That One Time the Secretary of State Almost Babysat My Kids

     I first met Dawn a few months after moving into an emerging suburban area right outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Being a new mom in a new town without a familiar soul wasn’t the easiest thing adjusting to, but it was paradise compared to doing motherhood in my own hometown. After having moved way from Bowling Green for two years, it was a nightmare coming back as a full-fledged adult. Being a teenager in your hometown is hard enough; I don’t know what I was thinking when I thought that adulthood there would be any easier.

  When we moved into our new home in our new town, cleaning and decorating kept my mind busy during the short spurts of time when I wasn’t actively monitoring my two young daughtersI didn’t do any major remodeling; there was no knocking down of walls, or pulling up of old carpet. We were still a young family and our budget was tight living on one income. The extent of my work was painting a few rooms and storing away the leftover boxes of decor we decided our new home wouldn’t tolerate as well. We had moved from a small ranch style house in a cookie-cutter neighborhood to a large brick Colonial in much nicer one. Considering the the former owners were an established couple in their mid-40’s, their decor embraced the Colonial Era with oil paintings and antique furniture. Our decor was still hanging onto college days with a flare of impending adulthood lurking around every corner–a juxtaposition between Kmart and Pottery Barn.

     Given the considerable amount of time early motherhood takes, it took me the better half of our first year in our new town before I ran out of affordable things I could do around the house to keep myself busy. Eventually, I decided that I ought to start making friends  and visiting places other than Lowes and Target. The closest thing I had come to meeting new people was my weekly visit from the Jehovah Witnesses who kept coming to our door, and why wouldn’t they? I was desperate for adult conversation, but when they finally accepted that I was never going to join them for church, they stopped coming around as much. At about the same time, I noticed in the bulletin at our parish that there was a moms’ group that met every Wednesday for fellowship, but the best part was that they had hired childcare so that for three hours they could forget they were moms, instead enjoying a pot-luck style meal with likeminded and equally sleep-deprived women. I suppose a bunch of Catholic women could suffice in place of the Jehovah Witnesses, and at least we shared the same viewpoints on tradition, the pope, and alcohol.

     This is where I first met Dawn. I don’t recall ever speaking a word to her, but I remember that she was wearing a neck brace and had stood up to thank the group of women for providing meals for her after an unfortunate accident. I had felt sorry for her; motherhood was hard enough already with out having to deal with one more thing on your plate. I barely managed to put on jeans and a t-shirt back in those days, let alone adding things like neck braces into the mix. In spite of it all, she was quick witted and terribly tenacious, the type of person who doesn’t care what other people think of her, and I immediately liked her for it.

     The moms group fizzled out fairly quickly for me. While I connected with a few of the other moms, I just didn’t flow too well with the whole church-lady vibe. They were all making Pinterest inspired crafts for their kid’s preschool classes while I was still struggling quite heavily with simply being an adult. Within a short amount of time I started to grow a little paranoid, as though I was committing an infraction by wearing my best pair of blue jeans to Mass on Sunday. I found myself in meetings slowly kneading my worn out Converse sneakers underneath the table, using all of my energy to concentrate on not dropping artichoke dip on my only Gap Favorite Tee that hadn’t yet been christened with snot, breastmilk, and other bodily excrements.

     Over the years I have kept up with Dawn through Facebook, which is a great resource for befriending people whom you don’t know very well, but whom you want to stalk thoroughly before making a serious commitment. Commenting on the the post of someone you barely know is okay, but sitting down for coffee with them is quite another, especially if you decide halfway through that you would rather someone throw darts at your face than listen to one more bad anecdote. Facebook has saved me a lot of time and energy throughout the past few years. After a short while I decided that I did indeed like Dawn, and perhaps we could be friends outside of social networking; however, it wasn’t until a couple of months ago that we decided to take our friendmance to the next level.

     Last April a serious injury ended my 16 year running career, and any runner knows how devastating that can be. No longer able to reap the benefits of the well-sought out “runner’s high”, I was anxious to find a replacement. Anything was better than lying around the house whimpering in a fetal position.  I had one of three choices:  I could find a new sport, start taking drugs, or eat enough ice cream to face the same demise as Darlene Cates in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. I couldn’t bear the thought of my children having to see my swollen corpse removed by a crane through the roof of our nice colonial home, plus it would ruin the landscaping, and what would the neighbor’s think? Instead I opted for yoga.

     Considering that I fall in love fairly easily with new things, I took to yoga quickly, deciding within a few short classes that nearly everyone on the planet should also take yoga. Naturally, I posted about yoga obsessively on Facebook so that everyone could see how great my new lifestyle was coming along. It didn’t take too many posts before Dawn finally decided to join me for a class on a Tuesday night a couple of months ago. As we both struggled through down dog and chaturanga flow, I fully expected Dawn to start throwing out various profanities, but she didn’t, even though I know she was running through them on repeat at the back of her mind just like I had been. By the end of the class, we were both thankful that neither of us had thrown up nor farted aloud. We both left deciding that the class was “challenging, but in a good way“, which is just another way of saying that it felt freakishly impossible and that we were blessed to still be alive.

     While I have continued to attend yoga on a consistent basis, Dawn had been attending sporadically in her time between juggling two boys from place to place and running her own business out of her home. Early Tuesday afternoon she sent me a text message asking if I was attending class later that evening. After informing her that my husband was in Dallas, she offered up her husband as a babysitter for the girls. I could simply come by her house, leave the girls to play with her boys, and we could run down the street for an hour of yoga. Under normal circumstances, this would be an acceptable solution; however, there is a catch. Dawn is married to the Secretary of State of Tennessee.

