Odd Mom Out
Eva’s dancing through the aisles of downtown Bellevue’s Office Depot, her mood so ebullient that you’d think we were in a bridal salon instead of an office supply store.
Although to be completely fair, Eva truly does love office and school supplies. When she was a young child, her favorite purchase at the grocery store or drugstore was
a spiral-ring notebook. Seriously.
While Eva searches for the correct supplies, I’m left to push the oversize shopping cart and check off items as they’re found. I’m also thinking about Eva and Jemma being in the same class and what an ungodly long year it will be if Eva insists on trying to make Jemma her friend.
This summer, Eva and I went to the Yukon for our summer vacation. We flew on Air Canada from Vancouver to Whitehorse, where we rented a car and spent a week exploring the Yukon territory.
Growing up, I’d read everything I could by Jack London (my two favorite authors being Jack London and Mark Twain), and one of the places I’d always wanted to visit was the Klondike, so this summer Eva and I went.
We traveled the Top of the World Highway, panned for gold, had a drink at Diamond Tooth Gerties, and we laughed so much. We hiked and batted at mosquitoes the size of my fist. (Only a slight exaggeration.) We had such a good time, and I thought—somehow—that when we returned, Eva’s confidence would be back, too.
And it was, for all of one day, until Eva tried to tell the girls at the pool about her trip and the girls laughed. Laughed.
“Why did you go there?” Jemma asked in disgust. “Why didn’t you go to Hawaii like everybody else?”
Okay. That’s why I don’t like Jemma Young, and this is why I never wanted to be part of the popular girl clique. Being popular seemed like such a drag. All those girls trying to say the same thing, do the same thing, pretend to be just like one another.
Eva peers around the school supplies display. “Mom, is it twenty-four or forty-eight crayons? I forget.”
I smooth the supply list that I’ve inadvertently crumpled and look for Eva’s class. Fourth grade. Crayons. “Twenty-four.”
Her hand hovers over the Crayola boxes. “I like the forty-eight better. More colors. More choices.”
“Then get the forty-eight.”
“But we’re supposed to get what’s on the list.”
“The list is merely a suggestion—”
“It’s not, Mom. It’s required.” Eva dumps the crayons and colored pencils in the cart. “Everything on there is required.”
How did I get Little Miss Schoolgirl for a daughter?
I specialized in cutting class and forging my parents’ signatures. Eva won’t miss school even after a dentist appointment. She insists on going even after getting a filling, showing up for class drooling with a thick wad of cotton clamped between her teeth.
Now she continues to select the just right binder, the exact plastic-coated colored dividers, the specific number of number two pencils, the set of highlighters, the precise style of notebook.
Eva’s still crouching in front of the plastic space makers, trying to find one that’s twelve inches long — not nine — when I spot my favorite kind of Bellevue mom, one of those women who are perfectly done even for a Saturday morning trip to Office Depot, with two kids.
I don’t recognize her, but the kids look familiar, particularly the little girl, and I hear their conversation even before they reach us.
“I have to have a new backpack, I hate my old one.”
“This year I want everything purple. A purple binder, purple folders, purple pens.”
“Why can’t I have an iPod? Or an iPod shuffle? Everyone has an iPod shuffle.”
Eva hears them, too, and her face lights up. She shoots me a significant look, as though to say, See? as she scrambles to her feet. “Hi, Paige,” she says breathlessly, the turquoise-lidded space maker clutched to her chest.
Eva and Paige size each other up from across a safe distance of mothers and shopping carts. Awkward silence unfurls even as I place Paige. Yesterday, at the pool. She’s one of Jemma’s friends.
“Buying your school supplies?” Eva asks, and her voice quavers nervously.
“Yeah.” Paige is chewing gum, and she pops a little purple bubble. “Who’s your teacher?”
“Jemma has her,” Paige says, cocking her head and rubbing her foot against the back of her calf. “I’ve got Mrs. Lewis. She’s supposed to be easy.”
“You’re so lucky,” Eva breathes, making me think she’s got the IQ of a tree monkey.
Why is she playing dumb? Where the hell did her feisty personality go? And what is so special about these little girls that she feels the need to earn their approval?
Paige’s mom in the meantime has been studying me, and when I look at her, she forces a quick smile. “I don’t think we’ve ever met. I’m Lana Parker, Paige’s mom.”
I hold out my hand. “Marta Zinsser, Eva’s mom.” We shake hands, and she winces at my firm grip. I didn’t expect her hand to feel like pudding.
Lana Parker removes her hand as fast as she can from mine. “Are you new to the area?”
“We’ve been in the Pacific Northwest over a year now.”
