure, like, say, shouting across the store, “we have that same diaper dekor! It doesn’t cover all the smells but it’s not bad!!! We could just grab coffee at the Starbucks and talk it all out, yeah????”
Because there are these long, desperate phases and stretches of loneliness and isolation, I honestly forget sometimes that I’m not, in fact, the only one doing it.
I watched as all of these parents at the zoo today were also pushing heavy, packed strollers that spill over with bags, snacks, wipes and back-up toys. Also wiping hands and faces, telling their kids to “smile! real big!”. Dads carrying kiddos on their shoulders. Mom friends meeting up and attempting to catch up while their kids pull on their hands in opposite directions, asking for a snack again and again, pulling, needing, wanting. Pregnant moms letting their kids run and run because you know they all need it. Parents explaining and guiding. Urging their children to learn, play, grow and thrive. Parents having fun. Parents melting down. Parents managing melt downs. Being stern. Laughing. Scolding. Pointing. Teaching. Parents trying. So. Hard.
Honestly, it made my heart sing. Like when you find your clique in high school or your pod in college. I had this revelatory moment (that you’d think would have come earlier than two years in but here we are) that these really are my people now. I don’t live alone on parenting island, I am a part of a gang now. All of you beautiful concerted, dedicated, frazzled, joyous people that all have an extra pack of wipes in your car and tend so completely to your little ones, just as I do to mine. You do these things, too? You do these things too! You tell them it’s not okay to lick the partitions? I tell him it’s not okay to lick the partitions!
I had a great time with my kiddo, watching him watch the animals, running together down the “mountains” (small hills), letting him direct which exhibit we went to see next. It was a blast, and the fact that he passed out so thoroughly and easily on our way home was my sign that he had a great time, too.
As parents, we don’t always get the sign, though. We don’t always know if what we are doing is working. We don’t always know if what we are choosing is right. We don’t know if anyone else even really understands what we are going through because all of our kids are different and all of our circumstances are different. But today I saw so many parents being awesome. Not because they were perfect, but because they were trying so hard and doing so much.
I wish we could give each other awards when we see other parents being awesome like, “The Best Mom Who Went to the Bug House Even Though She Was Totally Freaked Because Her Daughter Wanted To” or “The Best Dad Who Carried All The Things” or “The Sweetest Parents Who Took Their Toddler on a Special Outing Before Baby #2 Makes an Appearance” (seriously, I was kinda creeping on this family because they were so sweet and I wanted them to know how great they were so I kept smiling at them and they all ((rightly)) gave me side-eye for my hovering).
A parent club where we could get together and celebrate each other would be amazing (I mean unless there is one and no one told me about it? Like, hit me up with that info pronto if I’m missing something. I swear, I won’t begrudge the oversight. Much). But, if my creepy stalking is any indication, there really isn’t a great, non-awkward way of telling a stranger you see kicking ass at being a parent that they are kicking ass at being a parent.
So you know what? Parents at the Oakland Zoo today, I saw you. Dads at the grocery store at 8am, I see you. Mamas at the playground after work, I see you. Moms nursing, dads hefting, moms helping, dads guiding, I see you. When I see you, I don’t feel so alone. When you see me, I hope you don’t either.