You know you’re an introvert when you’re relieved because the other mom doesn’t speak English and that means no small talk. Tara was glad she would not have to talk about healthy snacks and baby yoga when the reality of the situation was that as soon as she got home she would open up a bag of potato chips and put on a stupid show called “Cow and Chicken.” It was about a cow. And a chicken.
Her own life, she often said, was like an episode of “King of the Hill,” or a John Mellencamp song, or a Raymond Carver story, even though her husband had pointed out that he hardly ever talked about propane.
And so the reason she hated small talk, she supposed, was because she hated the lying. “Yeah, I work a lot. I wish I could stay home.” Stuff like that.
The other mom was apparently responsible for six children including an infant, but Tara was not sure that all of the children were her own. There seemed to be more of a sense of community in this group than there was among Tara’s associates. In her world, if you wanted someone to watch your children, you had to pay them $10 an hour.
Tara really didn’t think $10 an hour was enough to be responsible for someone else’s children at a park the size of this one, at least not with an infant in arms. It was true that at times, Tara had been in charge of up to 30 children, but that was in a structured environment with measureable objectives. Give me an objective, Tara thought, and I can meet it. But she was glad there was no standardized test for parenting. The objectives of parenting were limitless, and in that regard, failure seemed inevitable.
For example, Tara thought, what portion of my evaluation as a parent would be based on my children’s oral hygiene? What about the color coordination, or lack thereof, in their attire? It didn’t seem to Tara that it was quite possible to be a professional parent, even though she had seen bumper stickers that disagreed.
Tara tried to guess the age of the other mom. She was younger than Tara. She wore stonewashed jeans and a fitted black top that revealed one shoulder, dangling hoop earrings and black high heels. Like Tara, she wore glasses. Her mate, her husband, Tara supposed, was playing soccer nearby.
The young mom held the infant while the other children played with each other and Tara’s children. At regular intervals, they would come running into the shelter asking for water, which the other mom and Tara provided. Sometimes one of the other mom’s children would play with her phone. Then they would put it down and the phone would play music in the other mom’s language. Tara liked it.
When all the children ran up the hill away from the shelter and toward the street, Tara followed them, worried.
“You guys need to stay where I can see you,” Tara yelled.
The other mom stayed in the shelter with the infant and his bottle. That was what Tara envied. The other mom wasn’t worried that the children would run away and never come back or that someone would take them or that she would be charged with neglect. She wasn’t worried about the nutritional value of baby formula, health insurance, sunscreen, global warming and oppression in the third world.
Tara told her children to say goodbye to their friends. They needed to get home to “Cow and Chicken.”
At least, Tara thought as they made their way home, she had not learned of any new worries in the world yet today.