“Where did you move from? California?”
Lana’s eyebrows try to lift but can’t go far, as her forehead is very taut and smooth. A little too taut and smooth. “That’s a big change.”
“Yes, it is.”
“How do you like it here?”
“It’s good,” I answer vaguely, not bothering to mention I’m relatively local, raised in tiny Laurelhurst just across the 520 bridge. I never was comfortable with my father’s wealth or social status, a status my mother enjoyed tremendously. Instead of hanging on Dad’s coattails, I’ve tried to make my own way in the world, wanting to succeed on the basis of my talent and reputation versus his.
“Was your husband relocated?”
My husband. Great. I love these kinds of questions. “No. I was transferred.”
“And he followed you out? There’s a good husband for you.”
I just smile, the small, close-lipped smile that I use for moments like these. I had plenty of them in New York when I’d take Eva for walks in her stroller and then again when I enrolled her in school. Does she look like her daddy or you? Her father isn’t listed on the emergency contact forms. Will her father be coming to the parent orientation? I used to try to answer all the questions, but it just got old and repetitive, and now I do my best to ignore them. “I’m lucky I have an interesting career.”
“What do you do?”
“That must keep you busy.”
“There are some long hours,” I admit, feeling vaguely uncomfortable and unsure why. There’s nothing alarming about Lana Parker. A dark blonde with hair swept off her face, Lana reminds me a bit of Faith Hill in The Stepford Wives. She’s pretty, quite pretty, but not quite real, either.
“I couldn’t work,” Lana says, lips pursing. “Not when the kids are little. They’re only children once, and I don’t want to miss a thing.”
This is why I was feeling uncomfortable.
I have to work—it’s not a choice—yet my work isn’t just a paycheck, it’s who I am, what I love to do. “I agree. That’s why I’ve made a point of working from home.”
“So smart. Because those full-time jobs are so hard on families and children.”
I don’t have a part-time job. I definitely have a full-time job, and I think Lana knows it. I think Lana’s being clever and slightly unkind.
“You’re very lucky you have such a supportive husband,” Lana adds sweetly. “He must really help pick up the slack.”
“Is that what men do?” I ask just as sweetly. “Pick up the slack?” Either Lana is living in la-la land or she’s just trying to push my buttons. Virtually all of my friends are married, and while most are still happily married and most would marry their husbands all over again, most also wouldn’t say their husbands make their lives, or their work, easier.
Lana blinks, taken aback. “Uh . . . well . . . I don’t know.”
Her expression looks about to crumple, and I feel a ping of remorse. “So how many children do you have?” I ask, trying to change the subject and move us into safer territory.
Lana grabs gratefully on to the new topic. “Just these two, Paige and Peter. They’re twins.” She pauses. “Fraternal.”
Yeah, I guessed that.
Lana leans toward me to whisper conspiratorially, “I just wish we’d thought a little more about the names. My son gets teased at school all the time.”
“For Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater?”
She stiffens uncomfortably. “No. For Peter Parker.” She pauses, waits for me to get it. I don’t get it.
“Peter Parker,” she repeats a trifle impatiently. “As in Spider-Man.”
“Ah. Sorry. I haven’t read the comics in years.”
“But the movies . . . ?” she persists. After a moment she shakes her head, her cheeks flushed nearly as pink as her fruity Juicy Couture tracksuit. “So are you going to the emergency parent meeting this afternoon?” But she doesn’t wait for me to ask, launching immediately into an explanation. “It’s about the kindergarten nightmare.”
“You haven’t heard?”
“I’m afraid we’ve been . . . traveling.”
Lana shudders. “It’s a disaster. A complete fiasco, that’s what it is. Those poor kids. And their parents!”
I just shake my head.
Lana leans even closer, her hand pressed to her throat, and whispers, “They’re sending all the Points kindergartners to the Lakes.”
She delivers the information with a note of triumph, and I stare at her blankly. Obviously I’m missing the point. “Forever?”
“No, for the year, until the school board can figure out what to do with all the kids. Despite the remodel a couple years ago, Points Elementary has already outgrown its space, and so all the incoming kindergartners are going to be bused to Lakes Elementary.” She pauses, stares at me. “Can you believe it?”
“Bused,” I repeat, wondering why children are being bused to a school that is less than half a mile away from their own.
“Exactly! Those little children bused and then mixed with kindergartners from the other school. They’re not even being kept separate. No, Lakes teachers will be teaching Points kids, and Points teachers will be teaching Lakes kids—awful, that’s all I can say.”
