It was supposed to be a night out.
A night out used to mean dinner, drinks — and my favorite — dancing. These days, the only dancing I’m doing is the please-don’t-spit-up-on-me-while-I-burp-you dance, and good luck trying to Harlem Shake your way through that.
No, this was to be a night out at a hip and happening place … the local bookstore. But, it was still a night out, so I gussied myself up the best I could. I chose an outfit that was less than three years old — leggings and a colorful maternity shirt that, I hoped, could pass as a regular top — and risked all manner of eye infections by applying mascara that was considerably older than that.
My mother arrived in good time, ready to shoo me out the door while she handled the kids.
And then, quite literally, dark clouds gathered on the horizon.
My mother-in-law had called earlier to warn that forecasters were predicting a strong band of thunderstorms would be passing smack dab over my county. I only half-listened to her as I rushed to nurse Scrunchy Face one more time before I left. (You’ve heard of “pump and dump?” This was “breastfeed and barge out.”)
I shrugged off the admonition — I’m not the world’s best driver, but I can handle a five-minute car trip through a thunderstorm. Naively, I never stopped to think of the effect the storm would have on my children. More on that later.
I wasn’t about to let a little inclement weather stop me from my goal: attending an event featuring mom bloggers extraordinaire-turned-authors Tracy Beckerman and Jill Smokler. I’d had fleeting interactions with both women in my past life as an online web producer — Tracy, a nationally-syndicated columnist, and I exchanged messages over Twitter when I first started writing about parenting and I once interviewed Jill for a story about a Thanksgiving donation program she’d started through her Scary Mommy blog.
I was eager to meet both of them face to face.
I arrived early, purchased Tracy and Jill’s new books –“Lost in Suburbia” and “Motherhood Comes Naturally (And Other Vicious Lies)” — and headed to the store’s basement level, where the event was taking place.
I spotted them both instantly — Jill, with her enviable mop of golden curls, and Tracy, with her sleek, chic look that even years of suburban life couldn’t beat out of her. To my dismay, they stood in a cordoned-off corner of the room with other women. A sign in front labeled the area as reserved for a private gathering of a local mothers’ club to which I didn’t belong.
As a journalist, I would have walked stridently past the rope line to do my job. But I was here as a civilian, so I loitered on the other side of the room, waiting timidly for Jill and Tracy to emerge from the members-only group and begin the event, which was due to start at 7 p.m.
By 7:02, I started to panic. I stared at my cell phone. Any minute, I thought, my mother could be calling, announcing some emergency or, more likely, notifying me that Scrunchy Face was refusing his bottle and needed immediate access to the mommy mammary buffet.
I made my way over to the members-only corner, trying to look cool and nonchalant — pretty sure I failed on both fronts — as I walked around the rope. Of course, Jill and Tracy were already talking to other women. Anxiously, I waited my turn, taking note that absolutely no one else was wearing leggings. (Are they out now? Someone please give me clue.)
I’ll forever be grateful to the kindly bookstore employee who noticed me and asked if I needed help.
In response, I made some incoherent noises about “still nursing,” “baby not bottle-trained” and “might need to leave soon.”
Fortunately, she understood and took action, interrupting Jill’s conversation and explaining that I was a woman who needed to get home to my baby. Then, as if on cue, my cell phone rang.
Hurry home, my mother told me. The thunder was scaring both children, Saucer Eyes was crying for his mommy and Scrunchy Face had indeed refused his bottle.
What came next is a bit of a blur. I made lightning-fast small talk with Jill and Tracy. They signed their respective books for me as I apologized profusely for having to leave so soon. Somewhere in my rush, I managed to remember to get a picture with both of them and then raced out the door into the rain.
When I arrived home, both children were calm. After the thunder had passed, so had their panic. I half-considered turning around and heading back to the bookstore, but then Scrunchy Face whimpered. The little man was still hungry. I sighed and began to nurse, flipping through my new books all the while.
I stopped for a moment to let my eyes rest on the message Tracy had scribbled above her signature. For all I knew, she had written the same to dozens or hundreds of others, but it still felt personal.
“To Alice, who is also lost in suburbia! Keep laughing!”
Thanks, Tracy. I’m trying.
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