A Gods of P B & J Story
“I volunteer.” My voice echoed in my head as I realized the gravity of what I had just done. I had willfully submitted to being the parent chaperone on the field trip to the zoo with my son’s kindergarten class. What was I thinking? Only six weeks earlier my husband of ten years had walked out on our marriage and left me with two children to raise while he pursued a job promotion on the other side of the country. He made it clear I wasn’t welcome to follow when he introduced me to his girlfriend, a colleague who had secured said promotion for him. They had apparently been planning their new life for months, on his frequent business trips away.
Somehow in the aftershock of the implosion of my marriage, the hazy days of soothing my 5-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter’s broken hearts (not to mention my own) and the stress of becoming a suddenly single mother with no job who desperately needed to dust off her resumé and find a job, I had put my prefrontal cortex on auto pilot, thus the reason I volunteered for a job I really didn’t want to do. And wasn’t certain I was up for.
“Oh, Kim. That’s, um, that’s great. Thanks.” I could tell by her halted speech the room mother, Allison, was surprised I had spoken. Well, that made two of us. As I looked around the room it was quickly apparent it was more than two of us who were surprised. I took in the shocked faces staring at me and I only hoped the parents in the room trusted me with their little treasures. And I hoped I was up to the task. I took in a deep breath to steady my suddenly jumpy nerves. I fought the urge to put my head in my hands and scream or to throw up, both of which were distinctly possible. Instead I sat upright in my chair, looked straight forward and willed myself to stay silent for the rest of the meeting. At this rate, I could end up as president of the PTA, another job for which I was woefully unprepared.
As the meeting ended I thanked the gods of peanut butter and jelly that I made it through without another peep. I reached for my purse and as I pulled the strap towards my shoulder I felt it untangle under my fingers as it overturned, spilling the contents on the floor below. I let out a low curse under my breath. Seriously? Could this get any worse? Apparently, it could. “Here, let me help you.” The resident hot single dad, widowed a year earlier, knelt with me to help gather my belongings. He held up a white wrapped package labeled Tampax. I blushed a deep scarlet which he soon matched. “Oh. Um, sorry.” Adam quickly pushed the wrapped tampon into my hand, avoiding eye contact. He had the good sense to only pretend to help as I finished picking up the rest of my things, shoving them haphazardly into my open purse, then quickly standing. I stuck out my hand and grabbed his tightly in mine, shaking it vigorously up and down like I was meeting him for the first time. “Thank you.” I felt like such an idiot. Was it possible to feel so lost even being a seemingly competent adult? I turned and left before I could embarrass myself further.
A week later I dutifully appeared at the school with Noah excitedly dragging me through the parking lot. “C’mon mom, I don’t wanna be late.” I smiled at his blonde head. He’d had trouble getting to sleep the night before. He loved the monkey exhibit at the zoo and, coupled with the attention of his mother as chaperone, he was in high spirits over this field trip. I paused before stepping inside his classroom, sucking in a deep breath – possibly the last peaceful moment I would have ever again, ever. EVER. No, I wasn’t being overly dramatic at all. I could already taste the chardonnay I would pour myself after tucking the kids into bed later in the evening.
Plastering a smile on my face I decided I couldn’t postpone it any longer. I opened the door and stepped through, immediately adjusting my noise tolerance level. I scanned the eager faces of the little monsters darlings I was entrusted with watching over today. I briefly contemplated running, but my husband leaving had taken enough of a toll, so I took the high road (there was really never a doubt) and stood firmly in place. I heard the door open behind me and turned. I smiled and felt a familiar blush creep up my neck even though I hadn’t said or done anything. “Adam. Hi. What are you doing here?” I tried to act calm and adult-like but my voice came out in a croak and I stood awkwardly with my hands crossed in front of me like a teen-aged girl facing her crush. “Hi Kim. You looked a little shell-shocked at the meeting last week. I know what it’s like to do this parenting thing alone. I thought you could use a friend. So, I volunteered to help today too.” He smiled softly, a knowing smile that made me feel suddenly like everything was going to be okay. I let out a soft breath and smiled back. Then I thanked the gods of peanut butter and jelly for my new friend.