Earlier today I went to a rummage sale at a church near here, where one of my husband’s best childhood friends got married almost 13 years ago. The bride was a beautiful, exotic, South American girl several years younger than me. We were so happy for them—and relieved, too, that this old friend had chosen someone we truly liked (isn’t it awful when your friends choose someone you can’t stand?).
Child One was about eight weeks old and the wedding was his first big social do. At the time we lived in another town and had to make an overnight trip. What a production that was! We had gone from being a couple who could throw a couple of toothbrushes into a backpack and hop on a motorcycle, to being parents. This baby—who, because he had been premature, was still pretty small—required enough stuff to fill our car from top to bottom. (As a more seasoned parent, I now realize that we only thought he required that much stuff.)
The worst part of it for me wasn’t the worry of travelling with a baby. It was figuring out what I was going to wear to the damn wedding. I was in that awkward stage—my skinny clothes were too small (as they have forever remained), but my maternity clothes were too big. I hadn’t bought anything new, what with being busy learning how to be a mom several weeks before I’d expected to. So I went to the wedding feeling about as frumpy as it is possible to feel, in a long skirt with an elastic waistband and a top through which, I was sure, everyone could see the outline of my nursing pads, with leaky boobs the size of watermelons, circles under my eyes, and hair in desperate need of a cut (hey, those last two are still true today!).
Our friends had a storybook church wedding, in stark contrast to our own backyard wedding, an occasion so dysfunctional that for years my husband and I couldn’t look at the photos without cringing at the stress they brought up. The bride was surrounded by other gorgeous, young women and a big, loving family. The reception was crowded with unmarried, well-dressed people who had slept well the night before, or, if they hadn’t, it certainly wasn’t because they’d been up all night acting as a milk cow. As we walked among these beautiful people with our baby in his little homemade overalls and our god-awful ugly diaper bag, I wanted to disappear into the floor.
Years later I told the bride about how inadequate I had felt that day. And then she told me about how inadequate she had felt about a year later, when she and her husband had come to our town for a visit. She was newly pregnant. There I was, in our own house (a tiny, old, falling-down house, mind you, but our own house), overly educated, making baby food and baby clothes, an experienced mom. Unbeknownst to me, the image of me scooping puréed squash into ice cube trays intimidated her for years. She saw me as some kind of homeowning, supersmart supermom—a real parent.
Really, we’re our own worst enemies sometimes. I felt inferior to her because (as I saw it) she was younger than me, more beautiful than me, more interesting than me. She felt inferior to me because (as she saw it) I was older than her, more of an adult than her, a perfect mom (Ha! Double ha!).
As I stood in the church parking lot today, I wished I could go back almost 13 years and tell that tired and frumpy-feeling new mom that no one would remember what she was wore to the wedding that day or what she looked like (really, when you’re carrying a newish baby wearing overalls printed with cute giraffes, is anybody even looking at you anyway?). Over the years I have been to numerous gatherings with the families of both the bride and the groom and not once have I been greeted with "Oh, you're the one who wore that awful skirt and top to the wedding. I remember that I could clearly see the outline of your nursing pads." I would tell her that the beautiful young bride, once she became a mom herself, would be just as worn out and feel just as inadequate. And I would tell her that she and the beautiful young bride would still be friends so many years later.
Now that we’ve both been mothers for over a decade, with two kids each, the age difference between us means nothing. Nor does the difference in our education, whether we used cloth or disposable diapers, what we look like, or whether we own or rent our homes. The fact that we’ve shared this experience in the parenting trenches, that our husbands have been close friends for almost 35 years, that our children have been friends for all of their lives and will be for years to come, that the two of us can laugh over how we used to see each other and ourselves—these are the things that are important.