“Yep, I’ll be there!” I say with the kind of conviction that wavers on a gut feeling. 2:30pm Friday. “I … think?” Surely nothing could be happening then. I must have it confused with some other day when important things that I must go to happen. I drive home. My brain jumps up and down, shouting at me to remember where the conflict is, the reason I need to skip out from work early tomorrow and can’t actually make 2:30pm.
I get to the door and struggle with the groceries because what I’m trying to remember is just out of reach and I can’t do two things at once because I am a Bad Parent.
“Oh, hello!” I say to my daughters, because it couldn’t possibly be related to them or anything I need to do for them.
“Mum!” the big one says, “look here in the newsletter! It’s the Mother’s Day afternoon tea tomorrow!”
The Mother’s Day afternoon/morning tea comes around but once a year with, I am certain, the sole purpose of showing everyone what a neglectful parent I am. It is always in the middle of the morning or the middle of the afternoon, which leaves no possible way to just be moderately late to arrive or early to leave. This is to ensure I don’t sneak off to it unnoticed and that I am forced to actually go and tell my boss that I will be absent. Possibly even chuck a sickie. Almost certainly be bitched out later on by someone.
“Oh! What a treat!” I say with my heart all in knots. There’s no possible way I can skip out on the work commitment. “But … I don’t think I can make it.”
I have a cry in bed like a small girl with a much older daughter.
At 1pm the next day, I climb into my car to go to work. I drive a little way. I stop at the supermarket and buy yoghurt. I get back in my car. I drive in a circle. I stop at a traffic light. I go via a train crossing that I know will hold me up. I pull over to send a text message. I stop to let a pigeon cross the road. It’s 1:45pm.
“Well shit,” I say to my car, “now I’m going to be too late for that work thing anyway. May as well go to the afternoon tea.”
I send a text message to work to let them know I remembered the other thing that I had on. I drive back to the school at four hundred kilometres per hour and park in a quarter-hour zone because who cares if I get a fine? I barge through the mothers I don’t know with their plates of petite fours and sit cross-legged as close to the stage as I can. It is 2:32pm.
I watch the 4-year-olds gallop on to the platform and look for their mums. Their eyes are glistening. Their hearts are pounding. Their confidence is wavering. And then! they spy her in the crowd. Their little fists unclench. They sing terribly. I applaud even though I know none of them.
Lily’s class comes out. She looks miserable. She scans her audience with the enthusiasm of someone heading to the dock. But then our eyes meet, and she literally blinks a few times to make sure it’s really me. She sings with gusto. She tells her friends that I’ve made it even though I said I wasn’t going to.
Georgia’s class comes out. My girl looks even more dejected than Lily did. She’s dragging her feet. She’s trying to talk to the other kids but they don’t talk back because they’re looking for their mums. She doesn’t bother. She stands in line with her eyes down. She fiddles with her hair. She shifts her feet. She looks genuinely crestfallen, and if I don’t get her attention I will surely die right there in the gym.
“Georgia!” I call out to her because I am so embarrassing. She looks up. When she sees me, her eyes look like they’re on fire. Her face cracks with dimples. She doesn’t sing because she’s too busy looking at me. She claps herself at the end and she’s still smiling.
When she’s finished, I run back to my car. It’s been forty minutes but I haven’t got a ticket. I call work.
“Sorry, I double booked,” I say.
“Oh! You wouldn’t have even been able to do it, they had their own guy.”
I am so relieved I eat a Freddo and watch them go back to their classrooms. Their friends are talking about how much their mums loved their afternoon tea. They are almost out of earshot, but I hear them say, “Our mum was there too!” and the knots in my heart come undone.