It's the kind of thing that probably happens all of the time. You see the same child and mom sitting next to you at story time, marching along to "Ring Around the Rosie" at gym class, or playing in the sand at the park. You exchange the usual niceties.
"Oh, how old is yours? What other activities do you do?"
For a brief moment, there's a connection. She seems pretty cool. And I like the way she interacts with her son. Could we be friends? But before the conversation goes any further, you are running after your own child or in my case, children. The moment passes. The chance to make a new friend fades away.
So one day recently, I finally remembered to ask when I saw a particular mom who seemed really nice. "Why don't we plan a play date?" She seemed thrilled and said, "I've been meaning to ask you the same thing." We exchanged email addresses and made plans to get together the following week. I was excited to hang out with someone new. Plus, her blonde little boy seemed very sweet.
A few days later, I was at the park and spotted the little boy. But he wasn't with the blonde woman I thought was his mom. He was with a lady who I assumed was his nanny. She was brunette and tall and slim, whereas his mom had a round face and lighter coloring like his. I went over to say hello and mentioned that we had a play date scheduled and that we were looking forward to it. She looked at me through her dark sunglasses and said, "Oh his nanny told me about that. Sounds great." I was confused...and then embarrassed for failing to mask my surprise.
"I'm his mom," she said acknowledging my face. "Don't worry, it happens all the time."
"You mean I made a play date with the nanny?" I blurted, still momentarily dumbfounded.
"Yeah," his mom replied.
"Oh. Well that's great. It will be fun," I said, trying to recover. I couldn't help but laugh.
Then what she said really sunk in. "It happens all the time." I thought it was funny at first. But then I realized, I had just tapped into something much bigger than a case of mistaken identity.
It's something I should have been more sensitive to. The same thing has happened to me. In fact, when our childcare provider went on vacation a few months ago, I was greeted at the library by what seemed like a chorus of nannies saying, "Oh - you're the Mommy." As if I magically appeared one day. As if all of the diapers changed, meals prepared, noses wiped, stories read, boo-boo's kissed, etc. counted for squat. I felt like crap. It was a swell of emotions - guilt for being lucky enough to be able to pay someone to help me care for the kids...and guilt for wanting time away. Now that I've recently gone back to work and I do rely on a nanny to help with my professional commitments, I can really empathize with what this woman must have felt when I just assumed she wasn't the boy's mother.
The reality of working for most American mothers - whether out of necessity or ambition is that ultimately, some parts of childcare are outsourced...either to a nanny in one's home, a daycare facility or to a relative. This is the sacrifice most working moms of young children make unless they have a partner who stays home or they can find the rare flexible work schedule (and even then, it is challenging to juggle). Perhaps this election year, moms will take a stand and demand that candidates put family friendly policies on the agenda. I hope so.
Anyway, I apologized to this woman I had never met until that moment. I felt compelled to make up for my gaffe. I even told her the same had happened to me. I don't really think it made a difference. The damage of my remark was done. But we're going on the play date as planned.
I'm looking forward to getting to know the nanny.
This week on TheWellMom.com, Tammy Gold, founder of Gold Parent Coaching talks about the need to cherish your childcare - not just during the holidays.
Follow Heather Cabot on Twitter: www.twitter.com/wellmom