I tried to sneak out of the house by myself yesterday—the roads were mostly clear of ice and snow and two full days ensconced inside with two boys, my husband, and the incessant noise of video games and action movies was really beginning to grate on my nerves. I also needed to get cat food; we has used up the last morsels, and Streaky, our large Ginger cat, can get feisty when his bowl is empty, lashing out his claws at passersby when his initial attempts to rub affectionately against us are not rewarded with a fresh scoop. Like some cat burglar myself, I quietly crept to the front door, and I almost made it, but my ten-year-old—who, like all the children in my household, has selective hearing—managed to catch up with me as I was headed out. “Can I come?” he pleaded. Plagued with working mother’s guilt, I relented and we were off.
As I was craving a frozen yogurt, it made perfect sense to drive 12 miles over to SouthPark Mall with its Yoforia shop, a place where a row of self-serve gleaming nozzles dispense supposedly low-fat, low-calorie frozen yogurt in an array of flavors, such as pomegranate and Ferrer Rocher. After some brief browsing in the mall, including a stop at Sur la Table, where I was able to snag a spotted cow creamer on sale for less than $4.00 (for the country home/sheep farm I plan to buy when I stop making impulsive purchases and actually save some money) and a purple silicone basting brush (for those countless times such an item is required), my son and I stopped in the Apple Store. (It was great fun to open all the browsers of all of the available IPads to my blog page and then watch people’s responses as they picked up the machines, looked confused, and then immediately switched to other sites.) After much pleading and threatening in order to wrest my son away from whatever violent video game he was playing on a laptop, we then headed to Yoforia and then on to the food court, as my son in typical fashion wanted a cheeseburger rather than yogurt.
The food court was teaming with small children and their mothers. I was a bit surprised by this choice of venue on the part of the moms, as SouthPark is not a particularly child-friendly mall. When the mall developers decided to extensively renovate the place at least five or so years ago to give it an exclusively upscale focus, the Disney Store that was located there closed, and places such as Louis Vuitton, Burberry, and Neiman Marcus with little appeal for children moved in. The mall has a distinctively snobby appeal and is frequented by many people who seem to subscribe to the credo, “style over substance.”
Unlike when I visit stores toward the eastern (rural) end of Union County, folks in SouthPark do not typically smile and say hello to strangers. In fact, it struck me that striking up a conversation with some of the moms in the mall that day would be as mystifying and uncomfortable as attempting to make first contact with a saucer-eyed alien who had inadvertently landed his spaceship in my back yard. By and large, the mothers were not young, as far as mothers go. These were educated women, women who had had their first child in their late twenties or sometime in their thirties. One after another, they struck me with their lackluster sameness—expensive baby strollers, high-tech (think ugly) running shoes, fleece vests or jackets with the names of outdoor companies popular to yuppies embroidered on the front, with not a fat thigh or oversized bosom among the lot. In fact, they possessed a kind of athletic, sometimes bordering on the anorexic, slimness. A woman at a table next to ours unpacked plastic plates, bags of fresh apples, and bottles of spring water for her three sons who seemed unfazed by the fact that they were being denied the delights of Chick Fila and Showmars that were in near proximity. The boys contentedly chewed their apples and quietly listened to their very tall, very angular mom, with her blond bob and Northface vest, chat with the other mom at her table. If my sons acted that way, I would have to immediately take them to the pediatrician’s office, as such outrageous behavior would only mean that they were gravely ill.
I left the mall with a sense of my own shortcomings. Between teaching full-time, running a home, reading, and knitting, some of the details of healthy, yuppie living elude me. I can’t seem to find time to work out, and while I do love to cook using fresh and healthy ingredients, the pace of working full-time and running to athletic practices and games and tutoring often means that my family grabs food on the run or eats dinners out of the many plastic containers of high-starch leftovers that do battle with me every time I try to extract a jar of peanut butter or mayonnaise from the refrigerator. Many of those women at the mall seemed to be meeting friends—perhaps there was a mommy group getting together there that day. I don’t know. But I am certain that I feel envy for women who have relaxed time for such an activity. During the school year, socializing with other women takes weeks of prior emailing and telephone tag. While these visits are well worth the effort, they are troublesome to arrange and usually mean that I have to muster up the skills of a general in order to rearrange my sons’ extracurricular travel arrangements with my husband. Sometimes, such machinations are just not worth the effort. Real Simple editor Kristin van Ogtrop’s article “Can I Call You Back in 15 Years?” perfectly articulates this phenomenon.
The lack of friendships and exercise routines and sometimes poor eating habits are not the only challenges of working mothers who do not have a large enough income to have help with cooking and cleaning or with chauffeuring children. These same women struggle to find time for hobbies and personal care—it takes time to knit or sew or to paint one’s nails or to wait while a facial mask dries. If many of them are like me, we experience guilt about the lack of time spent ministering to our children while simultaneously lamenting the lack of time to take care of our own needs. Days of laundry, cooking, running here and there, and working don’t leave much time for anything else. I rise early each morning, around 5:00 a.m. and usually give myself a half an hour to an hour to read and/or knit. I have only been able to take one knitting class in the last two-and-a-half years, and long for the cozy camaraderie of a social knitting group.
After we left the mall, my son and I went to Barnes and Noble in the SouthPark area. He took off to look for Batman DVDs and I, still pondering the emotions aroused by my experience in the mall, sought solace by perusing the knitting books in the crafts section. There was a woman there, probably in her sixties, sitting perched on a stepstool, and she asked me about the merits of a book 101 Designer One Skein Wonders. I told her that I had purchased the book for the teen knitting club at the school where I teach, but that I hadn’t tried any of the patterns in it yet. We both admired a rainbow-hued ribbed hat in the book, and I proudly showed her the socks I was wearing--made out of a similarly vivid variegated Noro yarn. She had a lively persona, bright eyes, and an engaging smile. She told me that her name is Yvonne, that she teaches yoga to senior citizens, and that she belongs to a knitting group that meets at a Panera Bread not far from my house, and that I was welcome to join her group. I sighed wistfully as she regaled me with tales of knitting-inspired road trips and shared projects.
Unlike the species of moms at the mall, she made eye contact and seemed to have no qualms about interacting with a short woman wearing purple shoes. Unfortunately, this woman’s knitting group meets on a night that conflicts with three of my children’s extra-curricular activities, where no one in my family even returns home until at least 8:00 p.m. It’s looks as if the knitting group is a no go—for now. From now on, though, on Thursday nights as I sit watching TaeKwondo, I’ll think about those women, sipping warm drinks, knitting by the gas logs in Panera, sharing wisdom and personal stories about their craft . . . and life. I’ll also remember that, for right now, my responsibilities lie elsewhere. When the mutant mommies are, perhaps, facing their own mid-life crises related to empty nesting or returning to the workplace, I hope to have time to sit by a fire, lulled by the click of needles, and the voices of my companions.