Juxtaposed

Eleanor began a ballet class on Monday at the YMCA. When we arrived, I slid off the jacket covering her frilly lavender leotard, adjusted the ties on her slightly floppy ballet slippers, and sent her along. Only one other girl arrived for the class, so her mother and I sat at the same table beside the windows that opened onto the classroom. This mother and I keep meeting and always have to re-introduce ourselves.

We first met a year and a half ago, when our daughters were in a parent-and-me gymnastics class. We had to hoist the kids up to the parallel bars and teeter onto the trampoline to cart them away when they just kept jumping, jumping, jumping. We were both very pregnant at the time and complained about the impossibility of teaching our children to crab-walk as we had been told to do.

When Eleanor began gymnastics last month, this mom and daughter showed up again. She has a son now as well, and she doesn’t seem to remember that I was pregnant. Or maybe she does but bats away the thought because she cannot see a child. I have chosen not to bring it up because I expect our acquaintance will be short-lived.

And now the girls are in ballet together. The mother began to talk with me, asking whether I took any classes at the YMCA. She lamented that she could barely leave the house with her two children. She said that she had been thinking about returning to work full-time, that the decision to have children so close in age had been a “lapse in judgment.”

I felt envied, and I wanted to tell her how mistaken she was in her envy. But I didn’t. I know that this is something parents do, sharing the complaints about sleepless nights, missed naps and expensive preschools. This doesn’t mean that love is lacking. And I have no idea of the many invisible hardships that people might face, problems that add to the feeling that parenting is overwhelming.

After ballet, I took Eleanor to her baby-sitter so that I could do some work at home. The woman who watches Eleanor has grown children, and her youngest son is about to turn 18. She said that she would give anything to rewind to the days when they were Eleanor’s age. I understood.

Sometimes I feel more like a 50-year-old woman than a 32-year-old, as though I’m already looking back at my life as I’m living it. I might not raise the two or three kids that I planned. Those phases of babyhood that I expected to live again might already be gone.

And I want to tell that other mom, though I cannot find a polite way to do it, that this is it. That if you cannot find joy in the chubby fingers wrapped around the crayon, in the cheeks flushed from bounding across the park, then you probably aren’t going to find joy in anything at all.

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