Ever after that, I would approach each business trip with a mission: To Acquire The Armrest. I'd eye my row-mates on those Continental flights with a steely gaze, sizing them up for any territorial tendencies. As soon as I sat down, I'd whip out my paperback and snap those elbows out to cover all fronts (or sides, as the case may be). If someone had to sidle past me to get the window seat, I moved enough for the sake of politeness and tactical necessity, but as soon as they were past? SNAP. ELBOWS. I was like a pop-out automobile windshield sunshade, I would unfold those arms so fast.
Moral of the story? I hate, detest, loathe thinking I'm nothing more than a statistic.
The other day, I was out walking with boy around our neighborhood. It was one of those magnificent Texas winter days -- clear, breezy, sunny and about 55 degrees. The wind was just crisp enough to make me tug boy's hood up over his spikey-mikeys, and seemed to blow every bit of haze out of the air, so that everything looked sharp and colorful. It also caught the fabric of the stroller enough to make even our three-mile walk a bit of a workout, which was a nice bonus. As we were traipsing along, a school bus rumbled by, and I caught the sound of the laughter and conversation of the kids on the breeze. Surrounded by the smell of exhaust and green vinyl seats for just an instant, I was transported back to my own days of riding the bus to or from high school football games, and I remembered that I'd seen many, many moms pushing strollers myself, through neighborhoods a lot like mine. It came back to me in a flash that I thought I knew what their lives were like -- I imagined mild, tranquil days of light errands and playing with babies, days in which the greatest challenge to be faced was whether to make chicken piccata or broiled sea bass for dinner. I thought they headed out for their stroller walks humming just under their breath, content and at peace and carefree. I thought their kids were your average, textbook kids who were good sometimes, tantrum-y others, and just like any other kid you could point out. And I'll confess I thought those women were probably boring and dull and that I had nothing in common with them.
So now, 1) what an idiot I was. And 2) hooray for irony! I'm one of them. I'm square in the middle of that statistical distribution -- a former career professional turned stay-at-home mom, 33 years old with a child under the age of two, contemplating another child in the next 12-16 months, living in a suburban neighborhood, with a stroller and car seat and SUV and an HEB grocery store I adore. I belong to a mom's group, I own more plastic toys than I ever wanted to (though not as many as I could, I'll state in my own defense), and yesterday I oohed and aahed over my girlfriend's new Honda Odyssey minivan. I even lick my own child, and say things like, "Just one more bite for mommy, please!"
I have misjudged you, stay-at-home moms. And I had forgotten that I'd done so, but I'm apologizing, for the record. I see now that you are not all the same, that you are not statistically one. I understand that you are each unique and interesting and rich in subtle differences from one another. Of course you are. It just took me most of my life to appreciate it, about as long as it took for me to join your ranks, strangely. Yes, some of us are literally soccer moms, and others are room mothers and still others may pack juice boxes and carrot sticks and PB&J sandwiches for their children's lunches. But we also speak many languages, hail from various former pre-child careers and lives, worship in different places, prefer different retail establishments for our myriad senses of style and fashion.
We are all women, but not the same woman. We are all mothers, but not only mothers. We don't receive pay for what we do, but we work (and work hard) just the same.
So here's to us, whether we're struggling with teething or potty training or tantrums. Here's to our patience and selfless nurturing, whether we're mothering toddlers or teens. Here's to appreciating one another, because sometimes we're the only ones who remember to do it. Here's to sticking together, because someday our kids will head off on their own, as they rightly should and we've raised them to do, and yet we'll watch them go with needle-sharp pains in our broken hearts.
I'm raising my ice-cold pretentious can of orange-flavored, La Croix sparkling water high to you, my sisters. Forgive me for my short-sightedness for so long. I'm proud to be one of you.