Growing up, my momma would impress upon me the importance of being put-together when you leave the house. “Never walk out the door with rollers in your hair because you never know who you might run into,” that kind of stuff. For the most part, I listened. As a teenager, I did leave the house for church in pink, fluffy houseshoes one Sunday, but that was a complete and utterly embarrassing mistake. However, when I left the house for the neighborhood park this past Wednesday, my un-put-togetherness was intentional.
I didn’t have rollers in my hair (that would have been just blatant disobedience), but I was definitely not looking my best. I had had a long day at work and really just wanted some fresh air and for N to get some exercise. This was our first time taking her to the park in our neighborhood (because she’s still a wobbler and can barely play on the “big kid” slides and ladders), and I honest-to-goodness was not thinking about who I would meet. I didn’t bother brushing down the random puffs of hair that had lost the battle to frizziness. I didn’t change N out of her food-soiled clothes from daycare, nor did I brush and re-bow her also unruly curly hair. I just threw on running shorts, a t-shirt, and running shoes, put baby in the stroller, and walked to the park with James (who was going for a real run), ready to enjoy a nice, relaxing half hour at the little park with baby girl.
It was difficult to miss the absolute put-togtherness of this mother, especially at this small park full of mostly unaccompanied elementary school kids.
Her daughters had on matching white, light cotton shirts with small navy blue anchors all over them. And I didn’t see a tag so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she made the shirts herself. Their dark blonde hairs were practically immaculate for children at the park. And all three of them looked very clean, well-fed, and happy…yes…quite put-together. I decided at once that I would ignore her.
Ignoring her mostly worked, and I perceived, anyway, that she was not impressed by my awesome minimalist running shoes. We danced around each other as we chased our children and stayed vigilant in protecting them from the bigger kids. Eventually N found herself climbing up the slide as Mrs. Perfect’s youngest daughter was sliding down. Great…conversation starter.
Me, “How cute. What’s her name?”
Mrs. Perfect, with a polite smile and nod, “Thank you. Daisy. And that’s Petunia. I just had to have two flowers.”
Me, “Nice. I really like Daisy. That’s a pretty name.”
[These aren’t the girls’ real names, by the way.]
Me, “How old is Daisy?”
P, “She’s 18 months.”7
Me, “Oh really? N is 18 months also. When is her birthday?”
P, “October 25th.”
Me, genuinely surprised, “Oh wow, same day.”
P (is that shy surprise or mild aversion?), “Oh, a birthday buddy. How nice.”
Our eyes locked for a split second and we both instantly realized that this wasn’t going to work out. She smiled. I smiled. We moved on, separated our girls on the slide, and went back to the busyness of protecting them.
A few moments later, our little girls were on a collision course, but because we’re both good mothers, we sacrificed our need to avoid awkward conversation in order to protect them. After I grabbed and redirected N, I foolishly tried another attempt at getting to know this family that we already had some things in common with.
Me, “Do you bring your daughters here often?”
Perfect, “We haven’t, but we’d like to. I like to bring them here to ride their bikes on the courts because it’s just too hilly where we live.”
Me, “Oh sure, of course. The whole area is very hilly.”
Me, “We live just a few blocks over and we can’t really ride our bikes, either.”
P, “Oh we live that way, too, in Oceanview.” <pause for effect and drama>
“It’s the GATED community,” she added with a very, very slight smirk (that I could have imagined) and an even slighter (but real) nod towards me.
Me, “Yes. I know Oceanview,” I mumbled and took that as my cue to leave.
I spent the rest of the time playing with my daughter until my husband returned from his run. Not sure when Mrs. Perfect reappeared, but I found myself saying goodbye to her and her daughters as we fastened N in her stroller. We shook hands and she said they were leaving too because the older kids were starting to get out of control (and they were). She said she hoped we ran into each other again, but does she really hope that?
I have a few issues here that caused me to blog about this. One, why did Mrs. Perfect mention that her community is gated? Was she judging my all black workout attire and messy hair and sending me a message that there was no way we could be friends? If she really knew anything about the area we live in, she’d know that the houses outside that gate are just as nice as the ones inside that gate. Did she mention that tidbit because the gate is a cool feature? Or was she sending me a clear sign of my inability to gain access to her friendship? The off-handed way she said it leads me to believe that on some subconscious level, she had judged me and deemed me unworthy.
But there is so much that she doesn’t know about me, and that’s my second issue here. Why didn’t I tell her? Part of me was screaming all of our bragging rights out loud and impressing her with all of the cool stuff that we have and do. Part of me wanted to show her that I WAS worthy, and that we COULD be friends. I might look a hot mess right now, but I clean up well enough if you give me a chance. I wanted to rub that smirk off her face and tell her that we have friends that live in the REAL gated community further up the hill (the gated community where the homes are $900,000 and above), and that her precious little Oceanview is just another middle class subdivision, just like all of the other subdivisions around it. (You don’t know how badly I wished we lived in 900+ville just so I could reply with something snarky.) I wanted to make sure she knew that we didn’t live in the apartments but in an actual house. I wanted to beat her judgment of me and prove myself with words.
But I didn’t do it. I didn’t say anything. I just decided, instead, that even if I could show her that I’m not that different, even if I could surpass her first impression of me, the gate would still…and probably always…be there.