What I Wish I Could Say at a Playdate

by Jessica Towns

It’s Toddler Playtime at the community center. The gym is jammed with plastic slides, kid kitchens, and Flintstone-style cars. The primal howls of yet-uncivilized children rattle the bleachers. My mom-friends and I stand in a semicircle, semi-watching our two year-olds, and I’m dying to tell them.

I want to tell them that two hours ago, I sat drippy-eyed on the couch, lamenting my inadequacy as a mother. Sure, my kid was happy—trotting around, eating goldfish crackers (which I think was her breakfast?)—but I was not.

Motherhood has cracked open my chest and allowed love to flow out in volumes I never knew possible. I would trade it for nothing. But it hurts, and it’s hard, and sometimes I hate it.

Even over the sticky scent of collective toddler breath, the other moms may be able to tell that I haven’t showered. But can they smell my sense of failure? I must reek of someone who loses her temper too often, turns on TV in the afternoon, and forgets to change diapers.

I want to tell them that toddlerhood is kicking my ass.

The challenge is letting it out in a controlled way—just a little fart from an overstretched balloon—enough to garner sympathy but not judgment. Enough to be hugged but not straight-jacketed.

I might joke about it. I’ll say I was thinking about setting my daughter in a cardboard box on the sidewalk. Free to a good home.

Or I’ll scoot a little closer to the truth and say that if I hear the word mommymommymommy one more time, I’ll put myself in a box on the sidewalk.

I want to confess to them that I actually considered granting my kid’s request for cheesecake at 10 AM, and I’m this close to letting her draw on the television because I’m sick of fighting about it.

I want to tell them that the other morning, after a rough night, I feel asleep on the couch, only to wake up and see my daughter crawling out of the fireplace.

But I’m afraid of what they’ll think. Perhaps I am uniquely incompetent. In a while we’ll pack our diaper bags, and they’ll return to their homes, which I imagine to be free of processed food, light-up beepy-boppy toys, and licensed characters. Meanwhile I’ll wrestle my kid into her carseat with the promise of a graham cracker.

I think about our foremothers—thirteen children apiece, cleaning house, tending a farm, cooking sans microwave, and keeping husbands happy, I assume (see the aforementioned thirteen children).

How is it that I slid out of that centuries-long birth canal unable to win a fight with a toaster, never mind a toddler?

I push back my unwashed hair, watch my daughter shove a kid off the slide, and the seed of self-doubt sprouts anew. I wish I could tell my friends about it, knowing that they’d take for granted how much I really do love my child. That I wouldn’t be side-eyed or pinned with the dreaded scarlet label: Bad Mom. That I would continue to be accepted, mismatched shoes and all.

Motherhood has cracked open my chest and allowed love to flow out in volumes I never knew possible. I would trade it for nothing. But it hurts, and it’s hard, and sometimes I hate it.

I feel the telltale tug on my jeans. “Mommy hold you,” my daughter whines, which can be roughly translated to mean “Get me out of here, woman. I want that graham cracker.” While I wrangle her shoes on, the other moms and I exchange pleasant goodbyes, promises to do this again soon.

My kid and I meander toward the door, triple-checking that we have her Tiger, and I feel the anxiety swell. It can’t be healthy to hold these enormous feelings inside.

Maybe one of these playdates I’ll say something.

About the Author

dsc00978Jessica Towns is a full-time mom and two-time PEPS graduate. She lives in Wedgwood with her husband Will and daughter Ravenna, and spends her limited free time writing and drinking a lot of coffee. Jessica holds a civil engineering degree from Seattle University.

  One thought on “What I Wish I Could Say at a Playdate

  1. Doris Towns
    December 21, 2016 at 11:20 am

    I love this! You pinned the toddler years right dead center on the refrigerator! Especially the piece about the internalized shame of thinking some of the thoughts that “good” moms must not think. You begin to feel so crazy! Instead of looking forward to hubby opening the door to a warm embrace, your reality is hoping that Daddy will get home soon and take over, so you can lock yourself in the bathroom and read and soak until the water gets cold. Take it from an old lady, this, too shall pass. Guard your sanity and desparately cling to that man you married. He’s stressed, too, and, in a moment of weakness, may not percieve your exhaustion as that dead tired thing that it is, but might see rejection or judgement in your eyes. Put the freshly bathed, diapered and pajamad little angel in her little bed, let Daddy read her Good Night Moon yet again, then savor some quiet togetherness. Let him in on your secret shame. Tell him how it feels to be so ‘over-touched’ by tiny little hands that you just want to lay in bed with the covers over your head. It will be hard for him to understand — he’s been slaying dragons all day. Let him tell you about those dragons. Allow that conversation to stimulate that adult portion of your brain. It will happen. Someday you will wake up and realize that there was a day, some time ago, that you put your daughter down and you will not likely ever pick her up again. There will be no Goldfish under the couch or PlayDoh stuck to the cat. And your cracked-open chest will lead to tears yet again. But your phone will ring and you’ll hear, “Hi, Mom!” and it’ll be all right.

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