As a divorced mom of three children, ages 13, 12 and eight, preparing to go out on a date often requires the coordination one would think necessary to carry out a covert CIA operation. A friend of mine once joked that all a guy has to do before a date is shit, shower and shave. For me, leaving my house for a date requires hours, if not days, of preparation, and is anything but relaxing.
Two Sundays ago, I had a brunch date in New York City. We made plans to meet at eleven o’clock in the morning, which, under ordinary circumstances, would require getting up at the crack of dawn in order to make it out the door by ten. On that particular Sunday, however, circumstances were anything but ordinary. Instead, I was faced with an extraordinary level of crazy, even for me.
My week had started off like any other that previous Monday. After coming off the usual harried weekend with my kids, I felt that familiar sense of relief as I pulled (raced, tires screeching?) out of the elementary school parking lot. Six and a half hours all to myself: supermarket, dry cleaner, dirty laundry, I’m all yours… Yippee!
That night, I went to sleep, thoroughly exhausted from the day. At two-thirty early Tuesday morning, I was awoken by that all too familiar gagging cough coming from my son’s room. All mothers know it. It is the kind of cough followed only by vomit. Thank goodness for small favors, the damage was pretty well contained, and his room did not look like the vomit splattered equivalent of a crime scene following an axe murder. Unbeknownst to me at the time, that scene would be coming for me early Friday morning, when I would spend four hours washing every stitch of my son’s bedding while watching the sun rise. The culprit? Strep throat.
Enter a typical Saturday with three children and no husband, homework, school projects, tennis lessons and, let’s not forget, kids getting on each other’s nerves which, in turn, really gets on my nerves, the preparation of breakfast, lunch, and dinner, mountains of laundry… Need I continue? By the time I went to bed Saturday night, I could practically taste the few hours of adult time that awaited me early the next day. Even an impending snow storm expected for the coming evening could not keep me from my destination.
When I woke up that Sunday morning my house was blissfully still. While the children slept quietly in their beds, I drew a hot bath and prepared myself to look like my inner (on that morning, very inner) goddess. After relaxing in the tub, slipping on a cute pair of jeans, black boots, a casually sexy top, and perfecting my hair and makeup, I glanced in the full-length mirror and was fairly satisfied with the end result. Not bad for a forty-one year old divorced mama of three.
As I crept down the stairs for breakfast and to enjoy a last few minutes of solace before waking my son (a.k.a. dragging him out of bed) for Hebrew school, I heard the dreaded words emanate from my thirteen year-old daughter’s room: “Mom, I feel sick.” Minutes later, she was in the bathroom heaving up what seemed like her entire entrails, and, of course, missing the toilet while doing so.
Scrambling to now find a ride for my son to Hebrew school so I could get my daughter to the urgent care for a strep culture (of course these things always happen on a Sunday when the pediatrician does not have regular office hours), while still hanging onto one last shred of hope that I could make my train, I called my mother who would be babysitting that day and asked her to come a little earlier than planned. Unfortunately, she could not. “Just don’t go now,” she advised. NFW was my only thought. After the week I had, at this point only a diagnosis of Bubonic plague could stop me.
One negative strep culture later, a quick trip through the pharmacy for chamomile tea, soft drinks, saltines, and other vomit prevention staples, I made it back to my house in time to get my daughter settled and somewhat recompose myself into date mode, and I finally headed out the door, now one hour behind schedule. Having missed my train, I prayed for no traffic at the Lincoln tunnel and drove toward the city.
A former boyfriend of mine used to joke that I led two separate lives, one on either side of the Hudson. As I passed through the tunnel, words never rang more true. Back in New Jersey, I wear many hats as a parent: I am Mommy, friend, cheerleader, advocate, tutor, chef, housekeeper, chauffeur, handyman, personal shopper, therapist, nurse, and, of course, scapegoat. When I go out on a date, I leave all of that behind. And, for a discrete few hours, I miraculously transform into a different person. Or do I?
Years ago I attended a party with my then husband. While conversing with another woman there, I began to speak of my two baby daughters. Her face quickly contorted as she cut me off and, in an almost admonishing tone, informed me that when she is out for the evening and away from her own children, she does not like to speak of anything child-related. At the time, I was left speechless, and I walked away from that conversation feeling inadequate as an educated and intelligent woman. Having made the choice to stay home instead of going out to work, that comment brought to the forefront many of the insecurities I had already been wrestling with about being a stay-at-home mom.
Years later I understand that my identity as a mother is not something I can just shake for a few hours. In fact, no matter how hard I try, it just is not possible. My children are always in my thoughts and, as a result, often on the tip of my tongue. From their accomplishments to funny anecdotes, my children’s essence is woven into the very fabric of my identity. However, unlike that woman from the party, I do not need to prove that I can have an intelligent conversation in spite of their existence. I have a multitude of interests, ranging from music to theater to literature to politics. My children just happen to, at this point in my life, be intertwined with many of those interests. And there is nothing wrong with that.
So now when I get my date face on, I know that that face is just a more primped up version of my own. Going out on a date does not give me the opportunity to become someone else but, rather, the chance to become a more enhanced version of myself, to discover a part of myself which, because of the realities that are my life now, sometimes is overshadowed by my children’s lives. But I am painfully aware that there will come a time in the all too near future when I will have to retire some of the many hats I wear. So, rather than shake them off, I instead wear them with pride because one day those hats will be hanging dustily on their hooks, all but forgotten.