The women were seated next to us in the trendy hamburger joint in the touristy seaside town. It was one of those places where space is at a premium making it hard to get in or out of your table without becoming intimately acquainted with your neighbor, so it was hard not to notice them.
And they were playing out a scene I remembered all too well.
One woman had shiny hair, impeccable makeup, and (what I imagine was) an expensive pocketbook. The other woman had on leggings and lightweight zip-up workout jacket. No makeup, her hair in a ponytail, and instead of a fancy purse she carried a diaper bag, and a baby. I watched one woman make good faith attempts to interact with the child and ask all the right questions.
In turn, I watched the other woman try to ask all the right questions about her friend’s recent career move and suppress a brief flicker of annoyance when her friend mentioned a recent cruise vacation being “not as great as it could have been.” Now, I’m sure these two friends both had the best of intentions, and their friendship probably is sound and strong, but watching this scene play out brought back all the feelings of being a new mom in a strange new world watching your friends without children still living life in the world you left behind.
It wasn’t the first time that day I’d had a flashback to when I was in the real trenches of my parenting journey.
We were visiting a charming seaport for a getaway weekend. Our 20-year old daughter was off studying in London for a month and we’d had a long tough few months with work stress and family loss. We checked in to our inn and took a short walk down to the marina expecting a quiet Saturday afternoon stroll.
A Day Trip Filled With Little Kids and Young Moms
Instead we found children.
So. Many. Children.
More toddlers and young ones than I had seen in one place in a long, long time. Turns out there was a children’s festival of some sort going on that seemed to involve tours of fire and police boats and a special pirate ship. And the parents and their charges had turned out in droves.
Everywhere I looked there were strollers, diaper bags, backpacks, and harried parents trying to keep their charges from tumbling into the drink.
At every turn you could hear refrains of the Greatest Hits of Parenting including “Don’t climb on that!” and “It’s ok, you’re fine, you’re not hurt!” and “After this we can stop for a snack!” and “Do you just need to go home for nap?” And I realized that while I often say “Oh it feels like yesterday my daughter was little,” that it also feels like so, so, long ago.
The scene was both familiar and strange.
I’m not a part of this world any more—but boy did I remember the relief of finding a ‘thing’ to take your toddlers to on a Saturday. It had been a veritable lifetime since I’d been part of that truly hands-on daily life of parenting the way these parents were.
And no, I didn’t miss it. Not one bit. What I felt instead was relief. Relief that my life was in a place now where I knew the night would end with conversation and a nice wine and a fine meal, not with baths and books and endless requests for one more story or a glass of water.
I wanted to tell that young mother at the table next to me in the burger bar that “You will get through this, your friendship will survive, it may not be the same but it will be there, in the meantime cut her some slack she’s trying.”
I wanted to tell the friend, “You’ll get through this, your friendship will survive, it’s not the same now but it will come back, I promise. In the meantime cut her some slack, she’s exhausted.”
I wanted to tell the young parents chasing kids in the park that there will come a day they don’t even bother to glance at the ‘events for families’ section of their hometown papers, that they won’t spend eternity eating goldfish crumbs for lunch and wiping popsicle residue off of tiny hands.
But more than anything I wanted to say to them. “I am one of you. I see you. And I wish someone had told me it would all be ok someday.”
When my daughter checked in from across the pond later that night I wanted to say:
Do you remember those days too? Do you remember days of trips to the petting farm and rainy days in the fast food playlands? Do you remember your stroller? Or how you had to have one cracker in your hand at all times? Do you remember being carried, or crying at the noise of fireworks? Do you remember that time when your body seemed to be an appendage of mine to the point we felt like one person?
But I don’t, because if she had confessed she didn’t remember those hazy long-ago days I fear my heart may have shattered.
Instead I listened to her tale of London adventures and told her that I missed her. Not just the stunning, funny, smart woman she is now, but the curly-haired, stubborn, impatient toddler she once had been.
And I reached deep back into my memories and found the anxious mother I had once been and I told her “ You got through this. And it all turned out ok.”
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Katie Collins is a native Mainer who has called New Hampshire home for the past 29 years. A nonprofit development professional by trade, Katie also has over 25 years of experience in community and professional theater and in 2013 was awarded NH Theater Award for Lead Actress in a Drama or Comedy. She resides in quiet domesticity with her adorable wife, with occasional visits from her talented daughter, a college sophomore . Katie is a lover of musical theater, the original Star Trek, cheeseburgers, old Carol Burnett show reruns, and weekly lap swimming at the local YMCA. She tries very hard not to take herself too seriously.