The Mom Race

I don’t play well with other Moms.

I couldn't find an image of that bumper sticker which was all over everywhere in 2004, but this one sums up my response quite nicely.

I couldn’t find an image of that “W” bumper sticker that seemed to be all over everywhere in 2004, but this one sums up my response quite nicely.

My lack of social skills among the fertile burst back onto the scene this past week, as I’ve been thrown again into the maternal milieu after a long hiatus. Years ago, in 2004, I walked out of a toddler play group because a bunch of the  Moms all stuck big W stickers (remember those?) on the back of their minivans.

I never looked back.

At least, I didn’t look back until this past week when my daughter, now in the sixth grade, joined a team for the American Cancer Society’s annual fund raiser, Relay for Life.

I blame my husband for this turn of events. He’s always talking to both our daughters about service and selflessness and giving back to the community. I talk to my kids about feeding the cat. Right now, as I write this post, the cat is mewling at my feet and I’m receiving email from another Mom with the subject line, “Relay For Life Organizational Meeting at My House!!!” so you can see how that’s working out.

Still, I was excited my daughter would be participating in the Relay for Life, not only because cancer, unfortunately, has touched our lives, but also because this daughter had chosen to volunteer for what I thought was an athletic event, a charity run. Since her birth, my husband and I, who both like to think we’re athletic (really we’re just sweaty), have been trying to get her interested in sports. We signed her up for tee ball and soccer and field hockey and she showed a natural talent for none of them, unless you consider standing out on the field with disinterest an athletic ability. My husband coached all of those teams and I have no doubt his credibility suffered due to his link to the team’s worst player: what could he really know about swinging a bat or fielding a ball when he’d contributed half of the genetic material that’s now swirling around inside the odd little girl standing in right field with her back to homeplate?

I convinced myself that the Relay for Life would be different from those team sports my daughter hated. It’s running, and I run, and I love it. As a child,  I played all those sports my daughter signed up for, but I didn’t find my athletic “niche” until I discovered running when I was fourteen. I’m not good at it, and not fast, but I enjoy the solitude, the independence, the opportunity to compete against only myself. In running, it’s not about winning the race–ok, well, yes it is, but hear me out– it’s about achieving your personal best (PB): your best time,  your furthest distance.

My excitement tempered when I learned the Relay for Life isn’t so much a relay anymore. It began as one, thirty years ago, when Gordy Klatt came up with the idea.

In May 1985, Dr. Klatt spent a grueling 24 hours circling the track at Baker Stadium at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma for more than 83 miles. Throughout the night, friends paid $25 to run or walk 30 minutes with him. He raised $27,000 to fight cancer. That first year, nearly 300 of Dr. Klatt’s friends, family, and patients watched as he ran and walked the course.

Now, in 2015, the relay is mostly ceremonial. Participants around the country come together at local tracks to light candles and celebrate survivors and remember lost loved ones. All good stuff, but most of the actual fund raising takes place earlier and elsewhere, as the various teams set out in their communities, designing their own events to raise money for the ACS.

And that’s what had me worried before the “organizational meeting!!!”: what sort of event would the other Moms propose?

While our kids watched YouTube in the living room, we gathered in the kitchen (open concept) to discuss strategy. Perhaps too enthusiastically, I replied, “Yes!” when the Host Mom, Kyra, offered me a glass of wine. So there I was, drinking on a weeknight and wondering if I should be concerned that some of my alcoholic father’s rationalizations are beginning to make sense to me.

“Kyra and I thought maybe a garage sale,” one of the Amandas said. There are two Amandas, which I have nicknamed, in my head, Tall Amanda and Short Amanda. Short Amanda isn’t really short. She’s average height, and, in retrospect, I should have named her Average Amanda, just for the alliteration. Tall Amanda, however, is really tall, at least six feet. I’m 5’9″ myself, and people tell me I’m tall, but they haven’t met Tall Amanda. Tall Amanda looks to me like Olive Oyl, Popeye’s love interest. She’s tall and rail thin, with a long neck and her hair twisted into a ball at the back of her head. She looks so much like the cartoon character I half-wonder whether it’s intentional. I almost said as much, out loud, until I remembered the wine and kept my mouth shut.

Tall Amanda suggested the garage sale. It’s clear that she and Kyra are best friends, as are their children, and they’re prepared to do the heavy lifting on this project.

I’m glad for that.

This clip of a cat licking its own butt is way more interesting than anything you’re saying.

“Sounds good,” the one named Beth said. She sat with the kids in the living room, paying more attention to the YouTube videos than the conversation in the kitchen. Three days from now, she’ll send us all an email, CC’ing her husband, letting us know she and her daughter are quitting the team.

I sipped my wine. “I’m on board,” I said. I’m ready to agree to anything that gets me out of there as quickly as possible and doesn’t involve public humiliation. On the drive over, I imagined I might have to call upon all my powers as a rhetorician to convince these women that there were better ways to fight cancer than an all night Karaoke marathon.

“A garage sale is a lot of work,” Kyra, Tall Amanda’s best friend, said. It’s apparent that she’s not sold on the garage sale idea, and, from the look Tall Amanda just gave her, garage sales may be a point of friction between the two. “And the sort of people attracted to a garage sale . . .” Her voice trailed off and her face scrunched up. “Let’s just say they don’t have very deep pockets. Usually.”

I’m not sure if she means they’re cheap, or they’re poor, or they’re Mexican.

I sipped my wine and thought about how garage sales are called “tag sales” where I’m from and where I’m from we’re all poor white trash, and it’s nothing like this suburb of Philadelphia where all the houses have open concept kitchens.

Cookies cure cancer.

Cookies cure cancer.

“What about a bake sale?” Short Amanda suggested. “The girls could ask one of the businesses in town if they could set up a table out front.”

“Sounds good,” Beth called from the living room even though I’m 99% sure she hadn’t heard what Short Amanda said.

I finished my wine and put the empty glass in the sink. “I like the idea of the bake sale,” I said.

I like to bake. I’m thinking this is almost as good as if they had decided to run the relay.

“Oh, good!” Kyra said. She’s relieved, I’m relieved. We all look to Tall Amanda, wondering if she’ll cling to her garage sale.

“Then it’s settled,” Tall Amanda said through tight lips.

The week passed. Beth sent out her email, dumping the rest of us. I go to work, come home, do it all over again the next day. Friday evening, after dinner, I keep thinking I’ve forgotten something important.

Then I remembered.

“What’s going on with the bake sale?” I asked my daughter.

She shrugged. She doesn’t know. She’s eleven and liked the idea of fighting cancer last week.

I fired off an email to the Moms, panicked that I’d be up all night baking and my husband would find me snoring over the Kitchenaid mixer Saturday morning.

“Can I get an update on the team’s activities?” I wrote. “Is the bake sale still on?”

I signed the email “Karen.” If I knew these women better, I would have signed the email with a single, lower case letter “K.” Although they don’t know it, typing out my entire first name is five times more effort than I usually make.

A few hours later, one of the Amandas replied. Don’t ask me which one, because I never learned their last names. “I don’t think so. I think maybe we need to regroup and come up with another plan.”

She signed her email, “Warmly, Amanda.”

I read the email and thought this is what separates me from these other women: the way we close our emails.

For longer than I should have, I considered signing my reply “Tersely, Karen.”

There ensued a flurry of emails and the bake sale has been rescheduled for this Saturday. One of the Amandas has stepped up and taken charge, and I’m happy to slide into the background and slip away from these women.

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