I’d see them walking past the playground but never actually on it. They’d be out and about with their upper elementary or middle school-aged children seemingly without a care in the world. Or they’d be laughing with another SMOK friend while their children ran ahead or lagged behind.
They weren’t pushing strollers. They weren’t holding anybody’s hand crossing the street. They weren’t rooting through a diaper bag for a Band Aid or tissue. They were unencumbered, apart from maybe a stylish tote with a baguette peeking out of it. They were Smug Moms of Older Kids (SMOKs, I dubbed them) and I hated them.
If I got close enough, I could hear that they were having actual conversations with their children. These were no toddler-tantrum negotiations or numbingly boring uh-huh type exchanges, the sorts of which I was mired in; the SMOKS were talking animatedly with their articulate children about a Broadway show they’d seen or a school project a child was doing without parental assistance or even, wait for it…the news.
I’d watch them walk past while I was half-heartedly pushing a swing (“Pump your legs!”) and talking about dumb preschool drama (“I’m sure you’ll all be friends again tomorrow!) and I’d want to Go Go Squeeze my eyeballs out. Sometimes, I’d make eye contact with a SMOK. I’d try to shake the veggie sticks crumbs from my hair or sneak on some lip gloss—“I’m hideous! Look away!”—but I’d also think, “Yeah, good for you, lady. Your children are aging. Well done.”
Can you hear my slow sarcastic clap?
Clap. Clap. Clap.
Oh, how I loathed these moms!
Oh, how I envied them!
Through no fault of their own, they were simply women who’d set out on their motherhood journey years before I had (at an “advanced maternal age”). And now these SMOKs had arrived at a destination I longed to live in—a place where they never had to share a bathroom stall again. A place where everybody knew how to blow their own nose and could get their own breakfast and snacks. A tantrum-free zone where no one had to go to bed doing basic affirmations like, “I’m still me! I’m still a person!”
When you’re in the trenches of motherhood, it’s hard to remember that sometimes.
You are still you! Still a person!
I’m pushing 50—not strollers—now. My children are (almost) 9 and 12. And I’ve become, somewhere along the way, the very sort of SMOK I so despised all those years ago. If I see you, Mother of a Small Child (MOSC), in a public restroom changing a diaper, I’ll avert my eyes because…gross. If I see you and your snotty toddler in a coffee shop, I will choose a seat as far away from you as is humanly possible. It’s a weird sort of reversal of the ole “There but for the grace of god go I” feeling. Because I’ve been there.
Maybe you’re loving your life with small children! Maybe you look at me—and you may even see me out in the neighborhood by myself because I’ve left my children home alone!—and think how lucky you are that your offspring are precious sticky littles who require you for pretty much everything. Maybe you love cutting grapes in half and wiping butts that are not your own. Maybe you see me and think I must be lonely when my children are both off hanging out with friends (SMOKS don’t use the word “playdate” anymore) and that I probably spend a lot of time thinking about menopause…and maybe I do!
But wow do I like being able to send my 12-year-old to the store. I like not having to hire a babysitter if my husband and I want to pop out for a quick dinner, just the two of us. I like weekend afternoons where it’s possible to pick up a book and read for an hour—just me, a book of my choosing. I like never having to go to another playground again just to try to burn up a day. I love hearing about all the cool things my kids are doing in the world without me and telling them about what I’ve been up to, too.
For some moms, I think loving the phase you’re in is a coping mechanism. And if it that works, then great, but it didn’t really work for me back on the playground. And I think it’s also okay to finally admit that I’m more suited for this job than I was for that one. Maybe that’s why the SMOKs always bothered me so much. They had something I wanted. And it wasn’t the baguette.
I have a lot of SMOK friends now. On occasion, one of them will catch a whiff of a baby and say something ridiculous like, “I wish we could go back.” And I’ll say, “No you don’t” and she’ll say, “Yeah, you’re right. I don’t.”
That’s what we’re laughing about when we walk past the playground.