On Monday, I took my youngest to tap class like I do every week. She attends a dance academy that's been in business for half a century, where the walls drip with the blood, sweat and tears of dance dedication.
The instructor is a professional...and a perfectionist who after she speaks the girls all say in unison, "yes, Miss Bambi." She often speaks in a tone that makes her sound intimidating and yes, sometimes she's scary but her motives are good. She loves the art of dance and wants desperately to bestow that devotion onto her students, to teach them not only skills but how to conduct themselves like young ladies.
I'll admit, I don't always get it. I sometimes think it's stupid to have such high expectations of a group of first graders but that being said, I respect it. I'm not paying hundreds of dollars a year for my daughter to have an opportunity to hop around in a tu-tu. She can do that at home for free. This school teaches her discipline, focus and hard work. Those are all things I can get behind.
During class, when my daughter is tap-tapping away, I get to people watch. Parents come in and out of the studio as their children's classes begin and end. There's always plenty to see.
A little girl, probably 2 years old approached me on Monday and said, "I can tap!" She pulled her pant legs up to reveal a shiny pair of black patent leather tap shoes with sheer, red bows. I smiled.
She pulled on her shirt as if it were a skirt and started dancing. "Shuffle, ball, change!" she screamed after she finished her moves. She punctuated this by jumping in the air with pride, her brown curls bouncing like springs around her head.
"You are super good at that!" I said. And she was! Surprisingly good! She beamed and then ran over to her mother, pulled up her shirt, un-tucked her breast from within her bra and proceeded to snack while the mother continued her conversation without noticing.
I guess all that dancing made her hungry.
Across the room a mother arrived for her daughter's class. Her daughter, a girl about 4 years old and her son, a boy about 2, followed behind her in a line, like little ducklings. This mom is roughly 13 months pregnant. Every time I see her I'm sure that it will be the last because it seems impossible that she could make it back home without her water breaking, let alone continue being pregnant until next week's class.
She always proves me wrong although this is not of her choosing. She's miserable. It's obvious. She waddled in, clutching her back. On this day she literally drug one of her legs. It was painful to watch! I wanted to offer her a place to lie down.
My immediate thought was "WHERE IS HER HUSBAND! Why didn't he get off work a little early to help her? She could be taking a load off right now while he brings the other two to class! Deadbeat!
I know that's totally wrong, it might not be realistic for him to take time off but I go to her defense because six years ago, I was her and I clearly remember the misery with each step, the exhaustion that made it feel like someone had tapped my energy and left the faucet running until I was dry and how I wanted nothing more than for my husband to sweep in and rescue me from it all...which he often did- the man is the best!
This poor woman could barely move. She couldn't even muster the will to smile. She's on mile 26 of this baby-making marathon and her nipples are chaffed, her legs are numb and she just peed her pants.
She sat down for a moment and then started yelling at her kids. I hardly blamed her, they are cute and all but that's hardly visible through the fog of that last month of pregnancy. I hope I don't see her next week...for her sake.
Another woman sat close by and sprung up when her daughter was released from the 3 year old class. The mom couldn't be more than 25 years old. She was dressed to the nines, the way that soap opera stars seem overly done on TV when someone shows up for a visit at their house at 7am.
Her outfit was pressed, her make-up touched up in the studio bathroom just minutes before and her hair didn't seem to move. Her little girl came running, hugged her tight and then pointed to the hand stamp she earned for good behavior. Miss Bambi always rewards good behavior.
My first impression was that this woman is a loving mom. There was something about her youth that made her seem fun. I think she might be Polish too. She speaks in a different language that sounds familiar to me. It sounds like the language my Polish friend Kamila speaks. This woman was also shockingly beautiful which for whatever reason, screamed Polish to me too.
She said something to her daughter and then started undressing her. The movement of her hands seemed frazzled although the rest of her body spoke composure. She carefully folded every piece of clothing and tucked it gingerly into a carryall. Then she dressed the girl; first in a collared, white button down shirt which was topped with a grey sweater covered in pink polka dots. Then came the pants which still had creases down the legs from a fresh press. Then there were socks, boots, a hat, gloves, a scarf and finally a kiss on the nose.
The mom then got a handful of Purell out of her purse and doused both herself and the girl before grabbing her keys and heading out the door. All of this for a 10 minute car ride home.
In contrast, the woman sitting next to her said to her daughter, "put on your coat and shoes, we gotta go", as she put a coat and hat on a younger sibling.
Next to her was a mom with three kids who shuffled all three of them out the door while trying to find her keys. Her hair was pulled in a messy pony tail, there was not a dusting of make-up on her face and I'm almost positive her socks didn't match. Only the youngest had a coat on, the middle child had hers half on and the oldest was dragging hers behind her. They were all in mis-matched clothes, covered in cracker crumbs, hair disheveled.
It occured to me that these three woman if lined up side by side could be a poster for what it looks like to have 1, 2 and 3 children.
Under number one would be the young mom, full of energy and striving to be her best. She dots all her i's and crosses all her t's, even if it means that just under the surface, she's ready to crack. She must do all of this in order to assure herself that she's doing a good job. She is doing a good job, she's a good mom.
Under number two would be the mom who still has it together with two kids, but just barely. The double shedules and relentlesness of the job is a lot to get used to. Her head is above water though and while she's a little tired, she's learned to let go of a few things in order to gain some sanity. She still looks around and compares herself to other moms and sometimes feels inadequate even though she shouldn't because she's a good mom.
Under number three is the mom who is is totally defeated by having three kids. She's given up any pretense of perfection. She knows that her survival depends on her ability to pick her battles. Her kids probably take a bath twice a week and dress themselves and sometimes eat their dinner at 7pm. She doesn't really care about this seeming imperfection because she's starting to see tiny buds of self -control, kindness and responsibility spring up in her children, the beginnings of the fruits of her labors. She knows that under all the stuff, all you really need to do is set a good example and love them. Oh, and she's also a good mom.
I've been all three of these women.
I hope that mother of one can give herself a break. Maybe next time I see her I'll tell her what every mother, especially a mother of one needs to hear: "You're doing a great job!"