Near my table, there was a gathering of about eight 30- and 40-something women, sipping hot drinks and chatting about the start of school, their kids’ fashion choices and recent adventures, home repair issues, etc.
In this moment, I felt both an intense desire to walk up, introduce myself, and gently weave my way into this warm, cozy community of mothers; and a profound sense of relief that I was not a part of this gathering, for fear that I’d inevitably obsess over my own approach to motherhood while listening to others’ accounts.
I’ve been afflicted with this push-pull duality since Lily arrived in our lives, and I’m not exactly sure what to make of it. When I read an acquaintance’s book about her first months as a mother – Vicki Glembocki‘s funny, fabulous, brutally honest memoir, “The Second Nine Months” – I was struck by a detail she included about practically mowing down other new or soon-to-be mothers who were out and about in public places, so anxious was she to find “mommy friends.” But I had done the opposite, nearly sprinting from a place when I saw a line-up of strollers.
Why? This is partly due, I’m sure, to the decades I spent fearing, and not wanting, pregnancy and motherhood. From childhood, I’d wanted to get lots of education, find a job that I loved, travel, and take advantage of every opportunity that came my way – and I knew that, at the very least, having a family would hamper my ability to do the last two things.
So I told myself, along with everyone else who was in my life for longer than five minutes, that having a child wasn’t for me. And that was indeed true for many years. But late into our 30s, a funny thing happened when everyone stopped trying to talk me and Joe into having a child. We had a chance to not have those voices in our ears all the time, and it got quiet enough for us to have a protracted, thoughtful discussion about what a child would mean for us, and how we’d both work to not lose our sense of individual identity in the process.
Which means that, within reason and with some adjustments, we’ve maintained our extracurricular activities. Though we used to run together, we now take turns a few times a week; Joe switched from playing trombone in a highly time-consuming brass band to a fun, less-rigorous klezmer band, while I returned to playing in a low-key community band; I still squeeze in a yoga class before work once a week and recently joined a writing group at work that occasionally meets for lunch, while Joe enjoys going to a once-a-month beer tasting with friends at a nearby bar.
This may get more difficult to maintain as Lily gets older, but right now, she’s happy as could be, and we’re generally feeling good about the balance we’ve managed to strike. No, we’re not enrolling Lily in swimming classes, or music classes, or dance classes just yet, because we know the overwhelming craziness of all that will arrive soon enough. Why rush it, and invite that chaos into our lives sooner than necessary? I think Joe and I both like just spending down time with Lily at home, without having to strap her into the car and rush somewhere for a class.
But this is precisely the kind of choice I might second-guess while hearing from other mothers/parents about what they’re doing. As it is, when a little girl in Lily’s room at daycare demonstrated that she recognized what each letter of the alphabet looks like, I had a small freak-out. “Should Lily know that, too? Why doesn’t she know that?”
Fortunately, I took a step back, dialed down the crazy, and took a breath. They’re two year olds, for God’s sake. I refuse to drill my kid like a crazy-person. My mother didn’t do that to us, and we turned out just fine. And I want Lily to be a kid and play and imagine. So I re-gained my composure and told myself yet again that I need to keep my perspective – easy as it is to get caught up in parental obsessing – and keep finding my own way through motherhood.
This despite the fact that I desperately miss several of my far-flung, grad school girlfriends, and would love nothing more than to have friendships like that in my day-to-day life again. Fortunately, though, I have a wonderful sister-in-law in our area who had her daughter 13 days after Lily was born; and an old college friend with three kids who lives nearby. So when I feel the urge to chat face-to-face about issues that arise, I’m lucky enough to already have a couple of reliable outlets. For that, I’m grateful.
And honestly, maybe my reticence about attempting to insinuate myself among a whole new community of moms is more about my natural tendency toward shyness and loner-dom (which my brain often tries to justify in lofty ways). But because I never sought out an anonymous community of moms online, either, something tells me there’s more to it than that.
Perhaps the surprise at finding myself in a life I never previously envisioned for myself is still so jarring that I feel particularly guarded about assessing my own performance in it. When I got pregnant, I promised myself that, as much as possible, I’d eschew guilt and cut myself slack as I found my way though this brave new world. And I’m trying my best to do just that, which for me means listening hard to my own instincts.
Because every parent’s and child’s circumstances are different. It seems bizarre to most people, for instance, that I usually go to get Lily from daycare at 4:30 p.m., and then I stick around playing with her there until they close the place at 6 p.m. I can do this because Joe makes dinner, not me, so I don’t need to rush home to get things going (and he doesn’t get home ’til 6:15 or so, anyway); I can do this because there’s no other demands on my time just then, and I can just focus on Lily; and because our house is only a two-block walk away.
My extensive daily presence at the daycare was originally, I think, noted with raised eyebrows from the staff, other kids, and their parents, most of whom are on a much tighter, more pressing schedule than I am. “Why are you always here?” a kid asked me while Lily climbed onto the monkey bars. “Because I’m lucky enough to finish up my work and come early to play with Lily for a while,” I said.
And I do feel fortunate to have this un-rushed time each day; but again, that’s yet one more thing that tells me that comparing parenting and child-raising practices is a pointless, needlessly aggravating and stressful pursuit – one I’d be wise to avoid.
My guess is that when Lily enters the local public school system, I’ll get to know many more moms and dads, and I think, at that time, I’ll welcome the companionship and camaraderie. Just now, though, as a new parent, I’m still finding my bearings, and thus incapable of hearing my own voice in a crowded throng.