Saturday, May 13, 2006


I took two hours off yesterday, from my basement work schedule as Larry Tate starring in Phantom of the Opera, to man the duck pond at Nick’s spring carnival.


It took me about half an hour to transform myself from Lon Chaney mode:

Into Perfect Exuberant Springtime Selfless Volunteer Mommy.

I was wearing my stock “springtime” pink tie dyed tunic from last year’s Old Navy collection, jeans and some very “cute” turquoise Old Navy flip flops with a psychedelic pattern on the footbed. Basically, I looked like I just walked off the set of “Hair.” Because that’s what I think a Catholic school mommy should look like.

After the screams of, “Look! It’s a DEMOCRAT!” died down, I got to work manning a blue plastic pond, with glass beads at the bottom and a passel of hard plastic, slightly grungy, duckies floating in it.

When I got there, the mom who explained the duck pond to me said, “This one is really easy!”

At which point my heart sank, because I knew somehow I wouldn’t understand the rules and kids would be waiting in a long line, tapping their feet saying, “This mom sucks! The duck pond was way better LAST YEAR!”

Crisis averted.

For ONCE, I actually “caught on” to the rules of the game, because even a dead clown could have figured it out. Kids have to give one ticket and then they get to “pick a duckie.” The grungy duckies have numbers SHARPIED onto them and the kid gets a prize from a corresponding numbered bucket. I was ready to go!

But then no kids came and I thought, “Uh oh, I am manning the LOSER TABLE. No one will come to my event. I will be standing here, at the edge of the blacktop, while kids joyously choose other games.”

It’s lonely at the ducky pond, lemme tell ya.

That is, until all the Vegas gambling nocturnal vampire kids come out of the woodwork. You should see these kids! The ones that get hooked, I mean, on that fickle bitch “chance.”

Little girls clutched their tickets (please see: life savings, in the future) and bit their lower lips as they advanced toward the aquamarine baccarat table.

“Four again! But I don’t LIKE lollypops!”

Tough shit kid, that’s the luck of the dice.

Does anyone else out there get really irritated with kids who instantly want to bend the rules? BECAUSE I DO.

This was also an object lesson in what it feels like to have a menial job that is frequented by slightly spoiled, middle class, entitled kids. Because when you’re manning a duck pond, you are suddenly in the same social stratosphere as a carnival barker and so suddenly “Nick’s mom” is lost behind the barriers of class, socio-economics and all the other invisible (and sometimes visible) social strata that are in place in our society.

I loved looking at their faces through this mask. I was wearing sunglasses, which helped with the illusion. Only one little girl, that I observed, figured out which duck to choose to get the coveted number 2 basket prizes. Most of the kids really were shooting the moon—betting, hoping on the fates to shine down on them, each time, and deliver the prize they coveted the most.

My initial fears that I would be manning the “Loser Table” soon evaporated into a sea of hopeful faces, waiting in line, “ONE AT A TIME,” and waiting for their shot at Lady Luck.

One thing I have noticed, with increasing sadness about myself as a mother, is that I am not the “cool” mom. I am not the “nice” mom. I am not the mom-whose-house-you-want-to-hang-out in. I think I have become the kind of adult I didn’t like as a kid and I never wanted to be.


There, I said it. I’m just not Warm Squishy Mom. Dammit. I want to be, sometimes, but it’s just too damn counterintuitive to my nature.

When I was a kid, in the Pleistocene era, I remember when sometimes kids would be mean to me and my sister, who is 11 years older than I am, would say, “Kids are just small adults.” Sadly, it’s true.

Basically, to be any good at dealing with kids, you have to suspend that knowledge and pretend that kids are sunny, sugar-sweetened, innocent, little tabula rasas. But they’re not. They’re just little people, hard wired with all the manipulation and vices as the next person. Oh, proportionally they are more innocent, but the groundwork is there.

The whole time I was manning the booth, I tried to scan the blacktop and neighboring field to see if I could see Nick, so we could lock eyes and he could revel in the wondrousness of having a Participating Mommy.

I finally saw him, amid all the running and screaming kids. It’s really weird how your own child just sort of parts the Red Sea—you can always make out their particular countenance among the throngs.

It made me think of the day he was born when the doctor held him up triumphantly and my sister said, “It’s a BOY!” Right then and there, I saw his profile and it was permanently etched on my retina—the profile of my first-born son.

Later that night, I got up from my hospital bed—you know how you are completely transformed—like you’ve just been through this thing and then you are alone and you wander, butt flying in the wind in a hospital gown, pulling an IV on wheels beside you, down to the nursery and there, amid all the red pruny faces, the beacon of your own baby’s face shines itself out toward you, through the glass.

That’s what it was like when I saw him again yesterday, in his blue and gold shorts (school colors) with a Long Beach East Coast surf shirt. My son, with more of a defined, confident stride than when he was little—this lovely insouciance about him, carrying a blue plastic ball with stylized Hawaiian flowers on it.

After the carnival was over, I wrapped up my table—a little girl helped me scoop up all the glass beads because she liked immersing her hands in the water. Her mother waited impatiently on the side and the little girl said, “I’m helping!” And I said, from deep inside my cryptic heart, “You’re a BIG helper!”

I emptied the duck pond and put all the supplies next to the organizer’s minivan. I went inside to fetch Nick from his classroom. His teacher was there. I LOVE Nick’s teacher. Like, from the bottom of my heart. She has been The Inspiring Teacher that Totally Gets Your Kid. I think you get that once in your kid’s life. Maybe twice.

I cried during our parent teacher conference (as I have for every single parent teacher conference I’ve ever had for Nick—I know, FRUITCAKE) because she looked at me and said, “I’ve been wanting to meet you.” UH OH, that’s when the floodgates began—inside—I managed to escape pretty much without the full waterworks. She looked at me so intently and talked about Nick so clearly, and so lovingly. Well, it killed me. In a good way. She hugged me that day when I left.

Yesterday she got up and hugged me again—really tight—and she whispered, “Happy Mother’s Day,” as I melted in her warm embrace, in front of the entire third grade.

I said, as I squeezed her back, “Happy Mother’s Day to you.” I thought I might never let her go.
Afterwards, Nick looked at me sort of amazed. Because I’m not exactly the kind of person people feel comfortable broaching and embracing, as you may have discerned.

My stint as an anonymous carnival barker was over. I was back in the fold of being Nick’s mom—that cranky bitch!

We walked through the halls together and I felt, somehow, slightly less anomalous.


Cynicism is another word for reality

Email me, you derelict wastrel

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