“Momma’s always on stage,” the line of the Arrested Development tune goes. I’d danced, wiggled and bopped to that lyric for years before I became a mom. And once the universe added that new job description to my name, nearly four years ago, I discovered, I lived those lyrics, daily. Most moms spend nearly every moment of every day on the front lines of care.
“Congratulations, you’ll never know a moment of peace,” one mom christened the moment I brought Julia home. At the time, I thought her words cruel. Hard-core-harsh. Now I understand she was just stating a fact. The fact that Julia and I spend a portion of our days apart, she at school, me at work. The fact that I must trust another person to deliver my daughter safely home. Trust another woman’s care. Her judgment. No peace in that.
So when something does go wrong, it’s best that it goes off the rails during the mom watch. That way, there’s only one butt to kick. Mine. (Which could be a neat trick if one could physically pull that off, a self-delivered foot up the ass but I digress.)
So it happened, while having brunch a few Sundays ago, at the wonderful Upper West Side Italian eatery, Regional, as I settled down after an amazing, motivational talk delivered at Unity of New York, after inviting three new friends to join me, Julia, and Aunt Carla at brunch, as I sipped my extra spicy Blood Mary, Julia announced, “ I have to go to the potty.”
“Can I take her?” Emma said with a ten-year-old’s gusto.
I eyed Emma sitting to my right. “Can you handle it?” I asked.
She nodded, sitting straight and tall. Well balanced that girl, I thought to myself. Present in her body.
“Emma’s good with kids,” her Dad beamed across from her, sipping a glass of water.
Our communal table sat twelve or so feet from the rest room.
So, hand-in-hand, toward the rear of Regional, off Emma and Julia went, weaving a path through waiters, and hungry adults. They turned the corner shaped by the tan and cinnamon colored-wall.
Psychically I patted myself on the back for my Mommy skills.
A few minutes later, Emma ducked her head out from the wall with wide interesting eyes. Not worried eyes. Just wider set peepers.
“Do you want me to go and check it out?” Aunt Carla asked, catching sight of my eye line, across from me, and followed my eyes to Emma.
“That’ll be great,” I said and mulched a fresh baked muffin then took another sip of my Bloody.
And as I tried to decided between the grilled sausage selection (Primo!) and the Angus burger (always hits the carnivorous spot) I glanced over my menu to see, Carla striding to the front of the restaurant with a pep in her step, midway up the aisle of the eatery and tapped Jodi on the shoulder, one half of the owner team (and a great friend), They chatted a short time, then together strode back to the restroom.
“What do you think is going on?” Emma’s dad asked, “Don’t know, may be they’re out of toilet paper.
“Everything okay?” I yelled out as Carla past our way.
“Yup,” she answered with a snap in her voice.
As I chatted with Brian and Aaron, Emma’s dad, new members of Unity of New York, in short order my daughter and Emma and Carla arrived back at the table and settled down. Only after I launched the second Bloody Mary did I ask Carla, “What happened in there?”
She sighed hard. Then took a sig of mimosa. “Well,” she said starting out slow, like a kid taking a running start at a fence they weren’t certain they could take on. “Maybe I shouldn’t tell you this. But I guess I will sense it’s all over. Emma asked Julia if she could go to the bathroom alone, and Julia said yes.”
My heart was in my stomach now bobbing in a puddle of tomato juice and vodka. Nothing good can follow when a ten-year-old asks a three-year-old who has a penchant for telling folks “I’m eight!” that she can’t use the toilet alone. Its pretty good bet that any kid that refers to the toilet as the potty couldn’t manage a visit alone.
Carla took another dose of her drink. “Then Emma showed Julia how to lock the door.”
“So Julia was locked inside. I rushed out to see if Jodi had the key. She didn’t.”
I’d taken on the 200-yard stare by now, listening to the words, circling my head, and occasionally looking down at Julia now chugging lengths of pasta in her mouth with a busy fork.
I thought of the panic of the night the croup broke out after midnight, the call I’d made to good friend, Pediatrician Mitch who prevented me from running out of the house, my baby in my arms, to the ER, the last place any New Yorker wants to be on a Friday night, other than police precinct. I thought of the times Julia had tumbled off a slide, a sand pit, I thought of the times I’d turned around at home and found Julia face planted on the wooden floor, balling from a bump on the head, wondering if she really injured herself, if a conclusion was forming. Or was a diva fit just forming. The time I found her atop the sky-high-big-kid-slide, just as she settled down to take on the full length, me grabbing her pant leg, slowing her glide, her progress, coaxing and piloting her back down to earth safely. Sometimes having to come up to the highest slide and bring her down.
But of course, this latest drama or possibility of drama I completely missed. It all went down beyond my eyes, beyond my knowledge, beyond my help.
I missed the fact that Jody didn’t have the key to the bathroom door because who does have a key to the bathroom door? I missed Jodi removing the plastic window from the door, and trying to reach in and turn the lock on her own, the five foot eight inch Jodi, her wavy shoulder length auburn hair no doubt falling and tumbling about her sweetly, sweaty face, as her forearms became scraped by the force and effort. I missed Jodi securing the tallest waiter, a dark hair twenty-something, and asked the man to use his arms and height to our advantage, reaching in and down and twisting and turning, and after sometime, unlocking the door. I missed standing at the door, with the backwash of acidy tomato juice and vodka and fear backing up on me.
“Just so you know, Julia was fine, completely engaged with lining the toilet seat with paper. Completely fine. Not crying or anything,” Carla said.
Knowing that all the things I worry about paying for college, even Pre-K school in New York, global warming denial, knowing that this one tragedy, well, possible, tragedy had completely bypassed me, tipped-toed by me, left me with a great gratitude.
Momma may always be on stage but this is one problem sidestep me breezed by me, skimmed my cheek like a summer wind that I only realized was present after I saw the leaves of trees dance.