Pizza and Panhandlers
I was standing outside 99 Cents Fresh Pizza on West 42nd Street near Times Square in New York City when a panhandler asked me for fifty cents.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “I never carry cash.” It’s a true statement most of the time. It wasn’t true at that moment. A couple of hours ago, I’d taken the kids into a 7-Eleven that we’d just witnessed a minor robbery of (no guns or money involved) to get cash from the ATM, because 99 Cents Fresh Pizza doesn’t accept cards.
“Okay, soccer mom,” the panhandler said with a smile. “Yeah, you’re a soccer mom.”
I plastered on a forced smile, a passive-aggressive charm essential. It’s a Midwestern fashion staple that I brought with me all the way from Minnesota. The smile is fashionable and functional.
He didn’t say more.
Soccer Mom, Eh?
I was wearing a navy tank top, a gray short sleeved cardigan, a silver necklace with turquoise, my 7 for All Mankind jeans, and light aqua colored Converse. The jeans are the perfect length when I wear my jacked up heels. They pool around my ankles when I wear my Cons.
My boyfriend Chris stood a few feet away from me wearing a polo, shorts, and Adidas shoes. He had a backpack on his shoulders that held his laptop, my rain jacket, his 14 year-old daughter’s lip gloss and scarf. Two of his children (there are 7 total, 5 traveling with us) stood between us.
I’m sure most people saw me the way Mr. Panhandler called it.
Where I come from, being a soccer mom is cool. A soccer mom has a husband and kids in activities that they can afford for her to cart them around to in an oversized SUV or a minivan. She is known at Target and Hy-Vee and Starbucks. She works out, has a clean house, a garden, healthy and fun snacks at the ready for when the kids come home from school, and creative dinners that she serves on time. Her outfits are all well-accessorized and matchy-matchy if a bit fashion-stagnant. Everything I’ve read in home magazines is true, right?
I am not a soccer mom. The man I’m with is not my husband. The children with us are not mine. I’m untethered, but not unhinged. I’m an unintentional imposter.
The Problem of the Unintentional Imposter Life
There are sinking moments. Sometimes I feel homesick. I used to live with my husband and daughter. I left him. My daughter is now an adult with a child of her own. I wouldn’t want to go back, yet in this new life, there are moments when I feel I don’t belong.
A sinking moment hit me as I drank my Diet Coke and nibbled on an Alfajor* in Aroma. We were at Aroma because one of Chris’s clients had submitted an urgent request for help with his software. I sat in a booth with him, my broken phone, and my thoughts. Four of his children sat in the booth next to us drinking lemonade. One sat at a long bar next to the front window charging his phone.
Chris was needed by his client at that moment and wanted by his children. I was just there. An awkward witness ready to help in the unlikely scenario that help would be needed. I felt lonely and bored in a way I never did in my old life.
Taking the Imposter Life and Making it Real
During our adventure in Times Square, the middle child pointed out a Starbucks to me. Chris’s kids know that I love coffee. I know that they love sweets and food and sweets. It was thoughtful of him to point it out to me. When I set up the hide-a-bed for the youngest son, he did his best to look at me like I was mentally deranged. As I was getting the blanket onto the bed, I glanced over and saw a smile on his face. It couldn’t be all that bad having a little help from that woman. Chris’s daughter pointed out pigeons and other animals that she thought were dirpy to me as we walked around Manhattan.
Back home we sat in the living room and a couple of Chris’s kids were telling my daughter, Elizabeth, about our adventures. They laughed as they told her about Chris and I making our fist puppets converse at Chevy’s in Times Square. His children and Elizabeth all find our behavior cringe-y and cheesy. Then, they told her about the panhandler calling me a soccer mom. We all laughed.
It’s just one memory, one little joke, one that we have together. Maybe as we get to know one another better, as we experience the world together more, the imposter feelings will fade. I will never be a soccer mom and that’s okay. As I approach 40 and become a 40-something, I’m okay with It’s Complicated being my family status. What family isn’t?
* An Alfajor is a South American treat: Dulce de Leche sandwiched between two shortbread cookies, dusted with powdered sugar.