I was a stay at home mom for the first six months of Darla's life. Maybe I should call that an extended maternity leave? Regardless, there was a lot to love about this time. I got to hold her always and be there for every fantastic first. From the first time she projectile pooped across the room to the first time she laughed at my expense, Darla and I were a team.
For all that I gained at the beginning of parenthood, I lost a sense of connection to the world. Loneliness was ever-present. I was going through something utterly transformative, losing a bit of myself in the process, and I wanted to surround myself with people who understood. Those days seemed to go on forever; I would go grocery shopping three times a day and create imaginary errands just so that I had something to do. And while I was out, I was constantly on the lookout for potential friends. I looked for friends all willy nilly; it didn't matter if the woman behind me in line at the market was super boujee and had probably made fun of me in high school. If the said woman was wearing a mewing newborn in an Ergo, I could forgive her for calling me nasty piece of shit a decade earlier.
I assumed I shared an experience with all new mothers that would bridge any gap. We might never have spoken to each other before, but the trauma of someone handing us a newborn, the most vulnerable and valuable of our species, and saying "be sure to keep this thing not just alive but thriving" connected us. The day before Darla was born, I struggled to clean two plates, two forks, two knives, and two glasses on 12 hours of sleep. I know you're gonna say this was because I was super pregnant, but that was me every day for the previous 28 years. Suddenly, just a day into Darla's life, I was supposed to remember to change her diapers and feed her 9000 times a day on 30 minutes of sleep. I wanted to surround myself with other mothers so I could look at them and ask, "Can you believe the shit these children are expecting of us?" And I thought all mothers would look back at me and say, "Right? I wonder if it's too late to give them back to the hospital."
There were a few parents who didn't understand what I was talking about. My identity as a mother was so fragile in the beginning that even witnessing a parent doing things differently from me and not complaining about his or her kid felt like an admonishment of my decisions. I had a neighbor who, every time she would come over, would give Darla's plastic toys and crib a side eye; She'd always laugh, bemused by how fast and loose I was playing with my child's future. I would leave these interactions drained and in tears, wondering what kind of monster I was cultivating with my half-assed parenting.
I eventually learned that other parenting styles had nothing to do with me. I'm okay with whatever anyone does with his or her kid, and I'm just gonna assume they're okay with my decisions. Seriously. We're all just trying the best we can, and it's in our best interest to support each other. And, if someone disapproves of what I'm doing, I'm still going to be alright. (Can you tell that I'm lying here? I live in constant fear that someone is going to call CPS on me every time my kids' have tantrums or yell too loud. I've heard the advice, "fake it til you make it" innumerable times, so I'm trying that here. Maybe I'll believe it by the time my kids are 30).
Given my indiscriminate connection to other parents, I also ended up attempting relationships with women with whom it was impossible for me to connect. I found myself in conversations with some mothers who were perfectly coiffed and wearing waist cinchers two weeks postpartum; these parents did nothing for my self-esteem. Somehow, their newborns were sleeping through the night, champions of tummy time, and practicing multisyllabic words. Darla and I felt lost and messy. We had spent the entire morning mindlessly scrolling through Facebook and crying, and these other mothers weren't helping my hormone drop at all.
These mothers would blink in confusion whenever I bitched about Darla. They'd offer a gentle reminder that children were blessings. I agree that it's pretty amazing that the newborn, who had just been a cluster of cells a few months prior, could make me laugh harder than I had ever, but that was never what I needed to hear. I knew I should appreciate every second with a newborn since it goes so fast (as everyone was wont to tell me at least a few times a day), but every second drags on and on when the only person I had to talk to could barely stay awake longer than 30 minutes at a time.
Then there were the women with whom I had no common ground. Before kids, every person I knew had similar politics and priorities. Suddenly, I found myself stuck in conversations with women I shared no interests. Sometimes, their observations would even skew into the realm of "fucked up," and I would have to either call them out or steer the discussion in a different direction. "That's cool you're into eugenics. I'm more of a fan of watching Golden Girls reruns and eating chocolate cake."
Eventually, these mothers, the ones I felt no connection to and whose politics gave me a headache, and I ghosted each other. And from the dust emerged mothers who I could connect with. Mothers who feel in over their head and complain a lot about their kids (mostly when they're not within earshot, of course). Women who, also, see that institutionalized racism is just as problematic as white supremacy. Much to my surprise, since I assumed, based on a few interactions, I'd have to hang out with people who took personal offense when someone's child was gender fluid, there were a lot more parents like me than I initially thought. I just needed to look for the ones who seemed utterly exasperated at drop off every morning and who didn't give a crap what their kids wore. These women are the ones who get it. And I assure you that not one of them would've bullied me in high school.
I know, at this time, this is the opposite of what I should be doing. I know the only way this world is going to get better is if we associate with people who may have different viewpoints from our own and that, in doing so, I'll see that we're all the same. And I'm all for that when it comes to everything else in the world but parenting. Seven years in and I'm still flailing and haven't even gotten my sea legs. Sometimes all I need to survive is a group of parents who won't give me the side eye when I pick up the full sugar, full fat, full wheat cookie my kid dropped on the ground, dust it off, and hand it back to them. They understand the tantrum is way more deadly than the germs that might have attached themselves to that cookie. I don't need to, also, be having a debate about gun control while yelling at my kids to stop eating dirt.