Straddling

Mothers & More


November 2010

Straddling

By Laura Owens

Straddling “Why would you start another mom’s group when you already have ours?” my friend Lisa asked, looking shocked. At the time, my 3-year-old daughter and her friends were zig-zagging playfully through Lisa’s living room dumping toys and grabbing fistfuls of fish. They were giggling and blissfully unaware of the tension I had just created.

I never imagined that splitting my playgroup loyalties would seem so treasonous. At most, I thought my announcement that I was co-founding the Orlando chapter of Mothers & More would feel a little uneasy, but all six women looked more than uneasy. They looked let down, and not because I was the group’s linchpin or someone special.

They were hurt.

“I’m definitely staying with you guys; we’re friends and Tara loves her buddies,” I assured them. “It’s just that I found this organization I think women in our community need. They support moms at home, working, whatever. They really push the idea of mothers, not just kids, being happy and I like that. It’s a good thing.”

Playgroup members Kelly and Sharon looked annoyed. They sometimes displayed bursts of anger and haughty disapproval of mothers who made different parenting choices from theirs. Starting a group that insisted a woman’s happiness was as central as that of her children’s probably seemed to be a selfish, counterintuitive philosophy. I sensed they unwaveringly held the believe that giving oneself over in entirety was an expected and noble price of motherhood. But even these two women were my supportive allies for the most part as long as we kept pacifiers, breastfeeding, daycare and potty training off the table.

Yet months later when my co-leader and I organized Mothers & More, no one in my playgroup joined; no one asked. Only playgroup member Shelley attended the launch meeting, but never came back.

My friend Alicia was my biggest disappointment because she and I had shared big truths: dreadful stories of post-partum depression that wrecked our spirits for awhile. While I chronically complained of needing more time to myself and my unhappiness with being at home, on Alicia’s first day back at work she sobbed, told her boss she couldn’t leave her baby, promptly quit and ran out of the office. But she and I sensed our gaps didn’t matter because they didn’t define our connection. Alicia never tried to convert me to her version of motherhood contentment and I never resented her for being so content.

But as I looked at my friends’ faces that day, a mix of wonderful women who met every Friday across four years; mothers as different in our parenting views as we were alike in our love for our kids, I realized I’d broken an unspoken pact.

I’d stepped outside a circle silently committed to ignoring the darker sides of motherhood to join mothers who, at a nearly primal level, craved an ethereal (seemingly unavailable) thing called “more.”

For a year, I straddled both groups until the person I was at one time, an unsteady new mother profoundly grateful for our circle’s mutual grasping, faded. I stayed until my angst and maddening motherhood ambivalence could no longer be heard outside the chorus of mothers who pretended none of that mattered as long as their kids were happy.

From time to time I bump into some of those moms at our schools or the grocery store, and through our quick smiles and polite questions about our children, a flash memory reminds me why we were so quickly drawn to each other every week. It also reminds me why, when other playgroups met for two hours, we always stretched ours to four, rotating living rooms that ended up carpeted with toys, crumbs and diaper bags—a mess of tired babies and toddlers, chaos and endless chatter. It was the laughter that cemented us, the break from isolation at home, the stream of well-meaning yet diverse opinions about our babies, bottles and breastfeeding.

But then I remember why I had no choice but to pull away and leap to a new place. I remember why I had to join an organization whose mission rose organically from the synergy of raw truths vocalized by mothers. I had to fulfill my desperate longing to find women who mirrored my deepest, most tucked away thoughts.

Mothers & More was the doorway that welcomed these thoughts, the invitation that allowed me to fall softly within my streams of honest venting until I could finally stand up and breathe in the ecstatic freedom that embracing human ambivalence inevitably brings. For ten years, I met mothers who nodded quickly when I told them I thought that breast or bottle, at home or at work, was never really the point. The point was that boredom, sadness, anxiety and anger weren’t signs of rotten mothering, but signs of a rotten day. I met mothers whose eyes melted in pools of relief when they heard open confessions that mirrored their own hidden voices.

In those years I inched closer to peaceful resolve about what parenting was “supposed” to look like, to feeling pure joy in expressing what it actually did feel like, to declaring it in meetings, in my writing, at parties and in playgroups. I found who I was and who I wanted my daughter to see when she witnessed my anger, joy, frustration, gratitude, love and sadness. I hoped she would sense that it was because of these opposite emotions, not despite them, that I was the mother who loved her beyond description. I had come out the other end of my confusion as a more complete person than she would ever understand until one day she was a mother straddling the same confusion, looking for women with outstretched arms who understood and accepted what was, only decades before, never allowed to be said.

Laura still straddles worlds, working at home as a writer and being mom to a tween girl and being wife to a husband who works at home. She believes in women jumping the fences we sometimes build, then tearing them down, knowing that people’s beliefs in motherhood (or any area), don’t necessarily need to merge, they just need to try to get along.

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