The Mom Race

I don’t play well with other Moms.

I couldn't find an image of that bumper sticker which was all over everywhere in 2004, but this one sums up my response quite nicely.

I couldn’t find an image of that “W” bumper sticker that seemed to be all over everywhere in 2004, but this one sums up my response quite nicely.

My lack of social skills among the fertile burst back onto the scene this past week, as I’ve been thrown again into the maternal milieu after a long hiatus. Years ago, in 2004, I walked out of a toddler play group because a bunch of the  Moms all stuck big W stickers (remember those?) on the back of their minivans.

I never looked back.

At least, I didn’t look back until this past week when my daughter, now in the sixth grade, joined a team for the American Cancer Society’s annual fund raiser, Relay for Life.

I blame my husband for this turn of events. He’s always talking to both our daughters about service and selflessness and giving back to the community. I talk to my kids about feeding the cat. Right now, as I write this post, the cat is mewling at my feet and I’m receiving email from another Mom with the subject line, “Relay For Life Organizational Meeting at My House!!!” so you can see how that’s working out.

Still, I was excited my daughter would be participating in the Relay for Life, not only because cancer, unfortunately, has touched our lives, but also because this daughter had chosen to volunteer for what I thought was an athletic event, a charity run. Since her birth, my husband and I, who both like to think we’re athletic (really we’re just sweaty), have been trying to get her interested in sports. We signed her up for tee ball and soccer and field hockey and she showed a natural talent for none of them, unless you consider standing out on the field with disinterest an athletic ability. My husband coached all of those teams and I have no doubt his credibility suffered due to his link to the team’s worst player: what could he really know about swinging a bat or fielding a ball when he’d contributed half of the genetic material that’s now swirling around inside the odd little girl standing in right field with her back to homeplate?

I convinced myself that the Relay for Life would be different from those team sports my daughter hated. It’s running, and I run, and I love it. As a child,  I played all those sports my daughter signed up for, but I didn’t find my athletic “niche” until I discovered running when I was fourteen. I’m not good at it, and not fast, but I enjoy the solitude, the independence, the opportunity to compete against only myself. In running, it’s not about winning the race–ok, well, yes it is, but hear me out– it’s about achieving your personal best (PB): your best time,  your furthest distance.

My excitement tempered when I learned the Relay for Life isn’t so much a relay anymore. It began as one, thirty years ago, when Gordy Klatt came up with the idea.

In May 1985, Dr. Klatt spent a grueling 24 hours circling the track at Baker Stadium at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma for more than 83 miles. Throughout the night, friends paid $25 to run or walk 30 minutes with him. He raised $27,000 to fight cancer. That first year, nearly 300 of Dr. Klatt’s friends, family, and patients watched as he ran and walked the course.

Now, in 2015, the relay is mostly ceremonial. Participants around the country come together at local tracks to light candles and celebrate survivors and remember lost loved ones. All good stuff, but most of the actual fund raising takes place earlier and elsewhere, as the various teams set out in their communities, designing their own events to raise money for the ACS.

And that’s what had me worried before the “organizational meeting!!!”: what sort of event would the other Moms propose?

While our kids watched YouTube in the living room, we gathered in the kitchen (open concept) to discuss strategy. Perhaps too enthusiastically, I replied, “Yes!” when the Host Mom, Kyra, offered me a glass of wine. So there I was, drinking on a weeknight and wondering if I should be concerned that some of my alcoholic father’s rationalizations are beginning to make sense to me.

“Kyra and I thought maybe a garage sale,” one of the Amandas said. There are two Amandas, which I have nicknamed, in my head, Tall Amanda and Short Amanda. Short Amanda isn’t really short. She’s average height, and, in retrospect, I should have named her Average Amanda, just for the alliteration. Tall Amanda, however, is really tall, at least six feet. I’m 5’9″ myself, and people tell me I’m tall, but they haven’t met Tall Amanda. Tall Amanda looks to me like Olive Oyl, Popeye’s love interest. She’s tall and rail thin, with a long neck and her hair twisted into a ball at the back of her head. She looks so much like the cartoon character I half-wonder whether it’s intentional. I almost said as much, out loud, until I looked at the glass of wine in my hand and remembered I’d been drinking and decided to keep my mouth shut.

