I don’t recognize any of the faces at pick-up. It’s been two years since kindergarten, and I stand in the hallway like the nanny in our small town of well-dressed, Volvo-driving mommies. They chat like old friends, tossing the occasional glance my way. I know there are checking me out, wondering which kid I belonged to. My outfit screams working mom, but without the pumps and pantyhose. They can tell I’m not white collar. Part of me secretly loves the confusion I’m causing. Part of me wants to cry.
Their little brown heads pour out of the room. I scan Hello Kitty and Bionicle backpacks and watch as one by one they run to their moms and then scramble to the play structure. Most days that’s where I find him, as I breathlessly ride onto the blacktop. The bungee cord on my bike basket secures tote bags overflowing with papers to grade and an empty travel mug, The other moms smile at me – that half-friendly, half smirky smile that lets me know I don’t exactly belong.
They don’t know how fast I ride the two miles to get here, how quickly I scurry out of my classroom to get to his. They don’t know that with my oldest child I got to work part-time, and volunteered in her classroom, and was home every day after school and knew all of her friends and their moms by first name. These moms, those whose boys scamper with mine, they don’t know me at all. They probably never will. They don’t know how my heart aches to be there every day before the bell rings, to have the conversations on the sidelines of the playground and drive on the field trips. They don’t know that someday, their sons and daughters will be the reason I’m not with my own – that their child will be my child in class, and all this time and energy and heartache will pour right from me into their teen…
I see him, the last one out. He carefully packs up his brown camouflage backpack. I cautiously enter, not wanting to invade this special place. I understand this is a time for his teacher to breathe, to pause, to center. He doesn’t notice me yet, but she does. “Hola”, she smiles as she greets me. I like her. I like knowing he spends his day with someone who cares. He looks up and runs into my arms.
“Mommy!” His eyes shine as he sees me. He is so small as I circle my arms around him, hugging all my love into his little body. I smile at her, say “Thank you”, and hold his tiny hand as we walk out the door toward our bikes. Together.
p.s. – Are you a working mom? I’ve been a teacher for 24 years – you might like to read about how I’ve spent my days with other people’s children teaching, creating community, doing global service in education, and finding the teacher-mom balance.