There we all were in the parking lot of the swimming pool, about 50 members of the swimming team, looking healthy and vibrant and young, and 10 or so mothers, looking awake. It was 7:30 in the morning and the delineation was clear.

Some of us were going with the swim team to Kings Dominion.

Some of us were not.

"So, I'm being a real mother today," said one who was going.

"I've got a class," said one who was not.

"Sure you do," said one who was going.

"I've got to work," said one who wasn't.

"Hey, I've got a career, too," said one who was.

"Yeah, but you're not just starting out," said one who wasn't.

What was really happening was that the four mothers who were going had younger swimmers -- 6, 7, 8 years old -- who could not have gone on the swim team trip by themselves. The older swim team members got onto a school bus and the four mothers and their five younger children got into a van and by 8 o'clock we had pulled out of the parking lot and were on our way to the amusement park.

Real men may talk about killing ducks.

Real mothers talk about rearing children.

Before very long, being real mothers at least for the day, we were talking about our children, whom we've all known for years, and we finally got to the question of guilt and responsibility. As in: If my oldest son did something truly dreadful, would I feel responsible? To which I offered a theory recently developed by another mother, who is a lawyer in New York. She calls it "no-fault parenting."

Caroline, who was driving the van and who is married to a dentist, decided a very long time ago that she was going to be a mother. She had been accepted to graduate school in psychology but she worked and put her husband through dental school instead. She handles her husband's business accounts but she is first and foremost a full-time mother. She has four children, two in college, one in high school, and one who is 7. She doesn't believe in no-fault parenting.

"I think," she said, "that people who take up parenting, whether you do it full time or simultaneously with other things, to do it well, it's a full-time attitude. If my child turns out to be an ax murderer, I would take the blame.

"I'm teaching my children moderation, to take the center of the road, not trampling on other people for your own pleasure, for your own profit, not taking risks with other people's lives." Her oldest son is 21 years old. "I still want to be an operational force in his life philosophically."

She told of an acquaintance who had what she referred to as a "bad incident" with one of her children and was wishing she had done things differently. "The foundation she has laid is different from the foundation she wishes she had laid."

Which, of course, got us talking about our own mothers, and one of the other mothers in the van said: "Why don't I like my mother? I love my mother, but I don't like my mother. She's never let go of me. Whenever I go back home, it's a put-down: You can't do that, you can't afford this." Which got us to thinking what our own children would say about us.

"You have to have the ability to treat each child as an individual person," said Caroline. "If there's one thing I think I've done well with my kids is they all know who they are. They may not know where they're going, but they all have a sense of their own uniqueness."

She believes that one of the problems we've developed in this country is the tendency toward "mass production of kids," with the result that they have lost their sense of uniqueness and thus, their sense of self-worth. She told of going to one of Washington's toniest private schools, which she hated, and going off to one of the country's finest women's colleges. "Mother wanted only the very best for me." She returned home in six weeks. She believes she went off to college with no sense of her own self-worth. She enrolled in another well-known college and ultimately majored in psychology, met her husband and married him.

"I consciously chose motherhood as a full-time career. I had graduate school in my pocket. I chose to marry instead. In my heart, I knew I wanted to be a mother. I didn't know if I'd do it well, I still don't know if I've done it well, but I knew that's what I wanted to do."

What's been nice, of course, is that she has been able to do it. What was also nice was that mothers with careers and mothers who had made motherhood a career were able to kid each other, learn from each other, talk about the various choices we had made, with no one passing judgment. Real mothers understand.