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Parents on the Playground: You're Judging Me, Aren't You?

Photograph by Getty Images

Instead of spending all of my time in the car shuttling my preschooler and elementary schooler to different schools, I'm lucky: My 1st grader and preschooler go to school on the same campus. What's not so lucky is the elementary and preschool start times are staggered. And since I have a kid in each, there’s a steady flow of parents around to judge what a hot mess I am in the morning.

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When Aria is off to 1st grade at 8:40 a.m., I have to stay with AJ until preschool starts at 9 a.m. Those 20 minutes can be grueling. There’s more than a remote possibility that I have to actually talk to people. And we all know how anxiety provoking that can be. Let’s face it: We’re there for our kids, not because we wanna hang at 8:40 a.m. And if you ask me how I am or what I’m up to, I certainly don’t feel like chatting about the job I didn’t get or where I plan to get my gray roots covered when I have enough money—whenever that is.

Even with several cups of coffee in me, I just don’t feel like engaging more often than not. Of course I do find myself chatting here and there because I would never want to seem actively rude, which is certainly the impression if I stay buried in my iPhone composing funny tweets. I do my best to be authentic, but I still feel a sense of strain. And that's why summer is such a huge break for me. Or at least for my mind.

What do those other moms know that I don't?

Because everyone else seems genuinely thrilled to be there. What do those other moms know that I don't? No one is cranky, annoyed or still in dirty pajamas. Even the moms with the new babies have brushed hair and are in decent moods. Not me. I don’t brush my hair on a good day. Working from home means I rarely put on more than the sweatpants I slept in. And even though I’ve lived here 25 years, I can’t shake my New York City born and bred “keep your eyes down and keep walking” energy. Probably because I don’t want to. I like it. It keeps me safe. It allows me to be an observer.

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But I know that’s not always how it looks from the outside. Luckily my school has a crew of down-to-earth moms. They’re all super sweet, lovely and far from annoying. I’ve heard horror stories on certain playgrounds where the one-upping and judging is an Olympic sport, so I know it could be so much worse! I just sit with my iPhone, head down and hope all the sweet people at my school know it’s not you, it’s me.

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