Strangers in subculture of parenthood should change that

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

April 10, 2014

No rule that in parents’ subculture we remain strangers

Every morning, I take my daughter to school. Every afternoon, I pick her up. And every day I see the same parents again and again. In the mornings, we’re usually tired, having gone through the 10-round struggle of getting the children up, pleading with them to eat something — anything — finding that shirt without the missing button, the socks that don’t irritate their toes, the misplaced binder.

Once we’ve made lunches and gathered up homework, that moment of dropping the kids at school feels like a mini vacation, the chance to breathe before the rigors of work, the complaints of bosses and the conundrum of where to eat lunch. We only want a few solitary minutes.

The stress shows in our faces as we arrive at and then leave the school grounds. We nod to each other, if we make eye contact at all, and might feign a smile if it isn’t raining and if we know that a still-hot cup of coffee awaits us in the car.

Despite the consistency of our muted interactions, we remain strangers in the subculture of parenthood. If we know anything about the other parents at all, it’s the name of their child and what grade he’s in, the fact that their daughter missed two days of school due to head lice or fever. All we know is what our own kids tell us.

And still we nod, we smile, we collectively roll our eyes at the challenge that is being a parent.

But Memphis is a small town in some ways and we’re bound to run into each other away from school. With no kid holding their hands, no pink and purple backpack slung over their arms at Whole Foods or messy poster board blown about as they make their way to Café Keough downtown, it’s as if seeing someone you’ve only ever seen with glasses on without them for the first time. They look a little wrong, don’t they? Maybe a bit ill.

It’s two degrees of “Don’t I know you?” We meet without a child and we have no idea who the other is or from where we know each other. We’re there, in the taproom of Wiseacre Brewing Co. or having lunch in Overton Square, and we come face to face with someone we know that we know, but can’t quite place the face or the name. It’s like as a child when you saw your father, always bearded, suddenly clean shaven. It was like a stranger in the house.

We should say hello at school. Be the first to say, “Good morning, my name is ” It only takes a minute, and we’re going to see each other for 180 days every year.

We’re all in this together, this parent subculture. It’s not the punk subculture of high school, or the jock subculture, band or drama club. This one is permanent, like it or not. It’s difficult, it’s messy and it is every single day of our lives.

So let’s stick together. That way, when we see each other out, away from the kids, we’ll recognize each other straight away and maybe we can raise a pint to toast our free time, because Monday morning comes all too quickly.

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