Yesterday was Abby's preschool Tea Time with Mom.
I took her mini hand in mine and we walked toward a room filled with moms, poster paint, and clinging children.
Especially mine. Abby is an entirely different unit out there in the world. Her typical twirling dervish belly laughs were silenced and in their place left a pale small child who seemed agitated if not coming down with the flu. I kept feeling her forehead to make sure she wasn't sick. She climbed into my lap and held my fingers tightly, one-by-one.
"Honey, are you ok?"
"My tummy hurts, Mommy."
So we sat together, biting into our pumpkin muffins and swallowing hard because cups of water were too far out of reach.
"Would you like to show me your centers?" I attempted to distract and noticed another mom feeling her daughter's forehead too.
"No, Mommy, just take me home with you."
Her tears weren't loud but they broke my heart. This sudden collision of home and school were overwhelming her loyalties and bringing her down.
"I'll take a nap when we get there, I'll do anything, just please take me home." This sprite just wanted her jammies.
The other mom struggled to remove her daughter's reach from around her shoulders. We traded glances from opposite sides of the world. Where I was ready to cave, she stood firm and grounded with zero chance of compromise. "Now, go play. I will see you after school," she told her tiny person who wanted every part of her jammies too.
I attempted to get both girls to comfort each other to no avail. They pretended they had never met or chased each other's ponytails around the swing set for months. Other Mom and I stood up in a unified front to do what was right. She was my leader so I stole invisible strands of her strength and resoluteness by giving my weepy daughter a quick kiss and walking toward the door.
Abby and her friend-not-friend stood next to each other yet mountains apart.
My feet went down the hallway in slow motion as I considered going back. But alas, Other Mom was already out the door so I followed her glossy black heels and marveled over her black skirt and leggings that were not polluted with one sliver of dog hair.
She lost me and my thrifted plum pumps somewhere in the parking lot. I had to squeeze my toes a certain way to keep them on since they were one size too big.
As I rummaged through my ridiculous (also previously used) Bongo purse, I noticed a pretty brunette sitting in her seat with the door still open. Her glossy black pumps looked less sassy and way more uncomfortable in her car.
"Ha, we broke free, didn't we?" I said to my pretty leader.
"Yes, we did," she sniffled. I could tell her eyes were wet underneath her sunglass frames.
"You did great! I didn't think I'd get my latte after that session of sad," I joked nervously because that's my thing.
"Thanks," she sniffed again, "It is killing me to leave her like that."
My fearless leader was openly crying now. She took off her sunglasses to unveil two of the most mournful brown eyes I've ever seen. My heart sank to the bottom of the gap in my heels.
"Well then you should feel doubly proud," I rattled on, "You conveyed zero regret or sadness to your girl as I was there making it worse by clutching mine like an open book."
"I guess," she said. "I just hate to leave her like that."
Then I understood the difference between us wasn't our shoes or our ability to find the de-linting brush.
This mom had no choice. She had to go to work. She couldn't afford negotiations or jumping back into her jammies to play hookie with her daughter. This mama was just as emotional about leaving her girl in tears as I was but had no room to consider an alternative outcome. We all weigh options of working long hours outside the home, working long inside the home, or being a parent that works their yoga panted butt off for no paycheck. The decisions are specific to the needs of that particular family.
Sometimes I get a reminder that I'm right where I need to be for us. For my family.
As we parted ways, I lifted my cute little Bongo bag into my lap. I kicked off my sweet rounded nosed shoes to the passenger side. I drove away not ashamed but grateful for my second-hand finds that allow me the freedom, at least right now, to always consider an alternative outcome.