When the phone rang, I was a little annoyed. I'd finally gotten the kids settled into a task for longer than two minutes, with no fighting, and was actually making progress on my project.
"Hello," I said, a little more brusquely than I should have. It's not the caller's fault that I'm stretched too thin in too many directions from too much multi-tasking. "Hello," I said again, this time more kindly.
"Hi Julie," the voice of a lady I know said brightly, "How are you?"
"Fine, fine, and you?" I said, biting back 'busy' as an answer.
"So how are the kids?" she asked, omitting an answer.
"The kids? They're fine. A little rambunctious, you know. It's time for school to start."
"Oh," she said, "Oh. Right, they're fine, that's good news."
"Why do you ask?"
"Well, you know, they were over here playing the other day, and my kids are sick now. I just wanted to make sure your kids are fine. You know, since Persistence had those sneezes," she said, when what she really meant was---did your kids make my kids sick.
"Persistence has bad allergies," I said, explaining sneezes and runny nose to a disbelieving audience for the zillionth time, "Poor thing comes by it honestly," I gave a little laugh, "My allergies are horrible, especially in the summer. I even had that bad asthma thing from that sinus infection. She's the same."
"Well, allergies can make it easy to get sick," she said, "I mean, I heard that. So many viruses, you never know who has what."
"Right," I said, "Hey listen, the kids are getting a little out of hand, I better go."
"Sure," she said.
And I wondered how many other invitations would come our way after this. I wondered whether it was worth it to me to try to work it out. I wondered whether it was worth it to me to call her again. I weighed my children's socialization against my own feelings. I find the older I get, the less tolerance for stuff like this I have. I even find less and less burning in me about the injustice.
"My daughter did what?" I said.
"Well, it was all the kids, they were all in the middle of it, so..." my friend trailed off.
"She'll help make amends, clean up," I said, "And then we'll deal with this at home. I'm so sorry."
I took my daughter aside, "This is not cool, kid, go help clean up and no more monkey business, okay? Clean up and then we go home."
"But, Mom, I didn't..."
"You were there," I said, "You are at fault too. Go. Clean."
My friend and I watched the kids scamper to clean.
"I don't know what got into my daughter," she said, "She's never done anything like this." She stared at me. I wasn't sure which thing she thought I could explain: why her daughter had done this, or why it happened while my daughter was there.
I had been avoiding this talk, but this friend wouldn't let me get away with it forever.
"We haven't seen you much," she said, stating the obvious, pointing out the elephant---the one I had hoped we could ignore until things changed, got better, or I figure out a solution. Then we'd go back to normal and we could pretend, because in the end, it shouldn't be a big deal. I hoped.
"Oh yes I know, I've been really..." I bit back 'busy.' So often I bite back that excuse, true as it might be. In this case, it was true, but not the real reason. "Look, there have been some problems, when the kids play. I don't know what it is with my kids and that girl, but it goes badly every time... My kids have to...well, I'm holding them accountable for their part, and they were grounded, but that was for them, you know? To teach them a lesson but also to get some space."
"I know," she said, "We have trouble with that child too, and I don't like the behavior. Did I tell you about the time she... and what about the time she... and then the incident when..."
I stared, horrified. I'd thought the behavior I'd seen in my house was bad enough. I had done my best to deal with what came, but the straw that broke the camel's back for me and my husband was the day our daughter was at this child's house for a playdate, and when he went to pick her up, she wasn't there and the family had no idea where the kids were. Unconcerned, because they were used to this, they said, "Oh, they're somewhere, at someone's house." My husband frantically combed the neighborhood, knocking on every door of every family we knew with kids. We finally found our daughter at the house of a child who was friends with the other girl, but whom we didn't know. We were supposed to be okay with this because everyone was okay. Our worry was supposed to be needless, groundless. We were supposed to understand that playing could mean anywhere in the neighborhood; after all, it's a nice one, with lots of nice families and the kids would only ever go to the house of someone they knew.
I knew the girl's parents, knew they were loving and did what they thought they should as parents. We just had different ideas. I knew they were nice. I wished I could be nice. But I couldn't keep letting it go on as it was. It was trouble, troubling, and some danger. So my husband and I decided the best thing was to guide the kids in other directions, and be kind but limit interaction. I kept telling myself I was choosing the best thing I could for my kids, but it still felt bad.
"I had no idea," I said, "I thought...well I knew it wasn't just at my house, I guess, but no, I didn't know. I guess, well I have to ask, how can you be okay with her at your place, with your kids at her place? I mean, I know not everyone, well okay nobody, is going to make the choice I have, but...?"
"I don't know what else to do, you know? She's a kid, and how do you look at someone and say yeah, your kid is not okay to play with?"
But that's just what I had done.
I looked with dismay at the playdate schedule. Somehow, we were unavailable for nearly every single get-together. My work schedule and travel schedule was amazingly the exact opposite of everyone else's. I felt that once again, we'd lose touch with local friends and classmates during the summer.
I called people, initially, for some spontaneous get-togethers, but most were busy: camp, class, activities, daycare, and so forth. "Maybe next week," they said, "Maybe Tuesday or Wednesday?"
"Rats," I said, "The kids are visiting their grandmother that week. Maybe the next week? We're pretty wide open all summer, just a few things, like next week..."
"We're just so booked this summer...had to keep the kids active...you know," they said.
I did know. In past summers I had sat on floors with them and plotted out coordinated camps, classes and activities. We'd abstained this summer because I was working more, and had hired a sitter, who hadn't quite worked out. But on top of that, we decided our schedule and budget didn't really allow sitter and camp. Camp had gotten so expensive. Then, after the sitter left, it was late, so many things were already booked and with prices of everything higher, we decided sending me to the insane asylum in the fall after multi-tasking working and mommying all summer was cheaper than childcare.
Just another side-effect of the economy.
"Are you working full-time now?" my friend asked.
"Well, I'm either working or seeking work, full-time," I said, "It's a lot of work to get work," little laugh.
"Yeah, it seems like everyone is heading back to work or something these days," she said, "I keep thinking about it...but I think the kids need to get a little older."
"Only do it if it's what you really want, really need, as in your drive to work, or your budget needs your income," I said, "The mom job is full-time regardless, and the rest...well, it makes it all more complicated."
"Yeah, that's why I'm taking my time," she said.
I either heard or projected a feeling of peer pressure and internal pressure to be more, more than just mom, in her words, although she really seemed happy with her life as it was.
My daughter hung up the phone sadly, "She's not home again."
"Did you leave a message?" I asked.
"No," she said, "I can't." My heart was torn between pity and a feeling I needed to toughen her up. She needed to learn how to use the phone. She needed to not let her shyness hurt her or others.
"I'll call her mom later, and leave a message," I promised, "Do you want to call Carrie to play?"
"No," she said, "Carrie just wants to play teenager. She watches those shows you won't let us. And anyway, I don't want to play teenager."
I believed her, and we stood there, beside the phone base.
After a second, the moment fell off her like a too large jacket.
"Persistence, hey Persistence! Want to go play pet shop with the animals?" she called out.
"Yeesssss!" came the responding cry from the other room, "Let's go!"
They charged upstairs happily.
Every day, I watch the choices I make filter down, in many ways, on many levels.
What can I say about that. Possibly nothing more than: it is what it is.
Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert. Do not reprint or reproduce without permission.
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