Recently, I found myself sitting at the bench at the park with two other mothers at 7 a.m. My cell phone battery had died. So, as I supervised my children I had nothing else to do but eavesdrop on two women sitting near me. They both laughed and carried a child on their hip. They talked about how badly they wished there was a “real” parenting book, a book about the “truth and the lies of parenting.” I had to get involved in this conversation. After all, misery loves miserable company.
These two particular women were discussing their angst over social media channels. They griped that on Facebook and Instagram everyone looks perfect and happy and people make parenting seem easy. It quickly became apparent that our children were the same age and we had a lot in common. For one, the three of us were all in a post-holiday fog. Not a hungover, sleepy fog. Not at all–more like under-slept and over-tired. For all the people at Starbucks enjoying a nice cup of coffee after a long, restful night of sleep, there are a few very tired moms at the park at 7 a.m. And although we had our coffees in our hands, they had already been jostled, spilled and dropped in the dirt. (By the time I finally get a sip of my coffee, it has become iced coffee.)
Days later I’m still thinking about that conversation at the park. The two women, who had come to the park together, homeschooled their children during the week and taught Sunday school at their local church on the weekends. I confessed that I could think of no greater torture for myself or my children than homeschooling. The women laughed, but I was serious–I give them credit. I applaud their effort and wonder how on earth they get the motivation to not only be the parent, but also the teacher to their preschool-aged children?
They shook their heads and laughed. All the while, they had been watching my children and I communicate in Spanish. They wondered out loud how and why my kids were bilingual, and how on earth I had gotten my three boys to play ” so nicely together.”
I laughed (loudly) and couldn’t get my words out fast enough to correct them. Until the moment when we had arrived at the park, the three boys had fought because we had only one basketball. It had become such a battle that I confiscated the basketball, and forced the children out of the car and onto the playground. (Nevermind the earlier threats of dropping them off at school on a Sunday!)
I explained that Spanish was my native tongue, and thanks to my parents and our Spanish-speaking babysitter, we use Spanish at home.
The story they had created abut my three young, well-behaved, bilingual boys was about as incorrect as my vision of the patient, all-knowing, all-loving and always calm home-schooling moms. The truth, we decided, is far from what we see in public or on social media. Rather, the true story of our lives, with the messy and unfinished parts, is what we learn when we genuinely connect and share the honest (non-shaming) version of parenthood.
As we were laughing, an older man approached us and asked, “Who can take responsibility for that boy over there? He is not safe. He is at the top of a dangerous tree.” All three of us, sure it was one of our children, prepared for the worst, and squinted in the distance to make sense of the child on the tree. Much to all of our surprise, the unsupervised boy belonged to another mother. She, like us, squinted and rushed to put her Starbucks and her iPhone down on the bench. She apologized anrushed to get her son down. We nodded, reassured her it was no big deal and quickly scanned the playground for our children.