When I first had children, I discovered something that all other first time mothers inevitably discover. My social life changed dramatically. I used to be the funky kid in Hot Topic attire out until 2 with whatever crew of misfits I could find. Well, no more of that with a baby! Even though my husband would have granted me an evening off here and there to run about like a wild child, let's be realistic - whenever I wasn't on Baby Duty, all I really wanted to do was sleep. So most of my old friends drifted, eventually lost to the tide of changing lives, and I was faced with finding new friends, preferably with children, so their hours would mimic my abominably early schedule. People who wouldn't mind me changing a diaper in front of them. People who could handle spit-up, tantrums, endless interruptions and my brainless rambling about the kids, whose activities as babies hypnotized me into sounding like a moron. In short, I needed mommy-friends.
It wasn't easy. I tried hooking up with a group of church-goers my mother knew, all of whom had young children. I even went to church a few times, stalking this group of friends. They seemed cool; one of them sported spiky, fluorescent dyed hair, and was into vampires. Surely they'd be alright with me and my eccentricities. They lived close by, were down to earth, and seemed very friendly. Wrong! I eventually told them that I wasn't Christian. I didn't even get into the intricacies of my paganism; just let that tip of the iceberg show. Immediately, I got dropped - phone calls and emails went unanswered for a couple of weeks, until I finally stopped trying.
This early experience, sadly, colored a lot of my attempts at friendships with other moms. It was like I had a checklist I had to get out front before committing to any real time with people. Kids the same age? Check. In a healthy relationship, or at least drama-free? Check. Geeky? Check. Ok with alternate religions, sexualities, and the like? Can I wear my frumpy clothes and my punk stuff around them? Hrm ... The longer I looked the more I despaired. Part of the problem was that people like me tended to have kids later, or not at all. They also (like me) tended to do something I call Hide the Crazy, that is to say, dress down to blend in with the other moms, because we wanted our kids to have friends. I didn't want Little Tommy's mother to surreptitiously say, "Let's not invite the Cox kids over, ok? They're nice kids, but their mom's a little odd. Did you SEE her tattoo?" It wasn't fair for my kids to face the consequences of my antiestablishmentarianism.
So the search began in earnest. I haunted www.PunkyMoms.com, Craigslist's platonic personals, www.meetup.com and such. I tried to arrange playdates with mothers whose children were in my kids' Mothers Day Out programs. For three years I tried to find other people who were both like me and were mothers, and came up with nothing. This was a dark time. It seemed a cruel twist of fate that at the time of my life in which I suffered the most crippling self-doubt, loneliness and despair, I was also subjected to the most intense scrutiny and judgment I had seen since junior high. I was alone from 7:00 AM until my husband got home at 6:00 PM. All my old friends were at work. My mother was at work. My sister-in-law stayed home, but she was busy homeschooling her own children. Eleven hours a day, five days a week, is a long time to be alone with an infant.
I had almost given up, had almost decided that I was, in fact, the only geeky weirdo with kids. Then I met Hatgirl. I name her Hatgirl here because she wears cool hats. We met at the Ft. Worth Zoo at an event we found on www.meetup.com. I had just finished having a most disheartening conversation with one of the other women. I remember this one particularly well because it summed up so much.
"So what do you do?" she asked as we pushed our strollers side by side towards the reptiles.
"I stay home," I said, "but I'm also a writer."
"Oh," she said, immediately losing interest. "Well I'm an accountant." And she walked back to talk with someone else she knew. Maybe she didn't mean it that way, maybe I was overly sensitive by now (or slightly insane) but I was crushed. The two halves of my occupation, mothering and writing, instantly dismissed as not valuable or interesting. By another mother even! I had seen it so often in less severe forms in other moments, but this one crystallized it. Luckily, it was that same day I found myself opposite Hatgirl for lunch.
"So what do you do," she said, "when not mothering?" And she didn't say it like "when you're not on the pot."
"I'm a writer," I said with an inward wince.
"Oh!" she said. "Um ... I was about to ask if you were any good. But I guess you must think you're pretty good if you're a writer. And if you're not, you're not gonna say so, are you! Ha!"
We stuck by each other the rest of the day. Our kids were the same age, as by this time I had a three year old and an infant. We traded Eddie Izzard quotes. I told her about my stories. I told her I was pagan; she told me she was an atheist. Throughout the next week (I found out later), we Googled each other, confided in our husbands our excitement at the prospect of a cool new friend, and internet-stalked each other. From then on we hung out at least once a week. We traded babysitting, horror stories, clothes, books and bitchiness. Not once has one of us been a complete ass to the other. At this point it's been about a year, and I'm so glad I've got her. Even if she does laugh at the word 'steampunk.'
There was an aspect to our friendship that I valued beyond just having things in common and getting along with another human being. It's a dynamic I also have with my husband, and one of the main reasons I married him (besides the fact that he's hot). Hatgirl and I always had something to say to one another, not only because we were intelligent people who made each other think, but because we each found the other person's mind interesting. For the first time in a long time, Hatgirl made me feel shiny and special. I hope everyone, especially new mothers, has or finds their Hatgirl. There are aspects of the mothering experience, especially in the beginning, that desperately cry out for friends outside of immediate family who Get It; people who've been there, done that, and know what the hell you're talking about. No one ought to be alone, not when they've been up since 3, haven't showered since Thursday and have forgotten the diaper bag. Especially then.
About the Author: Julie Cox is a new pagan writer and artist who lives with her two young children and husband in Texas. She carries degrees in both Art and Religion. To see more of Julie's artwork go to Shopping and Art gallery on our main menu.