I often find myself wondering how women in my position (SAHM) survived without the internet. Perhaps they just weren’t as pathetic as I am when it comes to meeting people. Extroverted is not a word I would use to describe myself, and I’ve never been a “joiner”, mostly, because other women tend to annoy the hell out of me. There. I said it. My secret is out.
When my children were infants, I tried everything I knew to find someone to talk to. And I did meet some women. The pediatrician’s office, the diaper aisle at Wal-Mart, the Picture Place at the Mall…they were all meat markets for moms; women like me looking for other women to relieve the monotony of a life spent caring for a pre-verbal infant. So I networked, I schmoozed, and I attended every goofy Mommy outing I could finagle an invitation to, because, despite my natural aversion to those sorts of things, I was, quite simply, desperate.
I met plenty of women who were perfectly nice. Too perfect, and too nice. Sometimes, in the midst of one of those hopelessly contrived little coffee klatch/Mommy&Me/play date/women’s group things, I would fantasize about blurting out something completely inappropriate and offensive; something like “So…do you ladies spit or swallow?” I would imagine the shock and horror on the tastefully made up faces of the all the other women…except one. She would be smirking, and her eyes would be laughing. And then I would know….she’s the one. She’s the Thelma to my Louise.
But I never did. I just gave up and stopped looking for ways to find women I had no interest in knowing. I took what I could from the women I did know, and stopped expecting anything deeper. I stopped hoping I would meet that bosom pal. And instead, I did what millions of lonely people do every day…I turned to the internet.
What I found there thrilled me to pieces. I had never seen a discussion board before. Chatting had always struck me as somewhat sordid, and I never ventured into chat rooms, even those that were supposed to be “clean”. Internet chat rooms had become the singles bars of the 90’s, filled with adulterers, nymphomaniacs, fetishists, and the odd pedophile now and then. I wasn’t interested.
But this…this was intriguing. At first, I simply read the conversations; lines and lines of text, veering off into subtopics and tangents. One topic could spawn hundreds of messages, and countless side conversations. It was fascinating. And these women were having real discussions. They discussed current events, abortion, politics, gay marriage…no topic was taboo, and there was no such thing as being too blunt. There was no political correctness. It was no holds barred, down and dirty, in your face. This was fuck you and the horse you rode in on. This was an entire community of brilliant, irascible, acerbic and cynical women just waiting for new blood.
For a while, I was the new blood. I finally mustered up enough courage to join a conversation, and I was instantly pounced upon. It was the most frightening thing I had ever experienced, but I was determined to prove that I belonged with women like that, to prove that I could still think. I posted furiously; point and counterpoint. I used every trick I had learned from watching them. I eventually learned that there’s never really a winner, but that first time out, I definitely lost the argument. To my surprise, however, instead of feeling defeated, I felt absolutely invigorated. It was a high I hadn’t felt in a very long time. It was the high of accomplishment. It was the high of self-satisfaction. It was the thrill of knowing my BRAIN still worked. Before the embers of my flaming had even cooled, I was jumping into another debate. So I took my lumps but held my own, and pretty soon I was hazing the new comers as if I had been there forever. It was a debate board, and I had never seen anything like it in my life.
I was instantly hooked. And eventually, I was hopelessly addicted. Addicted to thinking, and addicted to the escape from my small, unremarkable little life. It wasn’t long before I realized my babies were growing up behind me, as I sat riveted to the computer screen, refreshing over and over in anticipation of the replies my posts would garner. In there, I was somebody. I gained a reputation as a formidable opponent, with a bite that would draw blood if I felt it necessary to make a point. I was known for my antagonism and my audacity. It was empowering and heady. But out here, I was just another lazy housewife, with no ambition, wasting her life wiping noses and changing diapers. I was raising children in an era where staying at home was viewed as taking the easy way out. It wasn’t valued, and it wasn’t respected. I was accused of everything from single handedly taking the women’s movement back 50 years, to not providing my children with a strong, positive female role model. And what’s worse, is that part of me believed that.
It wasn’t that I didn’t love my children. I did. From the moment they left my body, naked and screaming, I loved them with a fierceness that took my breath away. For the first time, I knew what it was to love without reason or limitation. But in loving them, I had somehow lost myself. When I realized that I could not leave my tiny, pink, baby in a room full of other tiny, pink babies, in row after row of second hand cribs, in a room with a tile floor and hard, easily disinfected surfaces, I decided that I had to stay at home. And if I was going to stay at home, then I would be the best at staying at home that I possibly could.
So I threw myself into homemaking and motherhood with a single mindedness that I realize now, was due to my need to convince myself that what I was doing was worthwhile. The funny thing is that it was worthwhile, and it was at times, so utterly fulfilling that it seemed foolish to doubt even for a moment that this is what I was put here to do. Watching my children learn and grow, was truly a wonder. I really did marvel each time a skill or concept was realized, and I felt inordinately proud of those accomplishments. But I didn’t really appreciate just how privileged I was to witness the evolution of personhood that takes place, and I didn’t realize that helping my children to reach adulthood with self confidence, ambition and autonomy was an accomplishment to equal no other.
Now I know that if I’d had the foresight to create some balance in my life, I wouldn’t have felt so lost during the bad times. I wouldn’t have let the doubt creep in during those wee hours of the morning, when one baby or another had been crying for hours. I wouldn’t have felt so hopeless on the days when all I had to look forward to was Oprah at 4:00, followed by my husband coming home at 5:00. And maybe I wouldn’t have resented him for his ability to escape the prison of our home every day. And I would not have had to verbally eviscerate nameless, faceless opponents on the internet to prove that I could still think.
But I didn’t have any foresight, and I didn’t have any balance, and I foolishly, but characteristically threw myself headlong into being Super Mommy and Housewife Extraordinaire. I divested myself of every shred of the former self. I threw off the mantle of progressive business woman, creative thinker, and became, simply...Mommy. For a while it was enough. But now, my children are growing and I am faced with the knowledge that I won't always be essential. At 37, I have to find myself again, which I would not have to do if I had not lost myself to begin with.
If there is one piece of advice I could give to new Mothers, it would be this: Don’t lose yourself. Make time to feed your soul, exercise your brain, nourish your individuality. You can be a wonderful mother without surrendering your identity. And know that whether you work or stay at home, there is nobody more important or valuable in your child's life, and that every choice is a worthy one, and will teach our children what they need to know to be strong, confident, well-adjusted people...and better still, loving, devoted parents.
Believe in yourself, and your choices. Believe that who you are is good enough, and that nobody finds toilet scrubbing fulfilling. It's okay. And it's okay to wonder, occasionally, what life would be like if you had made different choices, as long as you remember that the choices you have made have brought you to where you are.
Where am I? I'm at a pretty cool place, actually, and I'm just now starting to appreciate it. My baby days are behind me, my boys are growing up, but still young enough that I am needed. I can, for the first time in many years, spend some time figuring out just what I want to be when I grow up.
Life at 37 is not as scary as I thought. Who knew?