Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Geniuses All

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He's a genius. She's a genius. Geniuses all sharing quality time at Mommy and Me music class with mothers who clap in time with the music, swaying back and forth and back and smiling, smiling, smiling at their one-year-old progenies.

Photo by Catherine Stratton

Here we go round the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush . . .

Baby smiles back?


Claps along?


Ooos and ahhs and "what a good job" echo around the room in high-pitched, oh-you're-too-cute voices in a shared mother tongue. It's like a cult of personalities with nursery rhyme chants and workout clothes garb.

Is this what perfect mothers do? Look like deranged, ecstatic Moonies who can't seem to leave their kids alone? Is this what I signed up for?

My baby's not clapping. She's attempting to pick her nose with her pinky finger and missing the mark.

You go, girl. Work that hand-eye coordination.

God, I love her so much.

She smiles at me. Brilliant!

"Let's get out of here." I whisk her up off the floor. We escape in the elevator and out into the noise and glare of Broadway.

"We'll skip the next one," I promise.

We're in cahoots.

It's three blocks to our apartment on 79th Street.

I open the door. Relief. A text.

"Genevieve would love for Grace to come over for a playdate this afternoon."

It's Zebra in 6A, two floors below me.

"Sounds like Deborah but with a Z," she said to my confused face when we met for the first time last week in the elevator.

I have to be a good neighbor. I borrowed a diaper two days ago. I grab Grace like a heavy load and we go.

"I don't buy toys that cause toxic pollution," Zebra says.

She's giving me a tour of Genevieve's toys.

"All of Genevieve's toys are ethically made," she says. "This tea set? Food-grade recycled plastic. The rest is wood - sustainably sourced of course. Can you believe they make alphabet blocks out of non-Roman alphabets? We have Arabic, Cherokee, Chinese, Greek, Hindi and Braille. Oh, and this?"

She shows me a contraption similar to a wooden tray holding a myriad collection of colored, round tiles.

"This is for when Genevieve turns three. It teaches pre-readers how to code - you know, like for computers? Spent way too much - over $200 on Amazon - but Genevieve will learn to code before she learns to read! Isn't that unbelievable? I don't understand how it works," she confides. "But it is Montessori approved."

I nod my head. "That's great."

"I'm trying to decide between Mommy and Me barre classes or Sign and Stretch. Have you heard of it? It's a sign language learning class combined with yoga," says Zebra. "You want to sign up with me? Julie in 10E also told me there's a great baby massage class on 80th, right around the corner from Zabars. So difficult to choose. What do you think?"

Time to change the subject. I turn to the girls. What do perfect mothers say?

"Grace share," I scold noncommittally.

"Yes," says Zebra. "Share your toys, Genevieve. Be nice,"

Is she competing with me?

I'm dying for a cup of coffee. All she has is kombucha. I take a sip and gulp my

"We're a dairy-free, wheat-free, meat-free and coffee-free household," she explains.

"Do you have wine?" I ask. She doesn't.

Zebra's phone buzzes. "Oh, time to check on Sam," she says. Sam is Genevieve's three-month-old brother. Zebra retrieves her iPhone from her pocket and opens a Video Monitor App. On the screen Sam sleeps soundly in his bassinet. The same bassinet in the bedroom, ten feet behind me with the door ajar.

"Okay, he's fine," she says. "I check every five minutes. You know, just in case."

We prattle on about our baby girls and how they did this and that and this and aren't they amazing and we watch as they toddle around the room ignoring each other, picking toys up, putting them in their mouths, dropping them. No rhyme. No reason.

Grace looks bored. Back to working on her nose pick.

Atta girl.

"Time to go," I say. "So much to do."

"Can't you stay a little longer?"

"Wish I could. Wave goodbye, Grace. Bye, bye, bye . . . "

"So adorable. Come again."

Note to self: fuck no.

Home again.

I open a kitchen cabinet. Grace removes the pots and pans. Clanging, banging. I fill them with water, place them on the floor next to her and add a bucket of oversized, multi-colored chalk to the mix. Grace gets busy and I plop down on the couch to watch Saturday Night Live reruns.

I groan out a deep breath. I can do this. I can be an imperfect mother.

I glance over at Grace. Her diaper is around her ankles and she's painting her belly blue with wet chalk.

My sweet genius.

Catherine Stratton is a filmmaker and writer living in Hoboken, New Jersey. Mother to 22-year-old twins who rock her world. She just started submitting work and “Geniuses All” is her first published story. She writes both fiction and nonfiction and is excited to see where her writing takes her.

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