     I’m not sure how long I contemplated this as an acceptable solution, but I do recall the scenarios of the worst case possible running through my mind if I did, in fact, let Tre Hargett babysit my kids.

     What if the girls get into a fight?

What if my kindergartener calls one of her boys an a$$hole ?

What if they ask for snacks and water and juice and treats and…?” 

    It was too much to consider, but without turning down the possibility, I decided dropping by a little early to feel out the scene before making a final decision. As we pulled up, Tre was outside doing something to his car; I can’t quite remember what. The only thing I could manage to focus on clearly was not shaking too much and making sure my breath didn’t stink.

Did I know enough Tennessee State History?

I grew up in Kentucky, so I never had to prepare a 3-D display board for Tennessee.

What was the state bird? Was there even a state flower?

I am not even sure I know the name of our governor.

     When I stepped out of the car, I felt a sigh of relief when I realized that my first presumption was false. Apparently, the Secretary of State of Tennessee doesn’t stand around in his driveway during his free time practicing speeches in a well-tailored suit. He was just a normal guy in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt watching his boys play basketball on a Tuesday afternoon.

     Dawn was the in the kitchen when I entered the house. The first thing I noticed was the large Tennessee State Flag she had painted on reclaimed barn wood propped up against the wall above the fireplace mantle. I also noticed that her house looked fairly similar to mine. Things were strewn here and there, kids were in and out, and at one point her boys came in to grab a handful of raw spaghetti noodles to munch on. It appeared that they actually lived in their house like everyone else. There was no butler answering the door, no impeccably decorated formal dining room with Grandma Bertha’s antique china awaiting guests in ballgowns and fine leather shoes, and there was no freshly made pineapple turnover cake displayed on the table upon a crystal platter. It all felt very normal and I felt at home.

     “Hey, Dawn! How are you?”

    She came out of the kitchen holding her cat who had just returned from a vet visit after she had accidentally jumped into the dryer and spent 10 minutes tumbling in there before anyone had noticed.

     “Is this the cat you baked? Is it too early for a joke like that?”

   “No, if anything I think the whole thing settled her down a bit.” Charlotte was an abandoned neighborhood cat who crawled through our window one morning about a year and a half go. Dawn was my only friend willing to take in a stray and make a home for her, despite the fact that the cat climbed walls and curtains, scaled the furniture, and jumped in the dryer without anyone noticing. I was certain that cat had already gone through nine lives by the time Dawn took her off of our hands. I must have been off by a few counts.

          “Did you see Tre?” she asked.

          “Oh, yeah. I introduced myself in the driveway.”

     Tre had come inside and was standing in the living room. Dawn noticed his presence and looked him over. “Well, at least you put on some pants. If y’all weren’t a bunch of girls he wouldn’t have gone to such measures. He would probably answer the door for pizza in his boxer shorts if he could get away with it.”

     After exchanging a few words, which ultimately decided that we would rather stay at her house for a glass of wine and a meal, we went out to the backyard while Tre ordered pizza for the kids. A few moments later he came out preparing to leave and politely offered to move my van which I had parked behind his car in the driveway. I reached into my pocket, thinking that would be a perfectly normal solution, but as I reached for my keys, a horrible thought crossed my mind.

I can’t let the Secretary of State move my van!

For God’s sake, it smells of feet, mildew, and burnt cheese, plus the cupholders are jammed full of all the things we have lazily shoved in there over the past few weeks.

       I decided not to take my chances and opted to move it myself.

     I have been to many dinners over the years at friends’ houses, from pizza and beer to formal meals, and dinner with the Hargetts did not disappoint. The kids ate cheese pizza from paper plates with vegetables and fruit put out for them on the table in disposable containers and baggies of various shapes and sizes. Tre had put some pork chops on the grill for the adults and Dawn served Sister Schubert’s rolls in an aluminum pie pan with steamed microwaved vegetables poured into a serving bowl. We talked about normal things like parenthood, education, and good beer. I felt like I was around my own dinner table, where the love shared is deeply embedded in the level comfort and normalcy with one another over good food and hearty laughter.

     Throughout the evening our kids filtered in and out around the kitchen table, interrupting conversation and speaking loudly in excitement to be sure they were heard. Their oldest son is much like our oldest daughter, preferring the conversation of adults while having to be consistently reminded that they are still children nonetheless. Their youngest boy, theatrical in his movements and charismatic in personality, brought me an assortment of scented stuffed animals he had been collecting that were all of the rage at his school. The energy around the table was a pure delight, and a good way to spend a Tuesday evening. It sure beat the hell of out my second presumption that things would feel stuffy, forced, and overdramatized to mimic the Southern charm of days past when people reserved good jokes and laughter in favor of suffocating silence and boring conversation about routine life.

     At the end of the day, I suppose it wouldn’t have been such a crazy idea to let the Secretary of State of Tennessee babysit my kids while I attended a yoga class with his wife. Instead of standing around reciting the  Constitution of the United States verbatim, they live quite an ordinary life within an inviting and charming home surrounded by the chaos of raising children and entertaining friends just like the rest of us. Their house is comfortable and lived-in; their conversation is lighthearted and full of laughter. I don’t know that I have felt such at ease around another family, so much so that it felt like I was around my own family growing up where putting on a show was overrated and trying too hard to impress one another with boring facts and self-indulgent conversation would be ditched on the doorstep. The next time the invitation is offered, I may even let Tre Hargett move my van, I’ll just be sure to sprinkle some essential oils around on the floorboards and empty the cupholders beforehand.