On Saturday afternoon, my 8-year-old son Gobez and I settled in to watch 9-year-old sister Didi play basketball. The coach on the opposing team looked vaguely familiar.
I poked Gobez in the ribs. "Does that guy have a kid on your soccer team?" I asked, gesturing as discreetly as I could.
"I don't know," he muttered. "I don't exactly pay attention to the parents."
I'm embarrassed to admit that I don't exactly pay attention to the parents either. Like most busy moms, I struggle to make it through each hectic day, and important information is perpetually falling through the cracks, like the names and faces of good, decent people.
Before my husband and I adopted our children (one from India, two from Ethiopia), I joked that we were destined to be THAT family in our little town of 25,000 -- as in, "that family with the black kids." It hasn't turned out to be quite like that, but we do tend to stand out in people's minds, partly because we look different, and partly because the kids are just so darn friendly. Almost every week, a stranger greets me in Trader Joe's like an old pal.
"We met you and your family at Jamba Juice awhile ago," a bubbly mom might say. "The kids all played tag on the sidewalk together. We had such a great time!"
I just smile and nod in confusion.
There's one very sweet grandpa I see everywhere; he even knows my name! He never fails to ask about the children; apparently my kids and his grandkids enjoyed a spontaneous good time in the park three or four years ago. It's disorienting not to be able to recall all these kind strangers, but I'm training myself to make the most of the reunions.
I'm also training myself not to feel guilty about my overloaded brain. Consider this:
3 kids x 3 classrooms = 100+ parents per school year
100 parents x 7 combined years of elementary school = 700+ parents encountered, give or take a few dozen repeat contacts
3 kids x 6 sports teams per year = a harder math problem than I can handle at the moment
And here's another dirty little secret: even after four seasons of soccer and basketball, I still don't know how many players are required for each sport. Frankly, I don't care. If I get the right kid to the right game at the correct time and place, my work is done. Please don't ask me to learn the rules, either.
"How's your soccer player?" a smiling woman asks in the coffee shop.
"Great," I answer. I have no idea which kid she is talking about.
"What's the name of your daughter's coach?" I asked her. "I think I know him."
"Oh man," Sarah sighed. " I don't know."
"That makes me feel good," I said. "I assumed you're better at this than me."
"People ask me to sign their school permission slips in the grocery store. I have no idea who they are. I just sign."
I wanted to hug her.
As the game broke up, I noticed Gobez chatting with the dad/coach he'd claimed not to know, and all the sudden it hit me: not only did the guy have a kid on our soccer team, we've even carpooled a couple times!
"Nice to see you, Paul," I said.
Lesson learned: miracles can happen when you just stop trying.