“She was super good, Mom,” Zoey said. “She told me the tryouts are coming up for a super fun team.” I asked her if she wanted to play baseball, too, and Zoey shrugged. “Is it hard?” she asked. I told her I had no idea and to ask her father, sitting right next to us in his own chair, his ample bottom unscoochable. Hugh explained that down here, the boys’ team plays baseball and the girls’ team plays softball. And then he made a dad joke, saying that therefore the sport wasn’t hard; it was soft. And our humorless daughter said, “Ok, great! I’ll ask Bridge when tryouts are, and then, Mom, can you drive us?”
It turns out that as with most things, Zoey is naturally pretty good at softball. Her father came home from work the next night with some gear from the local sports store—lucky Zoey, I would have bought everything used—and pitched her some balls underhand. She hit them all fine. We already knew she’d have no trouble fielding, as her favorite sport is to edge her little brother out of a guy-bonding game of catch with their dad.
Hugh said he’d emailed the coach and put her on the list and used my email on the sign-up sheet, since tryouts were during his weekly daddy-daughter date with baby Joy. And he laughed smugly and said, “Doubt Zoey’ll need any help from me anyway, that girl.” Could there be any doubt that Zoey has retained her place as her father’s favorite through all three kids? And Joy, of course, as my baby, has my heart locked down. Poor Samuel. Though I have a feeling he’ll gain favor when Zoey’s period arrives.
So tryouts have come and gone, and Zoey has not disappointed Hugh, not that she would ever be able to even if she tried. She made the team as something called a utility player, which apparently is everyone who doesn’t know how to pitch or play in the catcher’s position. The coach cc’d all the other parents whose kids made it, and I immediately sent an email to all of them saying that I’d love to get a carpool going for practices and have two extra rear seats in my van on practice days to run the kids from the middle school to the field. I got six takers within an hour and had to divvy them up in turns. Daria, who is a big-time real estate lawyer and just cannot be there under any circumstances after school, even told me her daughter was “just hefty enough” to sit in the front seat. I was thinking, What if Sofia loses a couple of pounds when the season starts? Will she have to ride her bike from school to practice until she can bulk back up? I’d better be sure to bring some high-calorie snacks for the car.
Zoey was pleased when I told her about the ride sharing. A carload of players meant built-in buddies from the drop. And softball meant new friends at school—an area she could use some help with since we moved down south.
But Bridget’s mother, Wendy Charles, is not pleased. Not in the least. She responded too late to get Bridget a spot in my car and now has come over in her uptight work clothes to give me a piece of her mind. It seems to upset her further when she finds me trying to act southern on my front lawn.
“I just saw y’all’s email,” she says to me. Not Good evening. Not Might I sit down? Hugh’s chair is empty tonight; he’s inside fixing a running toilet. She could have had a seat, had a glass of wine, acted like a person.
Instead: “Oh, Celeste, I know you mean well. But I was at work all day; you gotta know that. Doing work,” she clarifies. “When y’all are figuring out your carpools, ah’m in a meeting, and now I don’t mind telling you I feel hung out to dry.”
I look at her, confused, then embarrassed. I guess I did forget all about Bridget and that when Wendy thanked me for giving her a ride yesterday, I responded with a relaxed, “Anytime.”
“Oh crap,” I say. “I should’ve saved a spot for Bridget. I just was so excited about the new team I forgot your daughter would need a ride every day.”
Wendy seems to soften a bit at my quick regret. “Well, I wish I didn’t have to come hat in hand. Wouldn’t I like to be sitting here having a glass of wine in the front garden rather than rushing around trying to figure out how to get my daughter from school to her absolute favorite activity in the world? But I wanna stay focused on the positive. She did get in and is looking like a starter, even with all the competition this year. You know, we gotta take the good with the bad.”
I try to parse her round-shaped words into something I know how to respond to. “I should make room for her in the car, Wendy. Gosh, I wish I’d gotten that eight seater from GMC.” I sigh. “The gas mileage, though.”
