I made a pact with my kids on the day they were born that I would always be home for them after school.
“Three to 5 in the afternoon is when all the riff-raff happens,” my mother warned me. “When the latchkey kids wreak havoc.”
The irony, of course, is that I was a latchkey kid. Both my parents worked fulltime, so my two older brothers and I were left to ourselves to finish homework, steal cigarettes, and get dinner started – just as all the other latchkeys in the neighborhood were.
These were really fun times, I remember, until I got caught stealing one too many cartons of smokes and was sent to boarding school.
But that’s for another time.
Anyway, I knew from experience that I wanted to be “that mom” who was home every day, baking cookies, protecting my children from riff-raff temptation. And despite the fact that I work fulltime, I honored that promise (minus the cookies) until last week.
Some of you probably already know the feeling you get when you receive a call from a stranger, telling you that they have your kids.
No? Well, here’s how it goes down.
Last Monday I was called by the community center’s maintenance manager, informing me that he had been sitting on the curb with my sons for treinta minutos, in el frio, waiting for their papa to pick them from their tennis lessons.
The next 20 minutes were spent as they always are – in a fib – trying to determine who could get to the children the fastest without anyone knowing what terrible parents we were, save for the community center’s maintenance manager, to whom we were now forever indebted.
“I thought you were Mondays!” I screamed at my husband through my speeding car’s Bluetooth.
“I’m Tuesdays and Thursdays now, remember?” he screamed back. “You’re the one who changed it!”
Indeed I had. And for the life of me, I sill don’t remember why.
By the time I retrieved our kids and offered to wash the maintenance manager’s car for a month straight (he declined), I determined that enough was enough and it was time to face reality: I am a working mother, about to become the other “that mom” – the one not home for her kids.
Had we all the money in the world, I would simply fly Fraulein Maria in from Austria and have her teach my kids how to fashion lederhosen out of my old curtains after school.
After a late night of research, the only chaperoned option left for our kids in the middle of the school year, apparently, was the Boys & Girls Club.
“You mean where Denzel Washington went when he was a kid?” my husband asked.
OK. While I realize Denzel grew into the kind of man I can only hope my sons aspire to be, he spent a large part of his childhood in Harlem with people who are doing life right now, making license plates and eating slop. In his case, the Boys & Girls Club kept him off the streets, not a curb of a manicured park with a well-lit tennis court.
“I don’t think we’re a match.” I told my husband after reconsidering. “I’ll go back to Mondays and Wednesdays instead.”
This worked until … hmmm …Wednesday, when I called my 70-something neighbor, in a panic, to pick up my kids from the bus stop and feed them Tang and Tums until I could come get them.
So Boys & Girls Club it was.
Now, I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t expect to see a mini J-Lo, Smokey and Denzel all shooting hoops together, about to become something great when I visited. But that’s not what I found at all. Instead, I was greeted by HALF MY KIDS’ CLASS, LAUGHING, EATING APPLES AND PLAYING CHESS.
Had my own “that mom” scruples clouded my ability to just be… a mom…all this time?
In Denzel’s Oscar acceptance speech for his role in “Training Day,” he said, “Life has taught me not to be the best; but to be the best that I can be.”
Just another lesson in how, sometimes, precisely the parent you aren’t is the best parent you can be.