Tuesday, March 08, 2022

Being a Mom

Recently I processed my infant-mothering days from the rear-view mirror by compiling an album for the family of a friend. It was for the family of this friend and not the friend herself because my friend died. Yes, my forty-year-old, “younger” friend died of colon cancer. Sigh. That is a different blog post. 

On the cover of the album is a beautiful photo of six soul sisters- six women who banded together and shared maternity and baby clothes, birthday and pool parties, holiday cookie exchanges and weekly play dates at people’s homes and at local parks. We are all calmly smiling for a perfectly posed picture of a perfect friendship because we had just sailed carefree through motherhood together….. NOT! I look at these six women (and two toddlers who unknowingly photobombed our picture by running to mommy) and I know we were tired, we had just disagreed about the time and location of our picnic and some of us had done a separate party with alcohol the night before. That is why this cover photo is unique- never before had someone (my parents in this case) gotten us organized for such a picture. The rest of the 50 assorted photos of these women include one or more of us as dots in the background, serving food, speaking to a child while holding a plate and balancing a baby in the other arm. Truthfully most of the pictures are just of the kids- playing at the park, eating, blowing birthday candles, and posing for mom saying “smile for a picture honey.” 
You can’t survive motherhood alone. Period. With a brand new baby I showed up at mommy events designed for the isolated, family out-of-town mother to bond with other moms only to be asked to work in childcare (What?) or to meet women who lived an hour’s drive across town or just to leave feeling rejected in some way. Wasn’t I the pretty, involved, musically talented teenager who qualified for a highly-select college with professionals at the highest level of accomplishment? What happened to popular me? Now I was the slightly pudgy (from pregnancy), perpetually tired, slightly out-of-fashion maternity clothes who was always asking for a babysitter. People started to avoid me when I would arrive. What is she asking for now? I was thinking THEY were thinking.

So to find a group of women who wanted to share these moments was inner-soul soothing. Being accepted on the raw level of something never experienced- being in a low, vulnerable place and having other women surround me and say “we are here too.” Not perfect but definitely critical. I recently told the sister of my deceased friend:  Mothering is the hardest thing you will ever do. People you thought were your friends will disappear and let you down. You will feel alone. You will feel rejected or not good enough or lonely. You will show up at the park with your baby only to feel left out by the elementary-school aged moms who all know each other from soccer league. You will sit with your baby, not knowing anybody, and nobody will introduce themself to you. They look right through you. They do not need a woman with a baby nor is a woman with a baby of any use to them. You are a nuisance. You are an extra responsibility. You are a person always looking to shift responsibility onto others. And it doesn’t matter if that is not who you are- people will make you feel that way.

The album for my friend’s family is called “Good Times.” Our smiles in these select twenty photos don’t reveal our exhaustion, our health problems, our recent fight with our spouse, our disagreements or disappointments with each other, our own insecurities with our body image, relationships and extended family. But we survived and even overcame and thrived despite these things partly because we found each other. Closer with some women at certain times than others- that too changed as time went by. The woman with whom I currently communicate most was probably the woman I knew the least at the time of the photo. Now our kids play on the same sports teams and we see each other frequently. Of the other four, one lives in an adjoining neighborhood and we occasionally bump into each other on a walk, two moved out of the country (and then one of those died), and one lives a few miles away with kids at different schools and in different activities (she has boys and I have girls). Our lives has drastically changed since this photo was taken. We no longer need each other the same way. But speaking for myself- I don’t know what I would have done without this support group when my girls were babies.

All of the women in this tribe shared a few characteristics: our families were all out-of-town, we were all married to highly educated men who primarily worked in the high-tech industry, we had all graduated from college and worked at a job. And most of us had some serious hobbies with which we could throw ourselves into during the drudgery of motherhood.
It was drudgery that nobody could have prepared me for. No amount of babysitting, educational observations, or other preparation would have made a difference. It was sink or swim. 

Together we swam. That swim propelled us out of the world of babies and toddlers into the world of older children where we currently stand. We were a team.