Tall Amanda suggested the garage sale. It’s clear that she and Kyra are best friends, as are their children, and they’re prepared to do the heavy lifting on this project.

I’m glad for that.

This clip of a cat licking its own butt is way more interesting than anything you’re saying.

“Sounds good,” the one named Beth said. She sat with the kids in the living room, paying more attention to the YouTube videos than the conversation in the kitchen. Three days from now, she’ll send us all an email, CC’ing her husband, letting us know she and her daughter are quitting the team.

I sipped my wine. “I’m on board,” I said. I’m ready to agree to anything that gets me out of there as quickly as possible and doesn’t involve public humiliation. On the drive over, I imagined I might have to call upon all my powers as a rhetorician to convince these women that there were better ways to fight cancer than an all night Karaoke marathon.

“A garage sale is a lot of work,” Kyra, Tall Amanda’s best friend, said. It’s apparent that she’s not sold on the garage sale idea, and, from the look Tall Amanda just gave her, garage sales may be a point of friction between the two. “And the sort of people attracted to a garage sale . . .” Her voice trailed off and her face scrunched up. “Let’s just say they don’t have very deep pockets. Usually.”

I’m not sure if she means they’re cheap, or they’re poor, or they’re Mexican.

I sipped my wine and thought about how garage sales are called “tag sales” where I’m from and where I’m from we’re all poor white trash, and it’s nothing like this suburb of Philadelphia where all the houses have open concept kitchens.

Cookies cure cancer.

Cookies cure cancer.

“What about a bake sale?” Short Amanda suggested. “The girls could ask one of the businesses in town if they could set up a table out front.”

“Sounds good,” Beth called from the living room even though I’m 99% sure she hadn’t heard what Short Amanda said.

I finished my wine and put the empty glass in the sink. “I like the idea of the bake sale,” I said.

I like to bake. I’m thinking this is almost as good as if they had decided to run the relay.

“Oh, good!” Kyra said. She’s relieved, I’m relieved. We all look to Tall Amanda, wondering if she’ll cling to her garage sale.

“Then it’s settled,” Tall Amanda said through tight lips.

The week passed. Beth sent out her email, dumping the rest of us. I go to work, come home, do it all over again the next day. Friday evening, after dinner, I keep thinking I’ve forgotten something important.

Then I remembered.

“What’s going on with the bake sale?” I asked my daughter.

She shrugged. She doesn’t know. She’s eleven and liked the idea of fighting cancer last week.

I fired off an email to the Moms, panicked that I’d be up all night baking and my husband would find me snoring over the Kitchenaid mixer Saturday morning.

“Can I get an update on the team’s activities?” I wrote. “Is the bake sale still on?”

I signed the email “Karen.” If I knew these women better, I would have signed the email with a single, lower case letter “K.” Although they don’t know it, typing out my entire first name is five times more effort than I usually make.

A few hours later, one of the Amandas replied. Don’t ask me which one, because I never learned their last names. “I don’t think so. I think maybe we need to regroup and come up with another plan.”

She signed her email, “Warmly, Amanda.”

I read the email and thought this is what separates me from these other women: the way we close our emails.

For longer than I should have, I considered signing my reply “Tersely, Karen.”

There ensued a flurry of emails and the bake sale has been rescheduled for this Saturday. One of the Amandas has stepped up and taken charge, and I’m happy to slide into the background and slip away from these women.

The public domain and royalty free images in this post can be found at and

38 thoughts on “The Mom Race

  1. Karen says:

    . . . and congratulations to all the good folks who participated in the Boston Marathon yesterday. I’m sitting here reading the news coverage this morning and I think I just found my favorite line from a story in the Detroit Free Press:
    “The 2004 Olympic silver medalist was among the leaders until the 35-kilometer mark. He had to stop five times to vomit.”

    Or maybe this is it, from the New York Times, also about the same runner, Meb Keflezighi: “Keflezighi, who turns 40 next month, started vomiting water toward the close of the race and had to force himself to finish. He crossed the finish holding hands with Hilary Dionne, an elite Boston-area runner he had never met.”

