I am sitting the parking lot. Without turning back, the boy saw shiny blocks in the corner and dove face-first into this new classroom. I like to read the back of his head as “Please don’t go! Don’t leave me, mama. Pleeeeaaaaaase!”. It could also have said “Whatevs. Peace out, hooker”. One can never be sure. As he is adjusting to life as a pre-preschooler, I am adjusting to life as the mom of a pre-preschooler when the pre-preschooler is off getting pre-preschooled. At the moment my adjustment looks a lot like shaking in the car and wondering if I can hold out a whole five hours without peeing. This could be good, yes, because I’d be exceptionally early to pick him up this afternoon. First impressions, people.
I am so focused on not peeing that within minutes I am racing to the closest be-pottied establishment. It is the supermarket, where one can wee to the soothing sounds of produce sprinklers outside the door. It occurs to me that with a block of anxious time at my disposal, I could get a few things done. I’ll start right here, right now. Progress! The public will stand in awe of her powerful powers of time-wasting. I grab what I know, the bulky green race car cart, squeaky right wheel, missing the plastic honky horn. Just like normal, I assure myself, although I’ve lost my diapered driver.
I steer through the lanes, the cart too ass-heavy to catch tight turns. I feel the slamming shame of plowing into an Oreo display. Without Thomas to distract curious onlookers from the wreckage with his standard “Mooove. Get out muh wayyy, pleece”, I am all too much a mess. I scramble, shoving crushed Oreos onto random shelves. I scoot the last package away with my foot and that’s when I met him. The babiest baby you ever did see. His mother approached with some caution as I was the inexplicably sweaty lady taking out snacks and citizens with a kiddy cart. She really needed some Triscuits, and, as luck would have it, I really needed to ogle her child.
He was a beauty. Rolly legs and stupid slobbery grin, shiny hair that makes you wonder if uterine fluid really is nature’s finest conditioner. I squinted and blew my cheeks out, and discovered again why children are better than the rest of us. He cooed and laughed and was genuinely pleased to see my big mug. I realized perhaps I’d crossed the line from friendly stranger to frightening stalker when I contemplated putting him in my pocket. Just for a quick trip in the green race car with squeaky wheels and silent horns. Just for a little company, a friend to think my disastrous driving skills were hilarious. And when his mother and the moustached security team find us popping wheelies near the dairy coolers I’d explain the whole mess with perfect logic: “Hey. Hey. All y’all. Errbody chill out. No, it isn’t my baby. I was just borrowing it. ”
I never got that far. Us mothers have a wild way of predicting potential threats. To her credit, Fat Baby’s mom was exceptionally quick in getting the hell away from me. So I meandered to the check out aisle, stopping only to tell a stock boy that somebody- I have no idea who- somehow knocked over all pickles, condiments, and lobster tanks. I hand the white-haired cashier madam my Kroger card. She stares. I stare. There is really a lot of staring. She asks me if I’d like to purchase something, and I think “duh”. But in my grand tour of the store I’ve managed to damage a few hundred dollars’ worth of goods without actually picking up anything. I pick up a pack of gum and some chapstick and hand it over. Yes ma’am, I did come here with this mammoth buggy for some moisturizing lip balm and Bubblicious.
Onward I wander.
I pull in to the dry cleaner’s pick-up window because this seems like something someone would do sometime. A beautiful older woman approaches my window. She is blonde, with a little mole on her cheek. It’s a dainty mole without a whisker so it’s charming. I forgive her the metallic scrunchie that holds back her hair because she has exceptionally bright eyes and straight teeth. I can’t believe she’s not Asian, and before I could feel horrible for such a harsh stereotype, I realize she is rude, too. I’ve stared down her white face so intimately because she is skeptical and staring down mine. “So you have no dry cleaning to pick up?,” she asks then adds,” At the pick-up window… at the dry cleaners?”. Well, no. My plan wasn’t so planned. Just go with the flow. This is just like a normal day, I think and ask her “Suckers? Could we get a grape one, please?”. She glances to the empty car seat in the back, shakes her head, and walks inside. I leave, wishing that white people were more generous with their candy stashes.
All these minutes with myself are becoming a monotonous blur. I am not that thrilling. I faintly remember stopping by Target. I think I scolded a 19-year-old boy when he informed me that the store doesn’t sell baby bonnets and onesies in Extra Tall/ Boys’ Large. I believe I ordered a Happy Meal and placed it in Thomas’ vacant car seat, because when I arrive at the local park my car reeks of soggy french fries and I’m holding a plastic Power Ranger toy.
I park at the park and thank God I gave up my beard and Astro van years ago. That would be creepy. Then I mosey on into the playground and watch other people’s kids play. A young girl falls from a swirly ladder. I instinctively rush to her. She is ok, she says. Her mother thanks me, asks which tot is mine, flees. I’d like to tell her that Mother Teresa helped strangers and no one called her a perv, but she is already locking the doors to her reasonably priced mid-sized sedan. So I swing. My hips get jammed in a curvy slide. The teeter-totter just sinks with the thud of my rear on the ground. I play Seek because Thomas is not here to be the Hide. All balance is off. Sitting on the bench where I so often watch Thomas kicking mulch at birds, I begin to understand that I am miserably disabled at being alone.
The wind blows around one o’clock. It sounds like the public heaving a sigh of relief. I’m all “Calm down, Society. I’ll go kidnap my own damn kid”. About an hour left in my first day of Thomas’ First Day, I am sitting in the parking lot. For the second time that day I am staring at a playground. I see Thomas playing quietly near the metal fence. He plays with Tonka, plopping handfuls of mulch into a shiny yellow truck beds. He plays alone.
The hour passes. I am only slightly embarrassed to spend that hour watching my kid as he’s watched by his teachers. I hope he likes the cold Happy Meal I bought him, I think. Then a sick one: I hope he hated being away from me. I make my way inside, wondering if things get easier because they certainly can’t get creepier.