“But it’s just for one year, isn’t it? And don’t most of the kids play on the same sports programs anyway? I know Eva’s soccer team last year had children from Enatai, Points, and the Lakes—”
“But families, siblings, separated. And now the Lakes wants one-sixth of our auction money, too. As if we wanted our children to attend their school!”
Now is one of those times I think I should read the Points school bulletins more closely or maybe attend a PTA meeting or tiptoe into the back-to-school brunch so I can put faces to names and learn the school news firsthand.
“There’s going to be a parent meeting today, before tonight’s beach picnic,” Lana continues. “It’s at Taylor’s house. You do know Taylor Young?”
“Oh yes.” I nod and smile. “I do.”
Eva is hanging on every word as well, and she nods furiously. “I do, too.”
Lana shoots Eva a condescending smile. “You know where Jemma lives, sweetie, don’t you?”
Eva and Jemma ride the school bus together every day. They even share the same bus stop. Not that Jemma ever talks to Eva, but, hey, just standing on the same corner as Jemma rocks Eva’s boat.
“Join us at the meeting,” Lana urges. “You’ll hear from the committee about what’s been done and what we still need to do. There’s no time to waste.”
With a glance at her watch, Lana shakes her head. “Oh dear, look at the time. Tennis in less than an hour. Have to hustle.” She points at me, jabs her finger. “Four o’clock at Taylor’s. If your husband can’t watch your daughter, she’s of course welcome to come. There will be other kids there.”
Now Lana wiggles her fingers in a wave and moves on.
Eva is staring after Lana Parker, her forehead furrowed. “Why did she keep saying ‘your husband’? Doesn’t she know that you’re not married and I don’t have a dad?”
“I guess not, and I didn’t feel like correcting her.”
“Why not?” she asks, turning to look at me. “Does it bother you?”
“No.” At least it didn’t bother me in New York.
“So tell her. It’s weird listening to her say ‘your husband, your husband.’ ”
“I will. Next time.”
Eva’s still looking at me. “We are going to Mrs. Young’s today, aren’t we?”
Going to Taylor Young’s? Going to a ridiculous committee meeting to protest kindergartners spending a year at another local elementary school, a school that leads the state in WASL scores? Do those women have no life? And is my daughter completely out of her mind?
“Go?” I ask her, my voice calm, clear, although on the inside I’m fairly frothing at the mouth. “I don’t think so.”
Eva deposits the space maker in the cart and faces me. “Why not?”
I hear that cool, steely tone, and it amazes me how Eva can sound so much like my mother. It’s one thing to hear your mother’s disapproval come from her lips. It’s quite another to hear it from your nine-year-old daughter.
I take a deep breath. “Because for one, I don’t agree with them. These moms are making a mountain out of a molehill—”
“They just want what’s best for their children.”
I stare at Eva and try to see who AS1V677 really was, AS1V677 being her sperm donor father.
I ordered AS1V677 off the Internet, choosing AS1V677 over the other sperm donors because (a) AS1V677 had a great résumé. He was thirty-two, raised in a big Jewish-Irish-Catholic family, had gone to William & Mary, played sports throughout high school and college, and was now a practicing pediatrician in upstate New York. And (b) AS1V677 was taller than me.
At nearly five ten, I’ve felt huge next to most women and have tended to tower over many male colleagues, so I thought it only fair that I give my offspring height, too.
Height and résumé aside, it didn’t hurt that AS1V677 was also described as very attractive, with blue eyes and thick, wavy brown hair.
But facing Eva, I’m not seeing that attractive element, I’m seeing stubbornness as well as a frightening need to play follow the leader.
“Eva, I hate committee meetings.”
“But you’re a mom. You’re supposed to do mom things.”
“Committees are mom things?”
She throws her hands into the air. “Everybody knows. Ask anybody here. They’ll tell you. Moms meet and . . . do things.”
Anybody here being the choice words.
“What about working moms?” I ask her, leaning on the cart, fascinated by her view of mothers’ responsibilities.
“When are they supposed to have time to attend all these meetings?”
“I don’t know. They just . . . work them in. And you could. If you got up a little earlier or stayed up later. You could, I know you could. If you tried.”
If I tried. Wow.
She rolls her eyes. “Meetings can be fun, Mom. Just give them a try.”
“Like men and marriage?”
Eva grabs the shopping cart and begins pulling it to the front of the store, her green eyes snapping with temper. “Mom, I love you,” she says, pausing by the electronics, “I really do. But one day I hope you’ll realize there’s nothing wrong with being normal.”
I watch her huffily haul the cart all the way to the checkout line, and I know I’ve had this conversation before, but that time it was with my mom, not Eva.