MomClub President Jenny Cross schlepped sketches of faces she saw on the street. They were not fully realized images, but Jenny Cross was hoping her daughter had not yet dropped her afternoon nap, so she kept the sketches in a Ziploc baggie in the inseam of her diaper bag. In the late afternoon, after a day’s stroller-pushing and StoryTime singalongs, she would get a coffee at Panera, find a seat away from the overhead stereo, unwrap the sketches, hold them with the tips of her fingers, and spend the precious few minutes of her daughter’s nap trying to remember her former self.
The sketches weighed 12 ounces and smelled of baby wipes. They were made in haste, but Jenny understood that haste was the only way she could do anything for herself these days.
At the end of her daughter’s nap, she would hurriedly cram the sketches back into the diaper bag. Distracted, slightly irritated, she would get up and move along the other stroller-pushing moms on the sidewalk, checking the sky for rain, making a quick stop at Target for dish soap, then at full dark she would lay beside her daughter in the child’s narrow foam mattress, wondering how on Earth some women managed to be both successful artists and mothers.
The things they schlepped were heavy, messy and determined by necessity. Among the necessities or near-necessities were diapers, healthy snacks, unhealthy snacks, baby wipes, markers, crayons, paper, water bottle, phone, keys, wallet, Chapstick, tampons, pads, umbrella, and two or three toys. Together, these items weighed between 15 and 20 pounds, depending upon a child’s habits or attention span while inside the stroller.
Henrietta Dobbins, whose child was in the midst of not-so-successful potty training, schlepped a portable potty as well as two extra sets of clothing; her child was especially fond of peeing, and one time starting to poop, on the library floor. Danielle Jensen, whose son had severe life-threatening allergies, schlepped an epi-pen, hand sanitizer, Motrin, Benadryl, a cell phone charger, a plastic laminated card listing all her son’s allergies, and a dread in her heart that felt like being held up at gunpoint every time they ate inside a restaurant.
Tasha Lavender, who was scared, and newly divorced, and couldn’t cope, schlepped Nips bottles of whiskey which she sipped from throughout the day, until her daughter fell off the monkey bars in mid-April and Tisha experienced her daughter’s broke-wristed crying screams like a shot in her own head.
They were called SAHM’s or WM’s or WFHM’s. To schlep something was to ache for it, as when Moms Club President Jenny Cross ached for time to work on her art, ached and ached at the play spaces and birthday parties and story hours.
Inside their strollers they schlepped groceries—12 pounds—and Danielle Jensen schlepped her own meals specially prepared for her allergic son and a need to read the ingredients on every food item and wipe down every surface before eating. Until her daughter broke her wrist, Tasha Lavender schlepped, in addition to the Nips bottles, an angry screed which she planned to one day unload upon her daughter’s father, should he ever have the nerve to show his face again, a screed which, for her, was a necessity.
Meghan Sanders, who was forced back to work after just three weeks, schlepped a breast pump and all its parts that needed to be taken apart, cleaned, and reassembled after every use. Norma Bowker schlepped a new diaper bag, after her last one was stolen from the library parking lot. Rosie Kiley schlepped books of poetry, which, not once, did anyone see her read.
Because society was regressive and booby-trapped, it was SOP for each mother to endure and schlep various sexist or otherwise off-putting remarks throughout the day. On hot days, pushing their bags and strollers and children up steep hills, men on the street told them to smile, a comment that weighed 50 pounds, but which on scorching days seemed much heavier.
By necessity, and because SOP, they all schlepped their children, first inside of them and then on the outside. Very few schlepped the body, or the selves, that they once had, before having children.
Because the nights were cold, and because the rain was wet, each mother attached thick sleeping-bag like blankets to the strollers. With its quilted liner, the blanket weighed almost 1.5 pounds and cost over a hundred dollars, but it was a good investment, especially if your child napped inside of it. However, someone almost always remarked, “I sure would love to be inside that!” The comment, without exception made by men, and meant to imply that they would enjoy being cozy and schlepped around all day by women, weighed 90 pounds.
In March, for example, when Tasha Lavender had thrown her back out, and was trying to strap her daughter into her stroller, and was wincing in pain, her entire body screaming from the exertions of day in and day out child care, and as she pushed her daughter along the unshoveled Pittsburgh sidewalks, her neck and chest and back covered in sticky cold sweat under her winter coat, a passing man said, “Boy, I’d love to be inside that thing!” And Tasha gritted her teeth, thinking once more of her daughter’s father, who was somewhere unavailable, and far away.
Everyone knew parenthood was a blessing, and nobody wished to appear ungrateful. But it had to be said: Being the default parent implied burdens beyond the physical and emotional. Almost everyone had put some aspect of their lives on hold. Almost everyone was terrified of not being enough for both their children as well as for other adults.
The things women schlepped inside. The things women did or felt they had to do.
To another complaining mom, Jenny Cross might give a curt little nod. Or she might not. She might just shrug and say, “Hang in there!” Then she would accept the boogers her daughter offered up as gifts and she would look around for a tissue. Someone was always schlepping them.