Friday, September 5, 2008

Groupies

When Josh was four months old, I joined a local playgroup. When I was pregnant, people were always telling me how easy it would be to meet other moms once the baby was born. But one of the things I remember most about those first few fuzzy months of motherhood was the persistent feeling that I was alone.

It's not that I didn't get oodles of support from my husband, parents, in-laws, and friends, but everyone worked full-time. So five days a week from morning until evening, I was alone with this tiny creature whose needs fluctuated on a daily basis and whose psyche I was convinced I was permanently damaging with every small choice I made. So I went online, found the mom's club in my area, sent a check to an anonymous PO box, and a few weeks later I was in a playgroup with three strangers who happened to have babies Josh's age. And at first — I'll be completely honest here — I wasn't so sure it was a good idea.

Perhaps it's a natural phenomenon when you gather two or more sleep-deprived, anxiety-ridden, intensely insecure new moms together, but those first few meetings were awkward, to say the least. Each week, I would leave and think up creative excuses to skip next week's meeting. But for some reason, I kept me showing up each week. Maybe it was the comfort of knowing that I had a real appointment to get ready and leave the house for, or perhaps it was the morbid curiosity of watching other people's train wrecks — such as blow-out diapers or the meltdown of all meltdowns in the middle of a Starbucks — that made me feel better about my own lot in motherhood. Whatever the motivation, I persisted.

Within a few months, we lost a couple original members and gained a couple more, and somewhere in the middle, we found a nice equilibrium. We didn't always share the same interests or parenting philosophies, but we did share one universal commonality: We were all suddenly doing the hardest job we had ever done, and we had no idea how.

So we faithfully met each Thursday morning at nearby parks on nice days and coffee shops on rainy days. We'd all pull up in our assorted baby mobiles and spend the next 20 minutes heaving our enormous strollers out of the trunk; loading them up with the diaper bag, a purse, assorted toys, and snacks; and then clipping the infant carrier snugly in place, being careful not to wake the just-now-napping baby. Then we would navigate to the chosen meeting place, often en masse, struggling to manage all our gear. Inevitably at least one baby would wake up and promptly start screaming that I'm-either-about-to-be-eaten-by-a-wildcat-or-maybe-I'm-just-hungry cry, just as we were figuring out how to fit four SUV strollers between two easy chairs and a leather couch.

For the next hour and a half, we would compare notes. Does your baby ever sleep for more than 20 minutes at a time? How often does your baby nurse, and for how long? Do you feel like you want to kill yourself at least once a day? Are you laughing one minute and sobbing the next? Oh good. Me too. We'd whine and complain about all the things all those family members and strangers never told us when they were so busy telling us exactly what it would be like to have a baby. And we'd complain about all the unsolicited and mostly untrue nuggets of wisdom we were randomly granted in line at the post office, the grocery store, or the ATM. But mostly, we would sit in comfy seats or on plush park blankets and try to relax for a moment or two before our never-ending shift started again.

While the babies did nothing more than roll around on a blanket or smile at one another from their infant seats and grab their own fuzzy rattles, we moms bonded in a way only soldiers who've been to battle together can. And miraculously, many months later we found one more member who instantly gelled, as if she had been with us from the very beginning. She also brought a much-needed daughter into our group that had previously been composed of three rough-and-tumble boys and one petite girl.

We have stuck together as a playgroup longer than most. A few other moms have come and gone over the years, trying us out for a while and then moving on, but the core remains solid. As our lives ebb and flow with activities and commitments, illness and new babies, one of us may be scarce for a few weeks here and there, but we always come back together, weathering schedule changes, vacations, pregnancy, and preschool. And now that the kids are old enough to really play together, they are great friends. Each child has his or her own distinct personality, talents, and quirks, but they truly love each other. In the last year as they have all gotten so good at expressing their emotions and communicating clearly, I have been touched and amazed to see how strong their bond has become. For they didn't chose one another any more than we did. We were all brought together by a combination of administrative randomness and fate. And it seems both forces knew exactly what they were doing.

So what, you may wonder, inspired this ode to friendship? Last week, we found out that one of our founding members is moving to the East Coast. Her family has an incredible new opportunity that happens to be across the country, and while we wish her well, we are sad to lose one of our own. Her departure has only reminded me how finite our little group is. I have tried not to think about it in the past, but even if the rest of us stick around, in less than two years our kids will be in kindergarten, potentially signaling the end of the weekly play date. And while we all live reasonably close to one another, we are all in different school districts, so seeing one another can only happen extracurricularly.

But imagining life without my weekly dose of chaos and fun is depressing. I'm not sure what I will do if I don't get to see what clever T-shirt Bradley is wearing or find out which words Lauren learned to spell each week. And while I now have no choice but to find out via e-mailed pictures from East Coast servers how tall our resident pro basketball player Alex is getting, I refuse to go more than a week without hearing Sami call me Rockin' Robyn. So how in the impending school-age era do I plan to fix this? There's only one solution: Those kids will just have to move in with me. And they better bring their moms, too.

2 comments:

Laurie Rodak said...

Hi Robyn!

I just read your playgroup post and in a fit of same track mom mindness I had just taken a break from jotting down a few notes for the upcoming post I am working on called "Playgroup A Quitter's Tale".

"Despite our different parenting philosophies and backgrounds we got along just fine" was the last sentence I wrote lol.

Ok I'll stop making this comment all about me but I just got really excited to know I wasn't the only who searched to find playgroup balance.

Thanks for this great post :-)
I'll have my playgroup take up on Thursday lol.
Laurie

Janet said...

When my first two were young there we had playdates several times a week with two friends of mine. I guess it was sort of like a mom's group, except we were already friends. All of our big kids are in school full time now, and the moms all work part-time, so we don't get together as often. But our kids? They are still the best of friends, even though they aren't in the same school. While I don't miss the feeling of having a perpetual sleep-deprivation hangover, which seemed to accompany me everywhere when I had two under three; I do really miss sipping coffee on the couch with my friends as our children wrestled and squabbled and played.

 
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