Monika Whitney, over at Aias.ca, was a lot like me as a single person...only with more grace and style, trust me. She agreed to teach me how to be the hottest mom at the Tot Gym and maybe even be a little friendlier, too. Go check her out! She's worth it.
Long ago, back in the days before I was anyone's mom, I was the center of my own Universe. Every morning I would wake up at 5am and go to the gym where I would do 1 hour on the elliptical trainer. If it was a Monday/Wednesday/Friday I'd do a weight circuit as well. After the gym I'd take a quick but thorough shower, never forgetting to exfoliate. I'd dry my hair, put it in an updo, paint on some makeup, slip into a dress, step into a pair of heels and head off to my job. There I'd spend the whole day working my ass off in my not-for-profit job so I could 'make the world a better place' and get myself ahead at the same time. When I wasn't working, I had every available opportunity to improve myself. And hell, why not? My only responsibility in the whole world was looking after myself!
When I found out I was pregnant, I was 100% certain of one thing: I was going to do all this stuff again the second my baby was born. A few days after my baby was born, I was going to be back on that elliptical. Surely I'd be one of those moms that was magnificently put together, even with a newborn. Especially with a toddler; after all, it's so much easier once they are older, right? Of course. All the women around me would stare in awe at how together I was and they'd be knocking down my door for advice. The life of a parent would be oh so glamorous for me.
After Aias was born, reality set in. The night we brought him home and he didn't go to sleep on command at 7pm, we knew things were going to be different than we had planned. Our priorities shifted, both naturally and forcefully, to the needs of our child. Weeks passed and while we were blissfully happy, we were also exhausted. 3 months after Aias was born, I was still wearing my maternity pants (and loving it, I might add). My roots were showing, my eyebrows were growing, I hadn't the slightest idea where any of my makeup even was, and I'd been blessed to be one those people that doesn't lose any weight while breast feeding. What probably surprised me the most was that it didn't really matter to me. I picked my clothes based on how easy it would be to nurse in them, and nursing tops are expensive, so I basically rotated between 3-4 nursing tops, wearing whatever happened to be clean. But ultimately, what did it matter? Who was looking at me anyhow? Everywhere I went I had an adorably dressed young infant with me. I was basically a prop in place to keep the cute baby alive so people could coo at him. Why bother trying to look like anything else? I considered it an amazing achievement that I had successfully taken a shower every day since Aias was born, surely that was enough.
When Aias was about 6 months old, I decided it was time to start caring at least a little bit. I would pack away half of my maternity pants. I would get a haircut. I would moisturize. I would also get out of the house. Up the road from where we live is a community centre, and every morning from 10am to 12:15pm they fill the gym with toys suitable for kids 6 months to 3 years old. They call this the Tot Gym. Moms from all over the city show up with their kids and everyone has a grand old time. I was certain that all the moms there would have lived my experience and they, too, would be wearing their maternity pants, ponytails, and overgrown eyebrows. Solidarity and commiseration would surround this sacred gathering place. So one morning I put on my hoodie and my favorite jeans; they happened to be, you know maternity jeans but who was keeping track right? I loaded up the stroller and confidently headed up the road to the Tot Gym.
When I got there, I was floored. I was, without a doubt, the biggest slob at the Tot Gym. All the women there looked like they were just representing different stages of amazing; on the lower end of the amazing scale were tight bodied women in their black lululemon pants, perfectly tanned skin and silky hair. On the higher end of the amazing scale were women in the expensive jeans, decked out in full makeup and jewelry. I looked like I was there to ask for change. I sat on a mat and played with Aias for about 30 minutes, and during that time, about 100 of the women talked to me. It was like adding insult to injury. If they were going to show up there looking all beautiful and I was clearly looking like riff raff, the very least they could do is ignore me. But no. They all had something to say to me. I explained how to pronounce Aias's name and shared his age about 1 million times before it became too much. I could tell everyone was looking at my eyebrows and staring into my pores. No way was I ever going back.
It took me about 4 months to build up the confidence to go back, and when I did, it was effectively out of necessity. Aias had started walking and he was getting sick of hanging around the apartment or at the park. He needed to see the other kids and he needed a change of scenery. This time, I had my game on a little more. I wore pants with no elastic band, for example. I had some powder on my face, and I even dried my hair before putting it up in the usual ponytail. Instead of looking like a pauper, I looked average. That would be enough for me; I wasn't dressing up for this. When I got there, the sexy moms were there looking sexier than ever. This time, I wasn't the only one noticing it, apparently. Aias decided he was going to scope out the most well-dressed moms in the room and hang around their feet. So he did. Unfortunately, the most well-dressed moms in the room also happened to be the most insufferable. For the next hour I did all I could to encourage Aias to play somewhere ELSE in the Tot Gym, ANYWHERE ELSE... but for some reason he was magnetized to these two incredibly well dressed, beautiful blonde women. The blonde women had a lot to say, of course, not to me. They were upset about their tenants, upset about their husbands, upset about the wait lists they had their kids on for preschool, etc. You would think they would have said hi to me or something, but they didn't. They probably thought I was waiting for them to take their eyes off their purses so I could steal their iphones. After an hour of it I'd had enough, so off we went.
I was feeling pretty butthurt, frumpy, ugly, uninteresting. I'd made it all about me. It was like I was telling myself that all good looking, well dressed women were obviously bitches or snobs, and allowing my own insecurities to ignore the fact just that people are different and not everyone has something in common with everyone else. After some self loathing and brooding, I came to to conclude that this wasn't anything anyone had done to me, it was what I had done to myself. I could just have easily had said hi to those women, but I chose not to. I felt badly about what I perceived as my own shortcomings as both a mother and woman, and because of it, I'd demonstrated unfriendliness and right in front of my son, to boot. I'd walked into that Tot Gym planning on judging people, and with the mindset that people would be judging me. The reality was, no one was a bigger judge of me than myself. Not exactly A+ parenting.
So this time I did not let the experience scare me away. Instead, I tried to let the lesson I had learned empower me, and I remembered the words of Eleanor Roosevelt who said both "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent" and "You wouldn't worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do." Aias and I have gone back to that Tot Gym a few days a week ever since. Some days we go dressed nicely, some days we go in lounge pants. One thing is for sure, we've learned a thing or two from the Tot Gym.
Here are a few of those things:
1. If you are in a room full of intimidating looking fancy people, but you yourself aren't intimidating or fancy looking, you'll have a lot of great conversations and meet a lot of really nice people.
2. We were all different people before we had kids, and having kids didn't change that. You won't just get along with people instantly because you both happen to have kids the same age.
3. People have different priorities with regard to their looks and how they present themselves; it shouldn't have any bearing on how welcome you feel somewhere or how much you enjoy an experience with your child.
4. If you want to be a super sexy MILF, a daily trip to the gym, a visit to the salon, a pair of Hunter boots and black lululemon pants never hurt. But it doesn't really matter that much in the long run anyway ;)