    And I guess running is all about winning, after all. Lelisa Desisi and Caroline Rotitch, the winners of the Overall/Open division, got $150,000 each.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Michelle at The Green Study says:

    I loved this piece, Karen – great storytelling.

    I was “that” mom for so many years until I had a complete midlife meltdown and decided I’d rather be a reclusive writer than PTO president. Fortunately, most of the moms I met along the way were like me, just dragging their asses to these things because they thought they had to and laughing about what whack jobs the other moms were. And my kid is SO ready for me to get out of her business (she starts 6th grade next year), after so many years of my face at every event, in the hallways and at assemblies.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Peg Stueber-Temp and Tea says:

    IF you could get me there (and with the American Cancer Society named at the benefactor – that IF becomes as large and deep as the Pacific) I’d be like your Beth character – on the fringe, looking for the first ‘out’ I could find, because the only time I endure the whole ‘community/benefit’ thing is when someone’s managed to force me into it.

    Congratulations on managing to survive the Gathering of the Moms with only a single glass of wine to assist 🙂 I’d have needed a bottle or 2.


      • Peg Stueber-Temp and Tea says:

        I’ll behave!

        The ACS, like many other ‘name brand’ charities, has gone ‘corporate.’ They’ve lost their mission statement, their compassion, and their way – they now focus on lobbying efforts for legislation benefitting their largest supporters (thus keeping those huge donations coming in), instead of research for cancer cures or less destructive treatments.

        If cancer were curable – they’d be out a job.


        • Karen says:

          Whew! I’m relieved. My husband is an oncologist(pediatric) and for a moment I thought you were going to tell me that people who were diagnosed with cancer just needed to drink green tea or something, they didn’t need any research at all!

          Or maybe you did say that. Anyway, in my head, I’m going to think you agree with me.

          I worked for a domestic violence 501c when I was in college and slowly realized the vast majority of activity involved fund raising, and not so much the professed goal of the organization. They fund raised so they could afford more fund raisers. It seemed like absolute madness.


          • Peg Stueber-Temp and Tea says:

            YEA! We agree!

            Cancer research DOES need to move forward – green tea isn’t gonna solve it 🙂

            The ACA is exactly like the 501c of your college days – they’re all about the money & keeping their jobs. They don’t wanna cure cancer – they just want to continue to rattle the sabre for cash.


    • Karen says:

      I’m with you, but let me tell you a story (I’ve got a story for everything): If we need more proof that I’m one of the whack job Moms in my kids’ school, I once got into an argument over the Christmas–oops, I mean, holiday wrapping paper sell-a-thon. I contacted the head of the Home and School Association (that’s what we call the PTA here) and asked what percentage of each sale the HSA got to keep. She told me that they kept 50% of the proceeds, which far exceeded any other “fundraising opportunities.”

      And it just amazes me that a whole industry exists (probably based in China) that creates this crappy stuff–wrapping paper, gewgaws, doodads and plants (Mother’s Day is coming!) to sell to schools as “fundraisers” but I’m getting sidetracked here.

      Back to my original point: After the HSA president gave me a breakdown of how the funds were split, I asked her, why not ask for cash? The HSA would get to keep 100% of that, rather than only 50%. She laughed in the nervous way people do when they want to get away from you and/or think you might be crazy.

      Fast forward two years: my kid is in third grade and the HSA announces an experiment: no wrapping paper sales and instead they are requesting direct donations. Frabjous joy, right? (I’d like to take credit for the idea, but there are lots of schools who have gone this route) Stop calloo-ing and callay-ing because they didn’t raise enough money to cover the budget, and had to hold an “emergency fundraiser” toward the end of the year. The “cash-only” system raised nowhere near what they had gotten from the wrapping paper sales. Turns out people would rather pay ten dollars for a roll of wrapping paper than give five dollars and get “nothing” in return.



