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Mom Envy

You over there. That’s right, you in the velour hoodie with the Venti Macchiato. I have to talk to you.

And you, too: The one dashing off to your car as fast as your pressed pencil skirt will let you run. Slow down for a second. You need to hear this.

It’s drop-off time at school and, like most mornings, little circles of stay-at-home moms are pooling by the gate, near the office, in the parking lot. In pony-tails and baseball caps, they make playdates, share stories about head lice and commiserate over soccer schedules.

A working mom skitters past in a tailored suit and gleaming pumps. She’s late for a meeting, but dials up a smile for the chatter-clatch moms, who wave at her. One of them — a petite brunette with no make-up and a dollop of crusted oatmeal on her yoga top — hollers over her shoulder in a tone that wasn’t intended to sound bitchy: “Wow. Don’t you look nice.”

But between those five seemingly innocuous words lies the ugly tension that exists between moms who punch a timecard and moms who don’t. And it’s really rather stupid.

God bless feminism, but an abundance of life choices can make a gal paranoid. Those who choose Plain Ol’ Mom as an occupation assume our suited sisters will secretly chide us for abandoning our professional potential. Those who opt for a paycheck figure our home-maker counterparts will tisk-tisk us for being selfish, or missing out on our kids’ childhoods.

But it’s not true and I’ll tell you why.

A former desk jockey myself, I recently gave up the monotony of memos and mailrooms for the privilege of working at home. And while I still have deadlines, I’m able to linger longer at drop-off — abandoning my identity as a Mom With an Outrageous Dry Cleaning Bill and joining the ranks of the Moms Who Have Time to Schmooze.

What I didn’t realize before I’d been on both sides is that it’s not judgment that flows between the two camps. It’s jealousy.

And, OK, a little bit of resentment. The mom who works all day has to choose, some mornings, between curling her hair and fixing her kids’ lunches. She lost the opportunity to stop at Starbucks when she had to spend six minutes removing dog hair from her trousers with duct tape.

So after shoving her child out of the car with a half-hearted “Have fun at after-school care!” she can’t fathom how the latte-wielding sweat suit set gets to stand around dishing dirt about the principal — she wants to dish dirt! and comparing gyms — she wants to belong to a gym! — when she has to be downtown for a conference call in exactly … damn, three minutes ago.

Meanwhile, the ladies of leisure see in the blur of rayon running past them a symbol of grown-up life. They envy corporate moms for having a reason to dress up, an excuse to wear perfume and a watch. Just once they’d like to skip Pilates and go hang out in an office where people bring donuts for no reason. They wonder how their life might feel different if they were not the default chaperone for all second-grade field trips. If they were faced with interesting problems that couldn’t be solved with a cookie, an ice pack or a time out.

But what if, instead of envying one another’s choices, we supported them? Listen up, Leisure Mom: Tomorrow, raise your coffee in a toast to your amiga-in-pantyhose as she passes, and say “Go get ’em, Gorgeous!” Workaday Mom, be sure to shout back a genuine “Thanks for chaperoning the field trip today!” and invite your unhurried comrade to gossip with you over lunch.

Even better: Tell her she’ll need to dress up.

Published inColumnsParenting

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