Sunlight streaked through the window of the classroom creating a halo of cool around her head. Her hair was sleek and shiny, with the kind of highlights that say, "What? I was born this way bitch." She wore a fitted, crisp, white shirt, notable for the fact that it was crisp and white since we were at a nursery school parent association meeting and it was 8:30 AM. I ran my hand through my not yet brushed hair, thinking, how does this woman feel so entitled to self-care while raising small children that she looks this fabulous?
Like a moth to a flame, a bee to honey, and me in my 20's to every hot, alcoholic actor I met, I had to know her. Maybe not biblically, but enough to ferret out the secret of her self-esteem, organization and skin care system. Even from across the room, it was obvious this is a woman who doesn't just wash her face and dry it with the corner of her terry cloth robe like I do. This woman has a cleansing system. I tied the string on my sweatpants a little tighter and walked across the room, casually reaching across the plate of bagels directly in front of her for a strawberry on the snack table.
""Scuse me," I said, adding, "Bagels, huh? Really? I mean who can eat carbs at our age, right?"
"I can," my American idol said, raising an appetizer sized paper plate with a cinnamon raisin bagel slathered with a thick layer of cream cheese on it. She took a small girly bite, an eating technique I could definitely benefit from, and set her plate down.
"How old is your child?" she asked me. And then never looked at the plate of food again. Note to self: Ladies who wear size 25W jeans eat three bites of food a day, not meals.
"Four," I said, trying to lick the strawberry juice stain off my upper lip.
"So cute. I have a 4-year-old too. And two older ones, 6 and 8."
Three children, two kids every two years. That is so smart. Why didn't I do that? Probably because my husband is nine years younger and we met when I was 38. Damn, I should have married him when I was 25 and he was 16.
"Three! Good for you!" I said, "I have two. My older boy is eight. I always say, I was a great mother of one, two not so much. HA!"
She smiled revealing perfect teeth. Not perfect fake perfect, perfect like look how effortlessly my teeth grew out of my head perfect.
"Not that my kids are in any danger." I added, and then tagged it with a bigger "HA!" My trademark anxiety laugh, the one that sounds like a dog would sound if it was actually saying HA every time it barked.
"No, of course not," she said. "Hey Sarah!" Excuse me one second, have to catch up with Sarah about the book fair."
"Oh sure. Really want to help with that..." And she was gone.
She's flawless, I thought, finishing off her bagel.
Some women would have this impression of a fellow mommy and run away like their jogging shorts are on fire. Who needs the pressure? But not me. Because I choose female friends the way other people choose tennis partners. You know, always play with someone better than you are. To improve your game. I instinctively home in on women who appear smarter, more accomplished and more together than me.
First of all, I figure since watching toddlers isn't always the most mentally stimulating endeavor, at the very least maybe I'll learn something from them in conversation. And also hanging out with well-dressed, vital women challenges me to get dressed in real clothes and join in some "reindeer games," by volunteering for a committee or agreeing to make potato pancakes for the whole school to promote Jewish good will. And yes I did this. Plus, they remind me of my mother. True, I moved 3000 miles away from my mother so I could stop competing with her in the area of perfect human being, but despite the physical distance, there is still something comforting to me about "fabulousness."
Or there used to be.
But, I have seen the error of my overreaching friendships after pursuing one too many ladies I'll call Katie. (I don't know if you've noticed, but there are a disproportionate number of multi-tasking, slender, rosy-cheeked and relentlessly perky Katies out there.) After enduring an unending number of lunches where the Katie du jour showed up 20 minutes late, a series of play dates all held at their houses at their appointed times, and one too many cups of coffee where the conversation was so controlled that nothing real was ever revealed, I feel confident that this compulsion has finally been arrested.
I know this because I recently went to a PTA meeting and as I reflexively scanned the room for a Katie, the woman next to me elbowed my jaw while retying her pony tail, "Sorry," she said, "I'm a fucking wreck this morning. And don't stand too close, I didn't have time to shower and of course I'm sweating now because I almost just hit someone in the parking lot..."
"Hi," I said, turning my face to hers, with a big smile that shows off all my laugh lines, "I'm Dani. So how old is your child?"
For information about upcoming "Afterbirth..." and "Not What I Signed Up For" live shows, and to link to podcasts, please visit afterbirthstories.com.