You know that asshole. The one that thinks the rules of the pickup line don’t apply to her. The woman who doesn’t socialize and chat or catch up with other parents while waiting for the bell. The mom that doesn’t allow her kids to stay after school and play at the park with their friends.
The one who’s always in a hurry. The one who pulls in where you’re not supposed to and who’s kids are running and jumping into a moving vehicle because she didn’t get there on time to actually find a parking spot. Yeah, that asshole. Guilty as charged.
I’m the mom everyone hates at pickup, and frankly, I don’t even care. I have overheard myself being referred to as the “van lady” (as if there aren’t about 79 “van ladies” at an elementary school dismissal), and it was most definitely not a term of endearment.
But now that I have revealed myself, let me explain before everyone comes to my house with pitchforks and burns me at the stake. Because inside the “van lady’s” car, there was a story.
When my son started school I had three kids aged 5, 2, and 1. You know, the really “fun” ages. The ones where no one is sleeping, and one is always whining because they are hungry, tired, their sock seam is tickling their foot, or someone won’t stop “copying them”.
The same year my oldest began Kindergarten, my middle child started preschool and he was the type of child we all (as parents) hope we don’t have when we send them off to school. The child that wails and clings to your leg, that is in hysterics when you have to forcibly hand them over to a new teacher they barely know. The one you hear crying for you after the traumatizing hand-off while you sit in the hallway and pray they will get over this so you can leave and they can actually enjoy their time in school.
I would drop my son off at kindergarten and spend the ride to preschool fielding all of the fake illnesses by my very intelligent and manipulative preschooler in an attempt to stay home and then prep that child repeatedly that we were going, this was happening, and it was going to be okay.
But that wasn’t even the tip of the iceberg that was our home life at the time.
This was also around the period my marriage was falling apart. My ex was no longer living in the house and his absence was starting to spread to all aspects of our family lives. So… I’ll just say it, I was depressed. Life sucked.
I didn’t know it at the time, because I was so focused on taking each day at a time, but I was learning how to be a single mom.
During this time, our lives were upside down. Every day was a new struggle and between regular kid chaos there was court, attorneys, finances to figure out, and confused and sad kids to console. Friends and family that wanted in on the drama or explanations as to why things were coming to an end.
And me, living in hell with a soon-to-be ex who was sick and emotionally unwell. Spreading rumors like wildfire about my personal life to any and all that would listen while simultaneously harassing me as if constant contact and mental abuse and manipulation would force me into submission. It was an exhausting cycle and if I’m being honest, there were many late nights crying, had by all.
School pickup came every day faster than I expected. I spent the day trying to get affairs in order so I could put my focus on my kids when they came home from school without (hopefully) having to deal with my overwhelming emotions or any legalities.
I would try to get all the tears out while they were gone so I could plaster a smile on my face and pretend everything was okay for the rest of the day, and the school hours would fly by. I would look at the clock, run out the door, grab my kids and rush to do something, anything to keep all of our minds off of what had been going on at home. And then, we would go home to sleep and do it all again the next day.
I wish it were socially acceptable for me to unleash and explain to the parents that referred to me as the “van lady” that my life was an absolute shit show. That me and my kids had cried ourselves to sleep the night before because we were all hurting, struggling, and trying to come to terms with a completely new life none of us had expected. That trying to explain addiction and divorce to a child is damn near impossible, and incredibly heartbreaking.
We had been late because we woke up many times in the night scared, alone, and cuddled up together to fall back asleep. I had barely slept at all some nights because I was the only grown-up in the house and I had trouble killing a spider, who was going to protect us if someone broke in?
I wish I could explain that we were all trying. We all wanted so badly that year to just be “normal”, whatever the hell that is. Had it been reasonable to declare to the world what we had going on inside the “van” I would have shared that we were lonely. We were lost. That my poor kids’ mom was depressed, their dad was struggling with an addiction and their lives had been turned upside down. Divorce was a big deal, but for my family, it wasn’t just separate houses.
I am now trying to strike up conversation with parents during school pickup that have been builing relationships for years. Making “mom friends” is difficult enough as it is, but being the “van mom” and coming out of the woodwork trying to show everyone “hey look at us! I swear we are normal we just had a bad couple of years!” is just freakin pathetic.
Yet, here I am. Smile on my face, abiding by the rules of the pickup line and trying to get there early intentionally so that I can ACTUALLY interact with other parents. I’m just hoping by the end of the year when people are gossiping about me it’s because I’m socially awkward and say inappropriate things at the worst possible times. Legit complaints. And hopefully they will start calling me the “crazy lady” instead of the “van lady”. That’s got a better ring to it anyways, dontcha think?
As you skip up the walkway and get into line with a group of your peers, all bright eyed and fresh faced with hope and dreams and the future in your eyes, I promise not to lose my shit in front of the friends you don’t know you’ll make yet. I won’t embarrass you and bawl. I won’t scream your name and tell you to tie your shoe because you’re jumping around and I can foresee the future of you tripping on your own laces and face-planting in the hallway. I won’t lick my finger and wipe away the leftovers from your breakfast off your cheek.
When I come in to wake you that morning, I assure you I will not stir you with my sobs while I stare at your sweet sleeping eyes and think about all of the times I have watched you sleep. Carefully sneaking into to your room to gaze at you longingly, to study the rise and fall of your chest. Expertly moving out of the room begging not to wake you or there would be hours of hell to pay, but I couldn’t help but watch you breathe one more time before bed.
I vow not to tell you that as you were getting ready this morning and making sure you picked out your best clothes and combed your hair to perfection that I was thinking about the day you came into this world and took me by storm. How beautiful and perfect you were and how I stroked that same hair with my hands, in the same way you are now as I nursed you into the wee hours of the night. How I too, carefully picked your clothes before you even took your first breath so that I could make sure to document the moment, with the best photos, and never forget.
I pledge while you sit and eat the special breakfast I made for your very first day, I won’t tell you about the look on your face when you tried a new food that you realized you liked and the faces you would make when you didn’t. I won’t tell you about all of the messes, the noodles stuck in your hair and the sauces rubbed on your high chair like paint and the discolored baths that followed. I won’t tell you that even if in those moments I was frustrated, I was tired, or I seemed mad, in this moment, I would do it all again.
I swear on my life I won’t tell you stories about how through my sleep-deprivation, my stress, my long days, that even though I may have appeared defeated and tired, I (secretly) loved waking up extra early with you and sneaking in extra snuggles. I adored watching the sun come up with you in my arms while you fell back asleep…. but my coffee was finally kicking in and now I was wide awake. Just studying you. Memorizing the lines on your lips, the wrinkles in your neck, how you smelled, your perfect little nose, those miniature ears. The way you smiled in your sleep. Your incredible sense to reach up, even when you were fully enveloped in dreamland, to search with your fingers for my face before you sighed with relief and continued on snoozing away.
And after the day is over, I cross my heart that while I hear your stories about all of the friends you made, your new independence and the experiences you’ve had (and will have) that didn’t include me, I won’t tell you that I missed you. That after I walked away and left you in the hands of the school, your teachers, your friends…. I cried today. How I thought about all of the things we could have been doing if you weren’t busy at school, without me. I won’t tell you that I worried about how you were alone with no one to hold your hand and guide you. But you weren’t lonely at all. I was. But I promise I won’t tell you that.