I used to be a dancer.
Not a great dancer, for sure, but good enough to expect front and center placement in high school productions. Good enough to lounge around the performing arts department during free periods in my leotard and flashdance-cut sweatshirt, feeling artsy and vaguely smug. Good enough for a former classmate at last month’s reunion to have asked me right off the bat “so are you still dancing?”
“Are you still doing gymnastics?” I shot back.
Just before becoming pregnant with Thalia, I vowed to get back into shape with an intro dance class at my gym. “I hate aerobics,” I used to complain, “after dancing for sooooo many years the classes are just sooooo repetitive. Yawn.”
What I learned is that after not dancing for sooooo many years, I had no right to cop an attitude. The moves came right back. The body, however, did not.
Okay, I flat out sucked.
Not just sucked for me, but sucked compared with the 200 pound woman on one side of me, and the 60-something grandmother on the other side. My steps were awkward. I forgot to point my toes. I wasn’t flexible enough to get my leg up on the low barre – the one I learned on when I was four – and when we sat with our legs straddled during warmup, I think I maxed out at about 30 degrees. My apparently atrophied muscles absolutely refused to cooperate during cross-the-floor tour jetes, landing me nearly on my head at least twice. It was inconceivably frustrating to find myself incapable of doing what I once did so well.
(To say nothing of how my ass looked in sweatpants.)
The very same feeling rushed back to me Friday as Nate packed for his four-day boy trip.
For the past several months, I’ve worked out of the house more frequently (a request from Nate that I both respect and resent), leaving him to master the day-to-day caretaking responsibilities. And as I watched him haul the overnight bag from the front hall closet to his dresser, I got panicky. It was as if the time away from the house has caused my maternal muscles to shrivel and be replaced with anxiety and doubt. Do I peel the apples first? Which video is she liking these days? How long does she usually nap in the mornings? You mean you didn’t prepare four days worth of healthy and nutritious meals and label and color code them by daypart and line them up in the fridge? I’M DOOMED!
Saturday morning, after he left, I did not feel like the same woman who nursed an infant for six months and could have told you in my sleep (and often did) which boob came next. I found myself questioning every decision. Was 9:30 generally when Nate put her down for a nap? Is this the section Nate usually takes her in Barnes and Noble? Does Nate ever give her this many cookies to keep her happy?
It’s a strange way to parent, this second-guessing business. It’s a strange way for me to live altogether.
And that’s when I realized: I felt like the daddy.
I don’t mean to insult dads; some of my best friends are dads. But I’ve read far too many essays ranting about my stupid husband who tried to feed her peanut butter at 3 months. Or my bonehead husband who bought diapers fit for a six year old. Or my idiot husband who was playing video games while she charged towards the light socket with a fork in hand. And now I know why my first instinct is generally “oh, give the guy a break.”
Only unlike the stupid husband, I’m the mommy. And mommies are supposed to know whether their babies like parmesan on their pasta or bubbles in their bath. Mommies are supposed to carry an extra pacifier in their purse at all times, and remember to grab a few board books on the way out the door. A mommy isn’t supposed to turn to discover her child climbing dangerously out of her stroller after having neglected to buckle her in, just in time for a neighbor mommy to jump in and save the day.
We can’t be stupid mommies. We just can’t. Forget whatever detriment there might be to our children; our self-esteem can’t handle it.
After a not particularly nutritious lunch, Thalia and walked up Atlantic Avenue into the crisp sunshine, past the smell of exotic herbs and hot, fresh falafel escaping from the open door of Sahadis, when a shriek pierced the steady hum of Saturday traffic. A car skidded out and seemed, just for a second, to be headed our way. And without thinking, I thrust Thalia’s stroller with unimaginable force into the nearest protected doorway.
The car steadied and drove away. We were fine.
Me, I was better than fine.
The muscles had retained their memory. The instincts were sharp. There was no second-guessing what anyone else would do or not do in that situation. And I was the mommy again.