We stand outside the school, the other mother and I, surrounded by piles of backpacks and sleeping bags and a gaggle of nervously excited fourth graders.
“So! How are you?” I ask the mother, whose name I should remember but don’t.
“Great!”, the mother says.
Just then Dora appears, pressing herself into my side as the mother continues, “Sara packed her overnight bags on her own this time! I gave her the checklist and she did it all. It was so stress-free, just really nice.”
“Wonderful”, I say, wrapping my arm around Dora’s small shoulders. I can feel Dora listening carefully, comparing herself to this story of Sara. There should be a word for when you are both wildly jealous of another child’s competencies and fiercely defensive of your child’s feelings.
Dora tugs urgently my arm, a signal that she needs to talk to me immediately and privately. I excuse myself and, turning away from the other mom, I let my head be drawn down low, away from the warm sun and into Dora’s new, secret world of whispered worry.
“I might get car sick on the way to the campsite.” She is barely audible.
“But you won’t.” I say, channeling the light feel of the morning and the melody of the other kids’ laughter. “You’ve got your nausea bands on your wrists and you took your car sick medicine. They always work.”
“But what if they don’t?”
I look past her. The teachers and some of the dads load up the vehicles. The other fourth grade girls cartwheel on the lush spring grass. Just beyond them, a group of chatting moms erupt in laughter.
A familiar seed of frustration takes root in my gut, baiting me to water it. Just go have some fucking fun, I want to scream. You are nine years old! Fun is your only job!
I remain calm because I am not a moron.
“Have your nausea bands ever not worked?” I hate that I sound like Caillou’s mother when I ask this.
“One time, I think? One time they didn’t…” Her voice trails off.
I hug her hard because I’m out of ideas. “You’ll be fine. Look!” I point to the other girls, “A cartwheel game! Why don’t you check it out?”
Dora shrugs, drops her head and sets off toward the game in a perfect perp walk. I already know she will stand on the side of the kids in spite of the fact that she can cartwheel better than any of these girls.
I feel like punching something.
I stand with the other mothers, waving until the very last of the fleet of vehicles disappears from sight, whisking them away to a three-day overnight camping trip my husband David and I could have only dreamed of when we were children.
At home that night the house feels lighter. Two margaritas give me a giddy high at dinner, and David and I make love for the first time in months. Since before Dora changed.