It's 10 a.m. I'm walking out of Starbucks backwards, pushing the door open with my rear end so that I can pull my stroller through the narrow doorway. Without spilling my coffee. Bennie is tucked into his infant car seat, buckled into the stroller, sleeping soundly. If I walk fast enough and don't stop for any red streetlights, there's a small chance that he'll sleep for 27 minutes, instead of his usual 12.
I edge the stroller over the curb, and it bumps and sways as the wheel hits a rock in the street. My latte splashes muddy brown spots on Ben's blanket. I curse, wipe my hand with a burp rag. I shove the rag back into my overflowing diaper bag, and look up to see another mom coming toward me. Stroller. Sleeping baby. She is wearing yoga pants and dark glasses. Wet ponytail. She's walking quickly. Someone holds the door open for her as her stroller gets caught in the doorway. She bumps into the older gentleman who is leaving, and her cheeks flush. Across the street a mom in boots and skinny jeans ducks into Baby Gap with a goldfish-cracker-eating toddler belted into an umbrella stroller. Beside me a sneaker-clad mom lifts her Quinny from the trunk and begins to assemble it, as her baby screams from inside the car. A newly christened mom hums a gentle "shh-shh" as she walks by with her weeks-old scrunchy baby in a stroller that matches mine. We pass each other and whisper a quiet hello.
I smile, and turn my face toward the sun. It is 10 a.m., and we are out in force.
The Secret Society of Stroller Moms.
We drop older kids off at preschool, and head downtown. We need to have somewhere to go.
We leave laundry undone, and forgo coffee from the pot at home. We need to feel the fresh air hitting our cheeks.
We cover our weary eyes with dark glasses. Some of us are tired, some of us have spent long nights crying with our babies, or early morning hours ducking cream-cheese-covered hands. We need to flee the isolation that our own four walls can hold. Sometimes being in a room full of children can be very... lonely.
We pretend that we are busy. Very busy. Lots to do, as we bustle about Main Streets, shopping malls and grocery stores. We weave through playgrounds and meander down walking paths. We need to be acknowledged, to be seen, to interact with other adults.
We pass on the sidewalk, exchanging pleasantries in secret code. "Your baby, she's so cute! How old is she?" I'm so tired, am I the only mom who can't seem to catch up? How do you look so put together?
It's what is unspoken that connects us. The shared truths that only other mothers understand. In our 20s we sometimes greeted the morning after with the Walk of Shame. A quick-paced shuffle in stilettos, away from an unexpected slumber party. We could rock last night's sexy outfit, and the melting mascara look could be mistaken for sultry. Now it's the Walk of Tame. The Walk of Solidarity. The Walk of Longing.
We walk to feel like we are seen in this world. To feel the sunshine on our face after spending hours illuminated by the moon, our lines reflected back to us in the dark pools of a baby's eyes. We walk so that we can watch our tiny ones sleep. Tucked in underneath a blanket, long lashes against rosy cheeks, tiny clenched fists holding binkies and loveys. We walk to feel our muscles move in a rhythm other than the back and forth dance that we do down the hallway, with a screaming wiggly little one. We don't wear stilettos. Have you ever tried to chase a 3-year-old in stilettos? We wear ballet flats to the coffee shop and cute rain boots to the playground. We wear running shoes on the foggy trails when we push our BOB strollers over tiny pebbles. We wear comfortable dress shoes to work and forget to slip them off before we head out on our evening walks, desperate to catch the last minutes of daylight during the witching hour. We wear our motherhood on our sleeves. Really. In spit-up, on our sleeves. We used to buy pricey hair products to create the perfect bedhead look. Now we run our fingers through the bedhead that we've earned, and swoop everything into a topknot while we wait for our big kid to catch up to the stroller with his bike. We are Mommy Chic.
The Secret Society of Stroller Moms walks down every main street, in every town. When our babies wake, they flirt with the strangers who stop to coo at their rosebud lips and their mini blue jeans. We flush with pride. We share greetings with delivery men, baristas, the teenager who rings us up at the deli when we grab a sandwich that we can eat while we're walking. Sometimes it is the only adult interaction that we have all day. We walk into music classes, and Mommy and Me gymnastics, and playgroups and support groups and lactation consultations. We walk out of our offices and into our second jobs, wearing the crisp new identity of motherhood. We walk with the weight of our little ones pressed squarely against our hearts, and the weight of the world catapults us forward. Sometimes we walk together, chatting in exaggerated tones, but mostly, we walk alone.
And we look for each other. I am looking for you.
We look for the knowing glance, the smile that creeps in when another mom sees us and her eyes say, "You are not alone."
We look for the yoga pants, the wet ponytail, the mascara-less eyes that remind us that we don't need to measure our beauty in hours spent in front of the mirror. It is measured in the minutes that a nursing baby twirls a lock of our hair between his pudgy fingers. In the seconds that it takes for a 4-year-old to yank out our ponytail holder and declare, "Now you are ready for the tea party!" In the days between showers, because being awake with a sick toddler was more important than shaved legs.
We look for the car seat covers, for the tiny socks peeking out from under a worn blankie, the soft baby breaths that whisper "Peace is right here, you are all that I need." When we see your well-loved, well-cuddled, gently-fed little ones, we look up from where they are nestled in their stroller to find a mirror of our own motherhood.
I know you. I see you. I am you.
We are walking together, though we started out alone. We are weary and a little afraid, but we are moving. We keep walking. We keep waking up, and bundling up, and getting out. If only to get a cup of coffee. If only to feel the sunshine that peeks through the clouds. If only to show our babies that we are a valuable part of this world, that we matter, that sometimes it's important to stretch your muscles and stretch your radius and stretch your comfort zone. We are walking in your neighborhood, stopping to look in the window at that cute little store downtown that we can't afford, pausing to glance at the coastal skyline as we reach down and re-tuck a blanket that the wind blew off. We are walking away from our old lives, and our steps will grow steady with time.
We are the Secret Society of Stroller Moms. Maybe next time I'll raise my cup of lukewarm coffee when I pass you. And we'll give each other a silent toast. Because the only real secret, is that we're never as alone as we feel.