Wendy waves her hands in the air. “Now, don’t be kicking out someone else because of us. Aaliyah’s mom, Gemma, is going to take Bridge. She works from home and says she can just slip away for the twenty minutes to and fro.”
I smile. “I suppose she wouldn’t regret the chance to peek at Coach in his short shorts.” Gemma feels like someone I wish I could get to know better. She’s funny as can be, with her borderline-inappropriate jokes about the neighbor dads. How the new father the next block over gets his mail in a bathrobe with no belt, or how one of the substitute mailmen makes socks and Birkenstocks look sexy. (He does not.)
Wendy frowns at me. “Ok. That’s fihne. But Celeste, and here’s the thing, Gemma has a standing meeting on Wednesdays. Don’t suppose you could strap Bridge to the bumper on Wednesdays, couldja?” She tries to smile, but it looks like it pains her. “I asked around as soon as I got home, but all the other cars seem to be full already.”
“Who drove her last year?” I ask and then immediately regret it.
“Kara’s dad,” she says plainly. “But then, he’ll not be driving this year, will he?”
I grimace. Kara Diforio was a utility player who, by all accounts, got some decent play time last year. She was not on the list for this year. I suppose that might be in some part due to Zoey. “Shoot. I had hoped she was just in the thirteen-and-ups now.”
“She’ll do the rec team for a year. Regroup. Jane Diforio’s mentioned she’s got a lead on an amazing private coach. I think the gal they used last year just wasn’t up to snuff.”
Private sports coaching for eleven-year-olds! I try not to make a face at that. “Well, I’ll figure out Wednesdays. Maybe Hugh can come home early on Wednesdays, or . . . I know! We could have Zoey and Bridget bike together, and I could carry their gear? It’s only a couple of miles, and I bet they’d enjoy it.”
“Bless your heart,” says Wendy. I can never tell down here when this is a nice thing to say and when it is meant to be cruel, so I wince whenever I hear it. “I so appreciate that,” she adds. I’m about to ask her to have a seat and share some wine, but she is already walking back to the sidewalk, like this whole visit has been nothing but a business transaction.
Or a mugging.
“No problem,” I say to her back, because if I was just attacked, it’s likely I invited it. I suppose there was a softball-carpooling pecking order, and I have upset it. Or more likely, there was some sort of understanding that softball was Not for Those Yankee Masons from Minnesota, and then I signed my daughter up anyway, and Zoey had the nerve to go and be good at it.
And what’s worse, I tried to be just a bit helpful to the very people for whom my lifestyle is a personal affront.
Hugh is right: It’s likely that I cannot win, no matter what I do, because to Wendy and her own personal League of Women Judgers, I am everything that is wrong with parenting. I am a woman with no career and three pampered kids who haven’t spent so much as a minute in day care. And yes, I admit it, I have a Pinterest board full of fun kids’ lunches sorted into a monthly rotation. I am a feminism fail; I am completely dependent on my husband for every penny we have, and I’m perfectly fine with that.
But I seem to be the only one. As the lawyer mom helpfully reminded me a few days ago, we are not living in a community property state, so it’s best to “keep up with your waxing and keep things interesting.”
Hugh comes out now and asks me, in a faux-fearful whisper, “Is she gone yet?”
I roll my eyes at him, but at the same time I sink back into his arms, hoping he washed his hands between the toilet and me. Linked together, we watch Wendy make her way down our sidewalk to the next block, where her front door stares out in the opposite direction to mine, passing our shared fence.
“Were you hiding the whole time?” I ask him.
“Well, I just figured I wouldn’t be much help,” he admits. “I never understand all the complicated subtext going on between you moms around here.”
“Honestly, Hugh, neither do I. What have I done that’s so awful, I want to know?”
“Aw, love,” he says. “Jealousy is a three-headed snake—no way to avoid it. Look at her.” He gestures, now that she’s well out of hearing. “Buttoned up to her chin, shaped like a railroad tie, working herself half to death to prove something to god knows who. And you: beautiful, voluptuous, sexy as hell . . .” He starts to rub the increasingly smaller nook between my wide hips and my wide bust, something that used to make me feel feminine and now makes me wonder where my waistline went.