Ever enter into a parallel universe in your own town?

I had a brief foray into one recently. It was a universe that seemed vaguely familiar, but that is so far removed from my life now that I can barely believe that I once was part of it.

The Young Mommy Universe.

I had a late-morning client meeting and didn�t have to rush off to work. So I decided to have a leisurely cappuccino at a a local java spot. This was mid-morning on a weekday, and the place was packed � does anybody actually work in this town? But most of them were cute young moms with cute young ones in cute little outfits in tow.

A few had obviously gathered there to meet their friends, other cute young moms; some were there just with their kids, sharing whipped cream-slathered hot cocoas, lattes and a sweet split among them for about, what, $12, $14? I watched as they tried to have �adult� conversations, interrupted every few minutes by one child or another who picked up crumbs from the floor and placed it in her mouth, or grabbed an empty chair and dragged it across the floor, or whined and hit, begging for attention.

It brought be back to the days of Young Mom Kat with Trent � all decked out in his Sweet Potato toddler outfits that I bought at the warehouse sales in Berkeley. This, of course, was back in the days before coffeehouses were the hot spots for young moms � we were the park mommies.

I remember those days with mixed feelings. Don�t get me wrong � I loved (and still love) being a mom. I couldn't even imagine life without The Kid, who has become a funny, creative, kind, genuine young man. I still get sentimental recalling the days of Play-Doh and Discovery Museum jaunts and snuggling on the couch to read �Are You My Mother?� and �Where the Wild Things Are� for the 10th time and, of course, our daily trips to the jungle gyms, sandboxes and swings of all Marin�s parks. It seemed such an innocent time.

But I also remember hours upon hours with just a toddler to talk to, and a life dominated by the nap-time clock. I remember sometimes feeling bored, trapped, tired. I craved to be connected again with other adults � not just other mommies, but to have an adult life, doing adult things and time to call my own. I wanted to say proudly, �I�m a mother,� when asked, �What do you do?� I wasn�t embarrassed, but that wasn�t the way I defined myself. It was my �title� first (even if I didn�t actually have it at the time) and mother second. I realized that nothing in my life had fully prepared me for the job of Mom. Of course there was my Mom, but it wasn't until I was a Mom myself that I asked her if she liked staying at home raising us. "Sometimes," she said.

And I know that the dilemma is really only for the entitled � women who can make a choice to stay home or work full- or part-time. For many women, that's not even an option. That choice helps create our anxiety.

I don�t think there�s an easy answer for the stay-at-home/career mom dilemma. Now that I�m a full-time working mom, I know full well the stress of trying to juggle it all, and Trent�s a teen and pretty self-reliant. But when I read stories like Rick Polito's Motherhood reinvented about the two Marin moms who wrote "I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids" � "a new book that shines a more realistic light on the playground panorama and gives voice to an unspoken angst, the self-stifled desperation of motherhood in an era where even having it all is not enough" � and when I see the young moms in Starbucks or at Lytton Square or at Old Mill Park, and when I read the thoughts of numerous mothers posting on blogs, I wonder why no one seems all that happy.

And I wonder if stay-at-home dads � I'll be talking about Mr. Moms in this Sunday's column � have the same conflicted feelings as more and more of them take on that role

It seems that many of us dream about having a family for so many years, and when we finally have one ... well, it's not always what we expected.

This Sunday, we'll celebrate our moms with a flurry of cards, flowers, phone calls, breakfasts in bed or fancy brunches at fancy places (and I wish all moms a happy day, and hope that The Kid even remembers!). But what do moms really want? Thoughts?

Kat Wilder's My So-Called Midlife