I can remember it like it was yesterday.
Some of the moms of kids in Sarah Kate’s preschool in Decatur, Alabama decided to get together for coffee at the McDonald’s near I-65. We were all navigating the chaos of having preschoolers at home – those years when you do your best to talk to your friends, but the conversations come in short bursts in between opening juice boxes, offering snacks, and the million other things that moms of preschoolers do.
It seemed like a great idea at the time.
We would sit around in the big room, sipping our coffee and chatting while our kids ran wild in the equipment. They would be safe and we would relax. It would be perfect. For some (most? all but one?), it was. But it only took me a few minutes to realize that I had made a Huge Mistake.
While the others moms sipped their coffee and talked about I-don’t-know-what-because-I-couldn’t-hear-them, I was cramming my small but still adult-sized body into the various nooks and crannies … lifting Sarah Kate up so she could reach the pinnacle and use the slide … twisting and contorting my body in ways that no one over 4′-6″ is supposed to twist and contort.
I glanced down through the plexiglass to the tables below, where I saw moms enjoying themselves – friends bonding over shared experiences and some cheap fast food – and it was as if I was looking down on my life and really seeing it for the first time.
My jeans were dirty and my spirit was broken.
I’m sure there were dozens of times when Sarah Kate was young that I desperately wanted to change things so that we could be “normal” like everyone else we knew, but that day at that McDonald’s was an iconic event for me. It was in that moment that I realized we would always stand out, yet somehow remain invisible.
A few weeks ago, I took the kids to Chick-fil-A for breakfast.
Sarah Kate is beyond the age of wanting to play in the equipment there, but Nathan discovered it awhile back and is insistent on doing so any time we walk in the doors. I always offer the play area as the carrot to get him to finish his meal, then let him go. Most of the time, I fret because he’s small and easily trampled – and, of course, hard for other kids to understand – but on this day he was the only kid around so I relaxed a bit.
Sarah Kate and I watched him climb up the slide the wrong way, and waved at him as he peeked out at us from above at various intervals. He darted in and out of the tunnel areas at the top of the equipment, and we breathed a collective sigh of relief that we didn’t have to worry about him escaping to the kitchen or parking lot.
When it was time to go, I walked into the play room and called his name.
I heard movement overhead, but he didn’t come down. I called to him again, and was surprised to hear a small whimper, followed by the sound of more movement. I called him a third time, and the whimper got louder, followed again by the sound of more movement.
That’s when I realized he didn’t know how to get down.
I replayed the last few minutes in my mind and noticed something I hadn’t before – all those times we smiled and waved at him, he didn’t wave back. He entered the equipment by going the wrong way up the slide, so he didn’t recognize the staggered platform ladder as the way to escape, and the entrance to the slide was one level up from where he was.
Where I had felt relief before that he was alone, now I saw that without peers he was lost.
Like that long ago day with Sarah Kate, I found myself once again twisting and contorting my body to help my child who needed me in the fast food play equipment. Instead of helping him in, like with Sarah Kate, I was leading him out.