Tonight I attended a fundraising dinner at my daughters’ school. It is an event I have gone to every single year since Sabrina was in kindergarten and I was a stay-at-home mom, small business owner, and PTA member.
I remember how big and intimidating the school seemed that first year — so different from the daycare/preschool from which Sabrina had come and Bryn still attended. The hallways seemed so wide and long, the furniture so large, the staff so foreign and unknown. But when Sabrina started there, I threw myself into the Supermom role. I volunteered in the classroom, I baked for the bake sales, I helped start the Brownie troop, I donated my business services to the silent auction. The school became a home-away-from-home very quickly. I’d breeze through the front door, waving at the office staff, on my way to one appointment or another.
I came to know the other moms (and some dads) really well. We’d stand on the playground at the beginning and end of school and exchange news about our children or idle gossip about the school. We arranged playdates and sleepovers and afterschool activities. We compared notes about teachers and troublemakers and summer camps. I felt a part of that community. Known. Appreciated.
When Bryn started kindergarten two years later, my marriage was coming apart at a rapid clip. Little did I know when I kissed her off to her first day in that now-familiar room with that now-familiar teacher that life was about to change dramatically. By the end of the school year, my husband and I were separated, and my place in that little community had shifted perceptibly.
I moved out of our family home in March of that year and so never really got to know the parents of Bryn’s school mates quite as well as Sabrina’s. I worked part-time while Bryn was in first grade, so I was still there at drop-off and pick-up, waiting patiently with the other moms, but there was no more time for classroom volunteering or the PTA. But it was a mixed blessing… not knowing the parents of Bryn’s classmates also meant that they didn’t have much emotional stake in my marital situation. They didn’t know me or my family well enough to be shocked or upset by our divorce, so they received me, my ex, and the news of our divorce with more equanimity than the parents of Sabrina’s friends. In fact, I think my divorce brought me closer to some of those women than I would have been otherwise.
But, perhaps not surprisingly, it is still some of the mothers of Sabrina’s classmates to which I gravitate at these school functions. The ones who knew me before, supported me during, and accepted me after my divorce; these are the women who feel like old friends. In truth, we probably hardly know each other, and yet there is something rich in watching your children grow up together, something bonding in moving through those early parenting years side by side. And I, of course, remember every small kindness paid and friendship given during the darkest times of my divorce.
Next year, Sabrina and her classmates will splinter off to multiple middle schools. The easy familiarity of these school functions will be no longer as strange faces replace the well-known ones. Some families I will likely never see again, which is an odd and discomforting thought. This school, and these families, provided the context for the largest upheaval in my life to date. For better or for worse, the drama of my divorce played out against the backdrop of the community built around this elementary school. It was in those hallways that I was comforted by near strangers and dismissed by some I’d thought were friends. It was those teachers and staff who sheltered and supported my children as they struggled to grasp their new reality. It was that principal who called to check in with me every few months for the first year.
As I sat there tonight and wondered — for the sixth year — why the spaghetti was so bland and tasteless, I felt as if I were already a visitor to the school, rather than a current member of its community. So much has changed since I was a PTA mom. I looked around the room and remembered my old life. I can’t say that I’d want to go back, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t miss parts of it, too. So I savored those moments tonight, in easy conversation with the women who’ve watched me move through the wretched transitions of the last 3 years. We shared memories of days past and fears of days to come and there was a bittersweet quality to all of it. Or maybe that was just me.
When Sabrina goes to middle school next year, I’ll meet new parents, and they will only ever know me as Sabrina’s divorced mom. Our seemingly-perfect intact family and the divorce that blew us apart will fade from collective memory. Life will keep moving and changing and surprising us all. And someday, probably very soon, the memories of those spaghetti dinners will be distant, treasured snippets of childhoods gone too soon, and a former life nearly forgotten.