I was running late, as usual.
While checking my outfit in the window’s reflection, I smashed my frizzy bangs down with the palm of my hand.
I heard chatter inside and opened the door to find a dozen or so of my neighborhood acquaintances seated around a large table holding the usual brunch fare.
At the hostess’s urging, I poured myself a cup of joe, slipped into a chair, and motioned across the table for one neighbor to slice me a piece of what looked like a dense blueberry Bundt. I grabbed a slice of quiche too, hoping no one would notice.
“The elementary school’s gifted program is just not adequate to meet Timmy’s needs,” explained one mother as she nibbled a pumpkin muffin.
Another mom, spandexed legs crossed, asked, “Does anyone want to go to Spin class with me after this?”
“I already did P90X this morning,” another answered, “but I’ll go running tomorrow if anyone is up for it.”
A nearby splinter group was discussing the fall soccer finals. “Coach told Joseph that he should play up an age bracket next year because he’s not being challenged,” one woman said between bites of cantaloupe. “Megan did that last year, so this year she’s trying out for the travel team,” another countered.
While the tête-à-têtes continued, I inconspicuously slid another piece of quiche onto my plate.
“Would you like a little fruit with that second piece, Lisa?” the hostess shouted loudly across the table so that everyone in the vicinity could hear.
“Oh, yes, that would be great.” I lied in humiliation, and forked a slice of pineapple off the platter.
An hour later, my second cup of coffee had gone cold, and my waistband felt tight. Using some cockamamie excuse like expecting an urgent call from an editor, I thanked the hostess and left.
Relieved to be removed from the social pressures of this circle of thirty-something elementary and middle school moms, I hurried back home to the unconditional love and understanding of my matted mixed-breed dog.
The next day, I was invited to another coffee, this time hosted by one of the high school football team moms. We were new to the team and this new social group of forty-something high school moms. Despite my uneasiness with the previous day’s event, I accepted the invitation.
I was relieved when the football mom welcomed me at the door without giving me the usual “once over.” She led me past unpretentious family photos and piles of boxes to her dining room, crammed full of cackling women, food and warm sunlight.
The buffet was heaped with homemade cinnamon rolls slathered with sugary glaze, dense coffee cake packed with meaty nuts, flakey croissants with jam, smoky ham and egg casserole, juice and coffee.
I grabbed a cinnamon roll and found a seat as the chatter raged on. The roll was to die for (literally, with all that delicious sugar and fat) so I got up to snag another one.
Before digging the delectable dough from the dish, I paused a moment to think of an excuse to give for my gluttony, but I noticed that no one here really cared. In fact, indulgence seemed to be encouraged.
In a thick Brooklyn accent, our hostess repeated the advice she had recently given her college kid, “Never drink those sugary college drinks that make you sick, just nurse a nice scotch and water like I do.” The mom beside her doubled over with hooting laughter, setting off a chain reaction with the others.
Moments later, chuckles erupted as another mom described her embarrassment over seeing her son’s most recent soccer injury. “He came home and said, ‘Mom, I got kicked down there…can you please take a look at it?’ One glance and I knew this was something his father needed to handle!”
I was laughing out loud with a mouthful of croissant at one woman’s comical description of her recent hormonal changes, when the mom across from me started demonstrating a facial exercise for double chins. Contorting our jaws so that we all looked like bullfrogs, we found ourselves laughing hysterically again.
As the politically incorrect, inappropriate, and self-deprecating humor raged on, I lost track of time and finally went home well into the afternoon.
Why I was so comfortable at one coffee and so tense at the other? After a little thought, I realized that the elementary/middle school moms still have strict expectations of themselves and their children. They are trying to mold their children and themselves into what they want to be, and their topics of conversation – academic and athletic ability, diet and exercise, fashion trends — reflect these lofty aspirations.
Conversely, the high school moms have been there, done that, and have a laundry basket full of smelly t-shirts to prove it. As they approach menopause, their kids approach adulthood. These moms have learned that the struggle for perfection is futile, because their children’s personalities are pretty much set.
Finally, as a high school mom, I can leave competitive social pressures behind, grab a second slice of coffee cake, and have a good laugh about the reality of raising kids. I didn’t just gain five pounds from attending the two coffees, I gained the new realization that, in a weird sort of way, it’s good to be old.