I walk in the door to my daughter’s jardin (preschool) as she trails behind crying. It’s been over a month that she has cried every morning as we arrive and I’m just a little over it. I’ve tried everything I can think of to assuage her fears, but nothing has worked.
One of the staff members takes her in her arms to comfort her, but at this point she is hyperventilating.
“Are you staying for the mother’s day presentation?” The director asks me.
I had gotten the email the week before, and I hadn’t forgotten it was happening. It’s just… I had gone running this morning with a friend and come back late and in the hurry and chaos of children, I hadn’t showered before rushing Ingrid out the door.
I’m so gross. I’m still a little sweaty, my hair is everywhere, I have no makeup on and a big red pimple on my chin, and I have just wiped Ingrid’s nose straight onto my running pants.
“It would be really good for her if you could stay just a little bit.” The director follows up her question – it’s almost a command now.
Not only am I disgusting, but I had planned to go home to put the baby down for a nap (I didn’t leave any milk or formula for him!) and then get some work done.
Ingrid is hysterical.
“OK,” I respond sighing. “But I can only stay for a few minutes because I have to get back to the baby.”
Slipping off my dirty Asics, cringing inwardly because I’m certain my feet are going to be stinky, I slide open the door to the room I was directed to.
My fears are confirmed as I see before me a group of a dozen beautiful Colombian mothers sitting cross-legged on the floor. Perfect styled hair, lipstick, designer clothes, gorgeous black curls, neatly ironed blouses… I want to disappear.
Why did I agree to this??
They are going around in a circle introducing themselves and I slide into the group, careful to sit just far enough away not to offend anyone if I stink. (I can’t smell myself, but maybe I’m just used to it??) The leader is looking at me.
“Caitlin,” I say quickly.
She doesn’t understand.
I try again: “Catalina.”
In the US, there is a “hot mess” mom culture, where it is totally acceptable to show up at the school drop off or pick up in your gym clothes, pajamas, or worse. Kids are chaos, no one has a nanny, and if you’re a stay at home mom, coffee stains are part of the deal. And don’t you dare judge another mom because you have no idea what she’s dealing with. Instagram captions and Facebook confessions of #MomFails are part of everyday life. And the moms who “have it together?” The ones who show up at playdates with non-stained clothes and a perfect blow out? Well, they’re the exception to the “don’t judge” mantra. Because we’re jealous. And we don’t like them.
This culture does not exist in Colombia. Messy hair, don’t care? You better starting caring because no one else is out in the street like that.
The group leading this mother’s day presentation begins with a song, “digo gracias mama,” a sweet melody where the lyrics include things like “thank you for the 9 months you carried me” and “thank you for spending 2 month’s salary on my stroller.”
All around me the other mothers are dabbing their eyes with the tissues that have been passed around.
And me? I’m the only one that isn’t crying.
I think it’s a sweet song, but I’m completely unable to connect with it as my brain is only able to process my absolute misery and humiliation. How can I get myself out of here as quickly as possible?
I have this inner battle with myself – I tell myself I shouldn’t care what anyone else thinks. I should be proud of myself – I ran 4 miles this morning! I haven’t done that since we moved to Colombia.
At the same time, I can’t help but feel so frustrated that things are just not going my way this morning. I should have made time to shower. I should have left milk for the baby. I’m so stressed out that I can barely focus on this event and I am definitely NOT enjoying it.
They have us write letters to our children, and then those children join us. Ingrid has stopped crying, but looks totally overwhelmed as she walks in the room. She finally finds me and seems happy to see me and sit on my lap. We sing songs as a group and do a craft together. I sense that this is not quite over, but I have already been gone way longer than I anticipated and I am so nervous that my baby is at home starving and ready for a nap.
We sneak out and I leave Ingrid with her teachers and I run home.
When I arrive home, I tell Rosa everything that happened.
She laughs, but tells me how silly I am – this is Colombia – no one goes out in the street dressed like you are right now. Of course that happened. She never even goes out in the street in her uniform unless she has to – you never know who you might meet.