When we were brand-new newlyweds, my husband Ed and I moved into our apartment at Wymount Terrace, BYU’s married student housing. The amenities included cinder block walls, 400 spacious square feet, and a life free from extravagances (like air conditioning, a dishwasher, or our own washer and dryer). And in addition to all those things, I also got the added benefit of a wicked case of baby hunger. At one time, all five of the other women living in our stairwell were either pregnant or had recently given birth. I was twenty-two and seriously immature, Ed had twelve years of school and training ahead of him, and we didn’t have any business even thinking about having a baby yet; but that didn’t seem to be stopping our neighbors, and I was convinced that by the time Ed finally relented, I’d be the oldest mom in the world, or at least the oldest mom in my ward.
Three years later, when our son Bryce arrived, we were living in St. Louis, MO, where I was finishing up a graduate program (literally– I handed in my last seminar paper on the way to the hospital) and Ed was completing his second year of medical school. We were twenty-five, and our friends, mostly people from Ed’s med school class, were shocked (and probably a little horrified) that we were having a baby. Most of them were still living with roommates, eating takeout or ramen noodles for dinner, and partying from Thursday to Sunday every week. The last thing they wanted after a hard day of studying was to think about coming home to rock a baby to sleep, or to have to worry about supporting that baby. They’d look at us, Bryce strapped to my chest in a Baby Bjorn, and say, “I can’t believe you have a kid.”
When Bryce got a little older, I’d take him to our favorite playground in Clayton, an upscale suburb. I liked the park because it had a little fence all the way around it and he couldn’t escape, but I was always acutely conscious that the other moms who had kids Bryce’s age were at least a decade older than I was. If there was another woman in her mid-twenties there with a child, I would have bet money on the fact that she was the nanny. I figured the other moms must be looking down on me, or that we wouldn’t have anything in common. They must have had cool jobs before they had kids. They must have found a way to support themselves that didn’t involve student loans. They must have it all figured out.
For a long time after that, I avoided playgrounds. It had a lot more to do with the fact that the places we lived after St. Louis (Minnesota and Texas) had climates that didn’t lend themselves as much to year-round park time, but I also wasn’t a huge fan of all the sizing up of the other moms I found myself doing. Besides, as I had more kids, a morning at the park just felt like a whole lot of work.
Bryce is now an eighth-grader. His sister, the one whose arrival really made Ed’s med school friends freak out, is in seventh grade. We also have a third-grader and a second-grader. And now they’re all (blessedly) back in school. But we also have two toddlers. Rose is two, and Eli will be two next month, and a few weeks ago, on the first day of school, when Rose looked so forlorn after leaving her big brother and sister at the elementary school, I surprised myself by suggesting that we go to the playground.
When we arrived, Rose and Eli took off for the big-kid jungle gym. I spent the first few minutes so engrossed in making sure that they didn’t kill themselves that I didn’t recognize it at first. But pretty soon, the kids settled down, I took a breath and looked around at the moms chatting in groups of twos and threes, and realized that I was the oldest mom there, probably by at least five years. I couldn’t possibly be the old mom. I’d spent so long justifying myself as the young mom. But this is Utah, where many of the moms are young, and although I wasn’t checking IDs, I’m pretty sure it was true.
I’m embarrassed to say that it shut me down a little bit. I might occasionally strike up a conversation with another mom while pushing our babies on the swings, but I just kept thinking, “Gosh, I look so wrinkled and frumpy next to these girls with their cute hair and Petunia Picklebottom bags– why would they possibly want to talk to me?” As I walked around and quietly judged them, I was sure they were judging me too (“She must be infertile– those kids are obviously adopted.” “A little bit of hair product would go a long way.”)
At twenty-six, I didn’t talk to the other moms. I was sure that I was too young and dumb.
At thirty-eight, I didn’t talk to the other moms. I was sure that I was too old and lame.
With six kids, I’ve been at this parenting thing long enough that I’ve caught the insecurity coming and going. And I think that if the 38-year-old me had talked to the 26-year-old me, the old me would have found the young me pretty cool, and the young me would have found the old me not too intimidating. And maybe we’d both learn that it doesn’t really matter all that much.
Are you a young mom or an old mom? How does it affect you? Am I the only one who feels playground anxiety? How do I get over it?