      Liked by 1 person

      • Belladonna Took says:

        Back when we lived in the suburbs we constantly had girl scouts and kids from various schools knocking on our doors, trying to sell us HORRID YUCKY JUNK. I just gave them a check made out to the school, because you’d have to pay me to own most of that stuff. The sad thing was, the kids would be disappointed … I think they were competing for who made the most sales, and my check didn’t count. Blech… 😦


  4. lusciouswords says:

    As someone who works for a non-profit that just recently hosted a large event that will be paying about 1/2 of what was raised to cover the costs of the event, I like your idea better. It’s also a lot less stressful, but gotta keep the donors happy. *sigh*


    • Karen says:

      The American Cancer Society gives a breakdown of how they spend their money on their website, for what that’s worth. It’s not easy to decipher exactly what they mean by “patient support” (their biggest expenditure at $306 million) and to my uneducated ears that sounds like a catch-all category for a bunch of things you and I might not categorize as “patient support.” Anyway, anyone want to place bets on their second biggest expenditure? Ding! Ding! Ding! Yes, you’re all winners: it’s fundraising ($218 million). Cancer research comes in third ($160 million). Those figures are from 2012.


  5. Baroness Buttercup says:

    Kyra sounds like she could be from the part of the OC where I lived for many years; which would mean you’re absolutely right that her assessment of the problem with garage sale shoppers is that they’re poor, cheap and Mexican. But mostly Mexican …


    • Karen says:

      I still don’t know what to make of that comment. I go to these encounters with a chip on my shoulder (obvi. I grew up poor and so much of my life is devoted to proving to others that I am just as good as they are), so I may have attributed a greater significance to her comment than is due. She may just be lazy and figures Pillsbury Ready to Bake® cookies are way easier than trying to get someone to pay cash money for that broken lamp that’s been gathering dust in her basement for ten years.


  6. Adele Archer says:

    Great post! Sorry, being English, I don’t know what the ‘W’ sign on the back of the car stood for. Over here it would probably be ‘wanker’…
    But you’re right, I’ve never been a Mumsy-Mum either. I do my best never to turn up to the ‘Mum’s Night Outs’. I think they’ve started to notice and have stopped inviting me…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Karen says:

      Probably a lot of Americans don’t remember, either. Or maybe we’re just trying to forget.

      The “W” bumper sticker showed support for our previous President, George W. Bush, who ran for re-election in 2004 (and won, unfortunately).

      I know about not fitting in with other Moms–I got a couple of messages from folks after I wrote this post asking if I were making fun of those Moms in the ACS fundraiser with me, so I’m not sure if I’m much of a writer if folks thought that. I’m not making fun of those women, I’m making fun of myself, and my continuing discomfort with motherhood, even though I should be an old hat about this now.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Adele Archer says:

        Then you’re a nicer person than me! But, I wouldn’t worry, I steer well clear of them. I prefer the mums who aren’t obsessed with being a mum. The annoying ones over here don’t have to go to work because they’ve married rich husbands and then set up craft nights at school and expect you to buy the crap they’ve been making at home whilst I’ve been at work! And I can safely say this without reprisal as this isn’t my blog! Result! 😁

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Elyse says:

    I have had a sad evening, and I can’t tell you what a joy it was to read this post. It is hilarious. You made me laugh (today is my late sister’s birthday and I am wallowing. WAS wallowing. Thanks.)

    What is is about having kids that sends us all back to junior high. To the cheerleaders and those of us who didn’t make it. Uhgghghghghghghgh.

    You are actually a star. Me? I got kicked out of a playgroup. A playgroup for INFANTS. You are a social star. Trust me on this.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. April R says:

    Lol I don’t have kids yet but I feel like this is gonna be me. I already walk away boggled from girls’ events and then my husband has to listen to me for an hour try to rationalize what went on at the event.


    • Karen says:

      You married a good and patient man, it sounds like 🙂

      And there’s always a few Moms like me (and you, in the future) who are around, on the periphery, sipping a glass of wine and wondering at it all. Seek out those women and you’ll be fine. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • April R says:

        Haha he is exceptionally patient and forgiving of my “quirks” 😉
        I hope I’ll be able to find some other moms downing the wine as fast as possible.


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