I saw a man in a dress and a wig walking a dog around the park not too long ago. It was a flowery dress, one with hibiscus and palm leaves trailing down the front. The wig was red, a knock-off Lucille Ball, but it worked. The dog was little and crazy-happy to be walking out in the sunshine on this Saturday afternoon in August.

The man was talking to himself, somewhat angrily, and his purple rubber flip-flops kept sliding out from under his feet, making him wobble and lurch when the tiny dog darted from squirrel to tree to passerby. He looked uncomfortable, like an invisible bra strap was digging under his arm. He looked a little sad too, like the humidity and the crowd was too much for him. He didn’t seem to be particularly enjoying his walk. It seemed obligatory.

I lost sight of him after a while. My husband and I were squandering the afternoon as only two people away from their kids can. We wandered, enjoying the aimlessness of it. We carried books in our hands but never opened them. Then, sometime later, maybe half an hour, the man came strolling by again, still talking to himself but much more relaxed, and without the dog.

It startled me a little, to see him without the dog and the leash. I watched him stroll, slower now, over the wide expanse of lawn that stretched the length of a soccer field before disappearing into the trees. He stood taller, almost regal in that red, slightly-lopsided wig. Where was the dog? Had he just been walking him for a friend? And if so, where was the friend? He seemed so happy to be done with it all.

That’s when it hit me, is this what I look like with and without kids? Am I the sweaty, harried woman, going through the motions, but really just getting it over with, like regular maintenance on the car? Change the oil, check the air filter, feed the kids. Am I just dressing for the part without feeling it?

I recognize this in other moms all the time. I hear them saying the mom-words, “Don’t make me count to five” and “I do see you, yes, good job on that swing/bike/slide,” when they’re thinking about something else entirely, like they’re watching a movie in their head that they don’t want to pause. I do it too, the distracted-mom thing.

Now that school is starting back soon (oh so soon) I catch myself wondering, do my kids see it in me? They have to, right? They have to see the distractedness of my parenting, like that invisible bra strap, keeping me from focusing properly. I don’t want this to be the job that I’m waiting to clock out of. I don’t want to look like I’m babysitting my own kids. It’s a job and it’s not. It’s also a calling.

However, if I’m going to commit to every day, then I want the me that’s at the park with my husband, not reading the book because I’m too busy people-watching and drinking in that moment, to be the mom-me too. I want to want the leash that tethers me to my kids because it was one born of love and hope and all the other pieces of me that would be undone without them. It’s a choice. It’s always a choice. I want to rock the mom-me like that guy rocked the hibiscus dress. I want to walk with my children like I’ve got nowhere else to be.