Before long, I wasn’t just attending the support group. I was going to lunch. I was hosting play dates. I was communicating with these other mothers via email and telephone.
These moms seemed very different than the people I normally associated with. In my mind, they bordered on the obsessive when it came to the mommy gig. Where I had grown to have no problem supplementing Liam’s breastmilk with formula, they were practically dogmatic about breastfeeding. When Liam had a bought with eczema, I put hydrocortisone cream on it, but they would not dare use something that wasn’t all natural. I was going through disposable diapers by the palette, while they washed their environmentally friendly cloth diapers.
What I failed to see was how obsessive I was in my own right, how a lot of times they were correct in their compulsive thought processes, and how they were making me a better mother. By the time I gave birth to my second son, Kellen, I was driving the breastfeeding bandwagon and making my own all natural baby food. I still wasn’t going down the cloth diaper road though. I wash too much laundry as it is.
Becoming friends with other moms kind of crept up on me. I craved adult interaction, but I was also careful to keep my distance. I felt like I was too cool for that crowd. Too cool is not exactly right. Out of my league is more accurate. Most of moms in this group are what I would describe as well to do. Many have advanced degrees with fancy jobs to match (at least before they gave them up to become moms). A few had houses I could only dream of owning. Almost all had travelled extensively, while I had never been out of the country, and had not even rode an airplane until I was in my twenties. At one gathering, several of the moms were discussing the Christmas bonuses they received from their parents each year. I, on the other hand, had grown up leading a less than privileged life. Dental care was considered an extravagance. Prior to being a mom, I had worked as an Administrative Assistant and factory worker. I was employed by people like these women- I didn’t socialize with them. I should have been getting to know them as people, but growing up poor, it is difficult for me to not notice the difference in social classes. I felt very out of place.
I was in the midst of a serious identity crisis. I have always had a chip on my shoulder about not having a lot of money and not being educated. I took comfort in the fact that I was an “artist.” Artists are supposed to be dirt poor, work shitty jobs, and look strange. It didn’t matter that I had never actually sold a piece of artwork- a minor detail really. It mattered that I was losing the ability to define myself as an artist. I certainly did not have time to create art. Art had been the thing I could take comfort in. I may not have a fancy education, but I had been living an examined life and creating in the process- yes, this is a complete pile of bullshit, but it’s what I told myself to get through the day. I wasn’t writing, collaging, singing or any of the things that I had once taken pride in. Other than a few tattoos, I no longer looked strange. I didn’t have the time or energy to put together quirky outfits, and I had cut my hair into a manageable style and changed the color back to something close to natural. I used to looky edgy and cool. Now, the terms comfortable and easy defined my style. I resembled one of those cookie cutter soccer moms, but not even a cute one in a shell top and capris. No, I was the mom in dirty jeans, a generic t-shirt and a messy half-bun, reeking of baby puke and looking to be on the verge of tears.
I grew up thinking of myself as an outsider, comfortable only with other outsiders. That produced an “us” versus “them” mentality. But now, I was closer to being a “them.” I had the husband with a good job, the house in the suburbs, the kids, the haircut, the works. I had defined myself as part of the rebel alliance, but it was clear I was crossing over to the dark side. My problem became that I just didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere. Too out of my element to be part of the mommy mafia, not cool enough to be part of the hipsters.
I had the added pressure of Liam. I didn’t want him to be some friendless, lonely outcast lacking the skills to carry on a basic conversation. Those types of guys end up living with their parents well into their forties, and while it might be nice to have the extra companionship, I was really hoping to turn his room into an art studio. Perhaps it was a cover, perhaps it was the truth, but I felt that I had to make friends so that Liam would have friends. Instead of being able to say “fuck you,” I needed to learn how to integrate into this new world. But how do I do that? Did I need to learn how to bake lemon squares and be able to discuss what a Roth IRA is? I did not want Liam to grow up with the freaky mom. I wanted him to have a chance at not feeling the isolation I was going through.
I went to play dates. I attended birthday parties. I joined in on Mom’s Night Out dinners. Yet, I still couldn’t find my footing. Trying to look and act “normal,” I felt like a big fake. I was in the group, but not of the group. I wanted to win these ladies over, but I wanted to do it on my terms.
I decided I was going to throw a Halloween party, and that it was going to be the most kickass baby party ever. I spent a week decorating. I carefully researched recipes to create a fun menu. I crafted games for the kids to play, and filled goodie bags to take home. It was a totally groovy party except for one thing- THEY’RE FUCKING BABIES!! Babies do not play party games. They can’t open gift bags. They might have liked the decorations except most were placed up high and out of their field of vision. I had spent weeks planning an event that perfectly illustrated how completely crazed I was for friendship. My party did not scream cool, it screamed desperation. I might as well have hung a neon said that read “Please, please like me!”
The kids looked completely adorable in their costumes. Can there be anything cuter than a nine month old dressed as Superman? I was snapping pictures left and right, mingling like a pro. I was feeling quite pleased with myself as each mom dutifully commented on how cute the party was and thanked me for hosting. I thought I was finally in my element.
Out of the corner of my eye, I notice an adorable fairy toddling over to my coffee table. The coffee table is mid-century modern. It is a series of boards held together to create a slated effect. It is a bitch to clean. This little pixie took her juice box and squeezed it right in the middle, so that the grape sugary liquid went all over my table and in between those slates. I noticed her friend was stomping on strawberries, and another child had smeared frosting on my wall. My house was quickly taking on the consistency of fly paper, and I had no one to blame. I did this myself! I invited twenty infants to my home and put out oodles of sticky sugary treats for them to enjoy.
My husband came home to find me in tears and mopping the floor for the third time, but the party had the desired effect. I wouldn’t realize it until a few weeks later, but I had solidified my place in the group. I had made friends. Most importantly, I felt like I could now be myself. Having given it my all, I felt like “if you don’t like me now, fuck you.” Perhaps they sensed my letting go and becoming myself instead of this bad June Cleaver robo-mom.
I was now the quirky mom I was meant to be- the one who was crazy enough to let a gang of babies wreck her house in the name of having fun. I found a new outlet for creativity. After I got over the initial mess, I found I was eager to make more messes. I wasn’t scared to let the kids come paint at my house, or cover the backyard in glitter and glue. I felt happy to have a part in introducing them to art.
And as simplistic and cheesy as it sounds, I learned that we are all more alike than we are different. These women wanted the same things I did- to raise happy, well adjusted children and to not go completely insane in the process.