Sam and Alex started school at the same time. When Sam entered nursery school, Alex went to pre-nursery. Sam was 3; Alex was 2. Sam was excited about school and she did not cling to me nor demanded that I stay. Alex cried the moment I was out of sight. I stayed during the first two days, not inside the classroom but in the waiting area. On the third day, I dropped them off, went home and came back a few hours later to pick them up. It was the most difficult thing to do — walk away while my baby was crying AND knowing that the only way to make her stop was to stay. But it paid off. In two days, she was comfortable in her pre-nursery class, tearless and bursting with stories when I came to pick them up.
There were two reasons why I found it insane to stay in school with them. One, there was no one to prepare their lunch and they were almost always famished after classes. The school was a five-minute walk away from our house and the wise thing to do was to walk home, cook and prepare everything they needed after classes.
The second reason was that I did not feel comfortable sitting in the waiting area with the other mommies. They were nice women, really. It’s just that you sit with all those mothers — and I did that for two days — and the conversation always seemed to be a contest on whose child was the best with the mostest. Like… okay, an illustration.
I’m not a talkative person around strangers, okay? So, I sat down, a bit removed from the groupings, a mommy came over, engaged me in small talk and asked about my kids. Could they converse already? Oh, yes, Sam started talking at one-year-and-two-months; Alex, a bit later. She asked and I was being friendly and polite. Then, she started… anything I said, she would say something that her kid was better. Well, not really better. More like… Okay, when I mentioned that Sam was rather difficult to bottle feed, she said her kid was even more difficult to bottle feed. When I said that Sam preferred table food to milk, she assured me that no other child enjoyed table food more than her kid did. You get the picture.
So, I was bored and exasperated and I was sorely tempted to say both my kids have six fingers on both hands wondering if she’d brag that her kid had seven fingers on each hand. I finally said, “Both my daughters were born prematurely — Sam at 8 months; Alex at 7.” And I waited for her to say her kid was born at 5 or 6 months. Of course, she didn’t. And I excused myself, walked out of the gate and smoked a string of cigarettes.
The next day, it was another mommy and the line of conversation was not much different. On the third day, like I said, I went home.
I mean, gosh, so we mommies love our babies and we’re so proud of them but can’t we be proud without bragging about them especially when there is not even the slightest provocation?
If you’ve read Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club (or seen the film), there was a scene where a mother was walking home with her chess-champion daughter. The mother had a magazine on her chest with the daughter’s photo on the cover. She was calling out the attention of people on the street, even total strangers, to point out that that was her daughter on the magazine cover, the girl whose hand she was holding, and she was a chess champion. The little girl finally pulled her hand away, told her mother to stop doing that because it was embarrassing. The mother flared up, demanding if she meant she was embarrassed to be her daughter. The little girl ran away and did not come home until dinner time when she announced she would never play chess again.
I read The Joy Luck Club when I was pregnant with Sam. It’s one of those books where every scene becomes forever etched in one’s memory. And every time I meet a mother like those two mothers at the kids’ nursery school, and lord knows I’ve met more than hundred members of their cult since then, I always think of that scene from Amy Tan’s novel.
I’m sure it’s a psychological issue — like some mothers need reassurance that their kids are the best. It’s not enough that they are the best in their eyes; they take so much trouble to convince everyone else. Is it the emptiness of their lives that drives them to bloat their children’s achievements and circumstances? There is the mother who will monopolize conversations with stories about her kids’ achievements (achievement being a very relative and subjective term in her case since she talks as though it is an achievement for her kid to get invited to a rich classmate’s house). There is the mother who keeps saying that her daughter is the most popular girl in class (and who can contradict her when we don’t know anyone in that school except her daughter). And there is the mother who…
More than once, my own kids have asked me why I never returned the “favor” and talk about them in such a way that it would be like slapping the faces of those mothers, like, hey you think that’s an achievement? Listen to what my kids do… But that would be stooping to their level, so I don’t. I mean, it’s great to share stories about our kids. Mothers can even learn from each other. It’s fun to laugh about our kids’ antics. But for a mother to talk like her kid is the best thing since the invention of the Internet and we should accept that as fact without doubt, without question… Gee.