It’s Saturday morning and I’ve got a kid window of time to fill. It’s that window of time that’s too long for them to stay home without acting like prisoners moments before they stage a riot. And it’s not long enough to do something that kills the whole day. So with a few hours to fill, I throw my kids in the car and head to the park.
I’m not a big fan of the park. It’s on the list of “Nothing in it for me” things we do as parents. Because there’s not actually anything for parents to do at the park, except watch their children do something. It’s sort of like being at the zoo and watching animals go about their business. “Ooh, gorillas! ,“Ooh, kids playing.”
Plus being at the park, I always feel like I’m my kids’ personal assistant or body man. I feel like the guy who follows the President around, prompting him on stranger’s names or reminding him to pee.
And in general, I find the park brings out the worst in kids and parents alike. Kids love to recreate scenes from “Lord Of The Flies” and their parents like to ignore them. Me, I’m just happy to find a bench and some shade where I can still get a good view of my kids and make sure no one steals them.
Today the park is particularly busy. As I look around, I notice all the moms are wearing some sort of uniform of expensive sneakers, boyfriend jeans, cute but clearly costly t-shirt coupled with a very fancy handbag. I wonder if I’ve stepped into some sort of casting call for women who dress the same.
I see a mom I know from my daughter’s dance class with one of her kids. She smiles, runs over to hug me and says, “Yeah, you guys are going too!”
“Going to what?” I ask.
She looks at me like I just asked how to add four and four. “N.O” She says proudly. “This is a park play date for all the kids starting N.O. next fall.”
“What’s NO?” I ask.
“New Opportunity” she says as if I should already know. “Everybody knows N.O.”
She walks away shaking her head, concerned or confused that I don’t know what N.O. is. I do know what N.O. is. I just don’t let on that I do.
N.O. is the abbreviation for the New Opportunity School, which is the most prestigious private school in town. I’m not sure what makes it so prestigious. But ask anyone who goes there, they’ll tell you it is. I don’t tell my friend I know what N.O. is because I can’t stand that she’s assumed that I should. It’s just a school, not a world leader. She’s never been nice to me before today, when she thought my kid was going to the same school as hers. But I can tell she’s proud to the point of being smug about where her child is going to school, I’d hate to not burst her bubble.
Another mom walks over and introduces herself. “I’m Kathy.” I can tell she also thinks I’m a new N.O. mom.
“I’m Meredith,” I say.
She tells me they’re starting in the fall and asks what grade we’re starting in.
“We don’t go to N.O.” I say letting her down easily.
Her face falls, disappointed. She’s assumed the whole park is filled only with N.O. people.
“Oh,” she says. “I thought you were going to N.O.”
“Nope, we’re just going to the park.” I say. I laugh at my joke. She doesn’t. Instead, she turns on her heals and walks away.
My kids go to private school, but only by necessity. The Los Angeles school district is notoriously in the toilet. I’ve never assumed my kid’s school was better than another, nor have I thought of it as the smoking gun of parenting. And as much as I envy anyone who’s found her club, this doesn’t seem like a club I’d want to be in. Plus, I have a different handbag.
As I look around the park, I notice not one of these ladies has sat down since she arrived. Each looks exhausted, nervously running after her kids while feigning enthusiasm when asked to play ninja or tag for the thirteenth time. Me, I don’t want to play ninja or tag at the park. I want to sit down in the shade while my kids play with other kids. If my kids want to play with me, we can stay home.
But it’s clear to me these moms really value where their children go to school like a teenage girl values her first pair of name brand jeans. It’s they who have been accepted, not their children. In their mind there’s a prestige to where their children are going to school. It’s not about their child’s future, it’s about their future. Getting in is a parenting stamp of approval that makes them good moms. This school will be the thing to guarantee that they’ve gotten this parenting thing right, even though we all know there are no guarantees. And so they’d never do something like sit down on the job, which would make them bad moms. Good moms get into the right schools and never sit down at the park. It’s like a warranty against fucking up the one job that really matters, raising kids.
As I head toward a shady bench to sit my own ass down, I feel sorry for each and every one of them. Trying to be a good mom is tiring. Finding out you’re not is exhausting. The only thing more tiring is standing up for hours at the park, pretending like you’re really happy to play ninja.
So I sit down, making a statement for all the not perfect moms out there.
It takes me about ten seconds to realize I’ve just sat down in someone’s spilled sticky fruit smoothie. The back of my pants are now orange, wet and look like a dinosaur sneezed on one side. I realize that’s probably why none of the moms have sat down the whole time. Because the benches are filthy.
I stand up, embarrassed that I look like I’ve shit myself and horrified that I’ve been so judgey of these other moms. So what if they’re smug about their kids’ school? I think. What’s it to me?
And then a sweet mom comes over and asks me if I want to borrow a wipe for my pants. She offers one and I graciously accept.
“What grade are you starting in?” she asks politely.
“Um, my kids don’t go to N.O.” I offer.
“Oh” she says, her tone changing. She takes her wipes out of my hand and walks away without a word, joining the other good moms. I mentally tell her to go fuck herself and suddenly don’t feel so bad for being such a judge’y, bad mom.
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**Before you go Google the New Opportunity School in Los Angeles, don’t bother. I always change names of people and places to protect the guilty. Plus, what if I want to get in someday?