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
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
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
“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
“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
“What do you do?”
“I have my own advertising agency, Z Design.”
“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
“Peter Parker,” she repeats a trifle
impatiently. “As in Spider-Man.”
“Ah. Sorry. I haven’t read the comics
“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
“Bused,” I repeat, wondering why children
are being bused to a school that is less than half a mile away from
“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
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
“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
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
“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
“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
“They just want what’s best for their
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.
“Well, thank you for that, Eva. I’m
clearly missing pages in The Perfect Parent Handbook.”
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.
End of Excerpt.
Like it? Order it
Where Would You Like to Go Next?