Last session, I confessed to my therapist that I was no better than the other women who’d ridiculed Julianne. Never to her face, just privately with Sherry. Tall, chic and elusive Sherry, with her TV executive husband and Nantucket vacation villa. Everyone pursued Sherry for their mother pack.
That was 10 years ago.
The problem with Julianne was that she didn’t fit. She wasn’t like the sleek, spandexed moms with their investment banker husbands. Sherry put it succinctly. “She reminds me of a refugee.”
Julianne was always pregnant, marked by a bright red rash on her cheeks, leading a towline of kids.
I’d watch her pass by our house opposite the elementary school. At the start of each school year, there she was, pregnant again. Short, beleaguered, peering through owlish glasses, her discount flowered tops and bobbed cut shrieked 1950s. Mothers jawboning by their SUVs snickered from behind their designer shades. How un-population control, un-feminist, un…, I’ll just say it… so unattractive.
Our kids landed in the same grade and I rarely noticed her daughter. Nothing remarkable from what I could see. Did I ever ask my son about her? Why would I? She was just part of the ever-expanding Wayland pack.
On the first day of fourth grade, Julianne rushed by, pregnant with #6. She pushed a double stroller with wailing babies while scrambling to keep the older Wayland kids from running across the street. No Lexus or Range Rover. They walked.
I lost track of Julianne when my son moved onto middle school. I no longer was part of the daily elementary school gaggle, hanging on the corner dissecting minute details of our kids’ lives. Every so often, I’d see Julianne shepherding sturdy toddlers on tricycles, then leaner Waylands on bicycles.
Then two weeks ago, there she was, coming out of my favorite cafe. Not a kid in sight. She was sipping a double latte. “Hi Julianne, how are you?” I said, trying to remember her daughter’s name. ”How is… how are the kids?”
“Well, I’m getting divorced and Marla— she was in school with your son, she plays soccer. Actually, she’s regional champion and editor of the school paper.”
I took a closer look at Julianne who was gesturing to join her on a bench. She was thin… buffed thin. No sign this woman had popped out six babies. Her skin was smooth, rosy, youthful. The result of all those years of surging hormones? She was pretty and smart looking in a simple tracksuit.
“And I decided that was the end, on the day I was lugging a humidifier, holding Bob and Amanda’s hands and my husband just watched. Didn’t offer to help. Just watched.” I stopped eyeballing her and tuned into what she was saying, words tumbling out without a pause. “My master’s degree’s in chemistry,” she said, describing the career she’d put on hold. “One day, I started doing some calculations about the time my husband spent racing his vintage roadster while I diapered, cooked and rushed to meetings with the principal… my first and third were regulars in his office during elementary school…and I said, no more. My husband wanted six kids— I love them all— but it was his idea and where was he?”
About two hours later, Julianne left to pick up Marla at a chess tournament. “Let’s get together soon,” she suggested. I waved as she climbed into the roomy Toyota van that shuttled her tribe. One kid had special needs and she was researching breakthrough treatments and medical care. Listening to her daily juggling act, I realized I was sitting next to a titanium 5 footer. She ran seven miles each morning before navigating each child’s demands while jump-starting her own life.
Had I ever had a conversation with Julianne? Not in ten years. I was too busy chatting up Sherry, trying to wrangle an invitation to her home. Nobody was invited. By high school, I gave up trying and recently heard that she was diagnosed with severe depression. If I’d paid attention, there were clues that her life was off limits. Like the front gate. There was no door handle, just an invisible lock.