A few months ago, a friend sent me this practical account of how a woman got rid of a placenta she never wanted in the first place. It casually flew in the face of the false dichotomy between crunchy, placenta-eating home birthers and epidural princesses. On a whim, I sent an admiring email to the author. Any woman willing to reveal her own complexity in an embarrassing tale of human waste disposal is a friend of mine. I invited her to write a guest post here, and hot damn, she wrote one.
My boyfriend, Scott, was in Arizona with his dying father and I was at a diner with our two sons. My older son was rolling creamers across the table for the younger one to fling on the ground. I overheard our waitress say to an older couple who had just walked in, “Someone is in your booth.”
She nodded in our direction. Unknowingly we had occupied “their” booth. Aware of how territorial old people can be about booths, I stiffened. The couple sat down near us, and then the husband began to silently watch us.
“Whatever,” I said to myself and then became distracted with the blue crayon my youngest was chewing.
The old folks ate swiftly and left. My children were covered in syrup, so I asked for the check.
“It’s been taken care of,” the waitress said and nodded to the booth where the couple had been sitting. I had spent the better part of my twenties—a time before back flab and pregnancy-induced skin tags—in Mission District bars and no stranger had ever picked up my tab. I asked the waitress to mind my sons while I ran into the rain to thank the Samaritans, but they were gone.
“What was that all about?” I asked her when I returned. She smiled in a certain way. Like the way you smile when you assume you’re in the company of your own kind.
It was really early; I was alone with my kids; I don’t have a wedding ring. Of course the couple—and the waitress—thought I was a single mom, which I’m not.
At this point, I became aware that silence was a form of deception and what I should say was, “What a goddamn nice gesture. It’s been a rough week because my boyfriend (super strong emphasis) is away with his sick father.”
Why did I lie by omission? Because there was something shamefully thrilling about passing as a single mom, who as everyone knows is society’s toughest of the tough.
I asked about her life. Her shift had started at 6 a.m., so she had to wake both her kids at 5:30. Then they went back to sleep on the babysitter’s couch. “Not so bad,” she said.
She had parted ways with her kids at the crack of dawn, and the suspenders on her diner uniform were pushing her boobs out to either side. But she wasn’t complaining.
I complain. For what? Not only do I have a partner, but he’s of the best stock, scooping baby poop out of the bath drain, telling me he wants me, working his ass off. I have my mom who not only watches our baby once a week but also lugs the recycling to the curb. I have the hardest working nanny in the North Bay. The list goes on.
After our first son was born, neither for the love of Christ nor money could Scott and I stop playing the who-has-it-harder game. Thankfully we’ve let that go.
But in my mind, I’m still a contestant with other moms. Why? Because Scott works nights? Because I have two boys? Because my kids are less than two years apart in age? Because all my friends live at least an hour away?
It’s not sympathy I’m after. Just acknowledgement: What you’re doing is hard. But does anything I’m doing even qualify as hard? Some people handle hard better than others. I’m ashamed that I’m not one of them.
I left the restaurant with the waitress still under the impression that we were in the good fight together.
Several months later, I returned to the diner with my family. Scott and the boys were there, as was my dad and his wife. I was telling them the story and getting close to the climax – “they picked up our bill” – when the same waitress came to take our order.
She acknowledged me. And then she scanned the full table, took in my reality, pursed her lips, and poured the coffee.
Jennifer Liss enjoys writing about life in the great parched state of California. She lives in Napa with her boyfriend and two young sons. She makes her living as an education and curriculum writer.