It wasn’t her fault that I really didn’t like her. She was all sinewy and lean. Well, maybe some of it was her fault. She was being really loud, carrying on about how much she loved nut butters.
This young woman at the gym was talking to a dude who was fascinated by her. I don’t know what question he asked her… maybe what she had for breakfast or why she looked so amazing…but we all heard the answer.
“I don’t eat carbs,” she practically yelled.
“You don’t say!” I thought. “I can see all of the muscles in your back. You don’t eat carbs? Shocking!” I yelled this in my head.
Of course, I’d forgotten my earbuds, so I was hearing their whole conversation. She kept talking loudly. “No carbs, but I do love nut butters. Almond butter, sunflower butter, pistachio butter. Definitely not walnut butter. It’s too bitter. Oh, also, have you tried cashew butter? I go to Earth Fare and just go crazy buying nut butter. I spend way too much money on nut butter! It’s my treat!”
Again, I was yelling in my head: “You spend too much on nut butters? You know what I spend too much money on, lady? Bras. Not sexy bras, but bras that I hope will make my boobs look even. And hoist them back up to where they belong. I spend too much money on bras that are made of magic fabric and require highly-trained engineers to design.”
I wanted to trip her and this puzzled me. I’m not speaking metaphorically. I truly wanted to trip her, for real, with my foot. As a feminist, I regret this impulse. I’m not usually a jealous person. I don’t worry about other women talking to my husband. I’m not territorial about my kitchen. I’m thrilled when other moms jump in and pick up the kid I left behind. I don’t want other people’s homes or lives. I don’t feel jealous when I see pictures of meals that other people cook. I feel hungry and sad for my family, but not jealous. As a 43 year old woman, I really don’t get jealous about much, but I think I was jealous of this woman. She was younger, thinner, prettier and clearly healthier than me. I didn’t care for her.
Jealousy does not look good on me.
Why did I care that she loves nut butters and looks like she hasn’t had pizza in a decade? Of course, I didn’t love being the sweaty, curvy-in-comparison mom of four toiling away on the elliptical beside her. I was looking pretty rough. My socks were different lengths and colors. I was wearing one of the twin’s hair ties because I couldn’t find a plain rubber band for my hair. My workout clothes that day might have actually served double duty as my pajamas.
This young woman had on a cute headband and fancy workout gear. Her shoes coordinated with her outfit. She looked very pulled together. I think I was jealous of how “in control” she seemed of her life. Her life, as evidenced by this one soliloquy to nut butters, seemed simple and orderly.
My life is messy. Just today, I hosed the rotting pumpkin off our front steps. I know many of my friends already have Christmas trees decorated in their homes. I am clearly doing something wrong. Pumpkins should be long gone before Advent. Somehow, most holidays seem to sneak up on me. I feel ambushed by basic traditions. Even though I’m not going to win any awards for having my act together, I’ve figured out a few things over the years that make me feel like less of a train wreck.
When my twins were five, I walked out of the child psychologist’s office and thought, “I’m going to
need a great pair of boots.” What I had learned for certain was that our child was struggling with some significant developmental delays and learning disabilities. “Processing speed” and “neurodevelopmental” and other terms were thrown around. I kind of left my body at that point. It was too much to absorb. All I knew on that spring day was that I was going to have to learn to be a different kind of mom than I’d been for my other children. I was going to have to be tougher and stronger. I had just landed a new role as an advocate for my child and I was going to need some new piece of equipment that fortified me for the tasks ahead. It was a weird decision, to go buy boots, but I was certain that this would be my new uniform.
The other thing I was going to need was a new vocabulary. It’s taken me a few years, but now I know exactly what people mean when they say, “We’re moving through the tiers, trying to keep her in the least restrictive environment. Her MAP scores qualified her for EIP. In the spring, we can look at a 504. An IEP will require more testing.” If you have no idea what I’m talking about, might I suggest you take a moment and thank your higher power? If your child can keep up in the general education classroom, then that in itself is a tremendous gift. Those of us with children who are struggling in school are learning to navigate a whole different culture. It is a tribe that has its own language. Everyone is making the best of it, but it is so hard to have a child that can’t keep up with their peers in school. I believe the other moms who say that their families are more compassionate and stronger because of their child in special education. I believe them, but I also know that there is a lot of unspoken grief and fear. I know I can’t be the only mom who puts herself to bed after an Individual Education Plan (IEP) meeting. I can’t be the only one who reminds herself to wait to get back to the car to cry.
I am becoming braver because my kids need me to be strong. I am growing into my new job. Hence, the boots.
It makes no sense, but I feel stronger somehow when I wear my boots. Maybe this nut butter woman is doing the same thing. Maybe she has something really hard and unmanageable in her life and the nut butter obsession keeps her from losing her mind. Maybe sampling nut butter keeps her away from the vodka. Maybe she’s some sort of ambassador for nut butter. Maybe, when she’s not at the gym, she’s home crying in the shower. Maybe she’s a lovely person and she just really does love nut butter.
My mom taught us when we were kids that everyone was “walking wounded.” She truly believes that everyone is carrying burdens and hurts that aren’t visible. Everyone deserves kindness. My mom believes this with her whole soul and treats people accordingly.
For that moment in the gym, I forgot that even people who look pulled together might not actually be pulled together. I forgot that none of us has a perfect life. Not even skinny women who love nut butter. Not even scared women with great boots.