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Playgroup politics

Well, I fucked up today.

I’ve got no memory for names. Whatsoever. Or faces.  If I talked to you and you told me an interesting story or used a neat turn of phrase, I’ll remember that forever — but I’ll forget who told it to me. This has made motherhood — playgroups in particular — challenging.

Because not only do you have to remember the kid’s name. You have to remember the parent’s name. Or the nanny’s name. Or, if  the kid is with the nanny Monday through Wednesday and the mom (or dad) is home Thursday and Friday, you have to remember the kid, the nanny, the parent. If you see the kid with the other parent around the neighborhood, you have to remember that parent’s name. Add in siblings, a dog, and a frigging partridge in a pear tree and you see why someone with my particular form of amnesia is fucked.

I have really elaborate and complex mnemonics  to help me remember these things. Which works great — if I’ve had a chance to think that “this is a family unit I need to remember.”

But I have another problem. I’m loud, overweight, and cheerfully outgoing. The Child is (no false modesty here) stunningly beautiful. And The Husband is ridiculously tall, and red-headed. So  we’re apparently really memorable. So people that I barely registered a, “oh, another mom in line at ‘Bucks,” tend to remember me. Us. And then, sometimes, get horribly offended if I don’t remember them.

Yesterday, my friend JK and I were having coffee at ‘Bucks. JK is not a kid person. She acknowledges that I have a child and that this means that sometimes I can’t do things she would like us to do, but other than that, she pretty much disregards The Child. It’s eerie, sometimes, but actually really refreshing. We never talk about my motherhood or my child — except, occasionally, in the most abstract terms. (She’s an historian and periodically asks my hands-on opinions about theories she’s read in books. Like, “Why would wet-nurses mean noble women would have children more often?”) We have a very literary friendship — we talk about books and plays and things. It’s all very Victorian and bluestocking and a welcome respite from the endlessness of my maternal life.

So  anyway, we were having coffee and another mother — with a small girlchild — was in ‘Bucks at the same time. The girl — who we’ll call Muffin — kept coming over and staring at my Girl. I’d offer a bare nod or smile or something but didn’t want to interrupt my conversation with JK. The mom would look over and offer encouragement or whatnot now and again, but wasn’t really chatty. Which was fine — I was talking about the stylistic differences between Regency and Edwardian novels. (Very bluestocking.)

My child became restive and because it was pouring frigging rain, JK, The Child, and I went to the local branch of the Library. It’s interior, dry, large, and has lots of room and distractions for a bored 17 month old.

Muffin and her mother also showed up. JK was slightly freaked out — thought they were stalking us — but I explained that many a mom does what I just did — ‘Bucks and then playgroup in nice weather or library in poor weather. This probably would have been more convincing if we hadn’t been the only folks there.

Again, I was still talking to JK and really didn’t engage the other mom like I normally would have. But I did encourage The Child to play with Muffin and answered Muffin’s questions when she asked them of me. But mostly we talked about JK’s next presentation (she’s a PhD candidate) and various aspects of 1990s mega-musicals and how they are similar to opera. (Okay, I don’t know anything about opera, so mostly JK talked and I listened.) Then I got a phone call from my vet and hey! My cat has cancer and is probably going to die! So I wasn’t feeling tremendously sociable.

After that, it was time for lunch and JK and I said goodbye (she refused to look while I changed The Child’s diaper!) and I waved at Muffin and Muffin’s mom and headed out. No big deal.

Today is Tuesday and Tuesday is story day at the same local library branch. I arrived on time for once and The Child did her usual routine of not sitting still  and whatnot. And there was Muffin! And Muffin’s mom! I smiled, remembered my manners, and said, “Hi, you know, I don’t think I introduced myself yesterday. I’m J, and that’s M.”

Muffin’s Mom looks at me and says, with some tone I couldn’t identify, “We know each other. We’ve met before. I’m Jen.”


I made excuses about exhaustion but she wasn’t terribly friendly after that. And I feel bad — she seems like a lovely person. But I just don’t remember meeting her at all.  Muffin’s real name is unusual enough that a. I’m going to insist on calling her Muffin because I don’t want it showing up in a search and b. I swear I’d remember it! But I’ve got no memory — not even a faint inkling.

So now, I’m obsessing. (It’s probably displaced grief over the impending death of my beloved cat — I’ve had him for ten years and the bad news yesterday hasn’t hit me at all — I’m perfectly fine except for the obsession about Muffin and her Mom.) But I can’t be the only mom who has trouble with names and faces — surely she understands that? She must know that I’m trying and hell, it was a really friendly and cheerful greeting I gave her.

Still, I feel awful. Probably it’s all about the cat.

Categories: books, City mama
  1. karriew
    June 5, 2007 at 10:06 pm

    Eh, she sounds like a stupid cunt.

    Seriously. No one knows my name at preschool–it is always “Oh look it’s Max’s Mommy.” I only remember one guy’s name because we sign in at the same time everyday, and his partner’s name, because it is a variation of my own.

    Seriously though. Unless you went to her house or had been talking every day for months at the same playground, I think she is overreacting. She may also be really lonely, and taken in by your outgoing vibe–which is why she remembered you.

    So sorry about your kitty. I went through the slow, inevitable loss of loss a beloved cat year ago and was shocked by how painful it was. I cried, and I mean *sobbed* for several days. I still get teary passing Angell Memorial, and once in awhile dream about Maya.

  2. June 6, 2007 at 12:44 am

    I have the same problem. I never remember people’s names even after seeing them several times. It is great when I have my husband with me, because he remember everyone. Mostly, I try my best to never have to call the person name until I figure out what the hell it is.

    And I am “Amber’s Mom” at school, dance class and b-day parties. I am fine with that. Hey, I dont know their names, they dont know mine.

    I would say, at least, you went up and offered to introduce yourself. I would have just laughed it off, but some people have their own hang ups.

  3. June 6, 2007 at 1:04 pm

    Firstly I am confluxled at why a historian would ask a rather simple question about midwives and nobles. If she were interested in the history of mid-wives at all, she’d be able to answer that. Weird.

    Secondly, that other mother probably has no other interests besides playgroup, therefore allowing her lots of time to memorize faces and names.

    I never remember a persons name until we’ve interacted several times, their kids names are always lost on me, so I fall back on terms like “your little guy” and “your little sweetheart”.

  4. jamanda
    June 6, 2007 at 5:22 pm

    Jennifer — Not midwives. Wet nurses. She was doing a paper on Victorian something or another and had read a sentence that asserted that fact (about wet nurses meaning more pregnancies) and didn’t understand the biomechanics of it. So I explained about nursing supressing menstruation, etc. and she turned a delicate shade of green and changed the subject. I’m guessing she doesn’t talk about her period to people — ever. So things like “once the placenta is removed, the body starts to lactate,” made her… gulpy.

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