I'm sure many of you can relate to this. After the frenzy of everyone else's engagement parties, bridal showers and weddings in your 20s and 30s, you become inundated with baby showers, birth announcements and emails with photos of shrivelled alien frog babies attached. I've gotten used to these life passages that have passed me by and have managed to find peace with the limited time I now get with my new mom friends. We keep in touch with emails, occasional phone calls when they have a free moment in the car, and planned far in advance lunch outings. And with the rest of my free time, I went out and found new single friends.
Now I'm getting old enough to have friends with multiple children. This means they have even less time for me. The upside is, when they do manage it, they are so much less uptight as they've gotten used to the mom gig and actually appreciate a break from the kids when a friend comes to visit.
So yesterday I drove to the 'burbs of Orange County to visit two of my girlfriends from my 20-something L.A. days -- Mrs. Clever and StyleMom. Clever, who is about a year and a half younger than me, just gave birth to her fourth child, and she is the only person I know who could handle such a brood with grace and enthusiasm. I'm pretty sure she and Mr. Clever are trying to raise their own soccer team.
StyleMom has a two year old girl and, being that she works in fashion, looks as put together and serene as she did pre-child. I can't imagine her with spit-up or food stains on her wrinkle-free blouse.
And then there's me.
I admit I usually get a bit depressed after I spend time with them. Nothing personal. It's just that 90% of the conversation is about children, husbands, in-laws and new life experiences I have only dared to imagine for myself on really good days. I end up feeling, well, insignificant in these conversations, despite their good faith efforts to include me (really, there's only so many ways to answer the question, "How is your cat these days?").
But this time I didn't get depressed. Probably because I'm happy and in a relationship with some wonderful lifelong potential (shh...don't tell fate I just said that). But also because I missed Clever and Style a great deal. It feels wonderful to be with old friends again.
After a three hour lunch of catching up and way too many iced tea refills, the ladies when to the bathroom and left me with the one kid that was allowed to come along, Clever's two week old baby. There we stood just inside the front door of the busy restaurant, BabyClever quietly ensconced in her carriage while I stood looking over her - frozen. Me, the baby. Alone. Staring at each other.
There was a good deal of foot traffic as people entered and exited the restaurant. As each one brushed past us, my mind raced with questions. Would any of these people mistake me for a mom? Do I wear my inexperience like a tattoo on my forehead? I felt like a poser. But it was intriguing. Could I pass?
Two women entered the restaurant and I knew immediately they were going to test me on this.
"Awwww, what a sweet little baby!" They stopped in their tracks behind me and peered over my shoulder. I continued to stare at BabyClever.
The other one cooed, "She's so little. What a cutie!"
I was as still as a statue, my eyes locked on BabyClever who did nothing to help me. Was I supposed to say something back? Should I let them think it's mine? Would they know right away I was faking it? I broke out into a bit of a cold sweat as the pause lengthened and the women refused to budge.
I'm not one for awkward pauses. In fact, I usually make them worse. This was no exception. I blurted out, "Uh, she's not mine."
"Her mom's in there, " I said, jabbing my finger at the bathroom door.
Predictably, I rambled on. "I, uh, don't have any kids. So I don't know what to say when someone says something about the baby." I laughed like an idiot, hoping that maybe they might understand my position. They didn't.
They replied with awkward courtesy laughs and I finally forced myself to turn around to face them.
The older of the two women persisted, clearly enjoying this torture. "How old is she?"
Shit. Mom-types are always so damn specific with this kind of answer. "Oh, she's 24 days, 5 hours and twelve minutes. I had no freakin' idea. She's new goddammit - just look at her for God's sake! That's all I could remember at the moment. But this woman expected some sort of answer.
I resigned myself to failing the test and answered with a shrug, "A couple weeks?"
Judging from the older woman's look of quizzical concern, this was clearly an unacceptable answer. They mercifully decided to give up and made their way to the hostess stand. I'm sure they considered placing a surreptitious call to Child Protective Services since someone had clearly left a newborn baby with an incompetent moron.
Finally alone again with BabyClever, I exhaled with relief as I leaned over the carriage to pretend I was fussing with her blanket. When we locked eyes again something happened. I burst out laughing. I couldn't wait for Clever and Style to come out of the bathroom so I could share this interaction with them.
I guarantee if this same thing happened a few months ago, I would have kept it to myself and went home feeling sad, isolated, lonely and ashamed. Convinced there would never be a time or a place when someone out there would look at me and think, "That woman is a mother." I would always be an outsider in this world.
But this time was different. All I could do was laugh. It was just damn funny. Who I am right now is who I am. Where I am in my life is where I'm at. And there's nothing I can do but live my life, enjoy my friends, and laugh.
Clever and Style came out of the bathroom a few minutes later and I told them the story with an odd sort of pride. Even if I am an outsider, at least my own inside jokes keep me pretty damn entertained.