She was pushing her one-year old daughter on the swing next to ours when we started to chat. She looked…perfect. Especially next to me, with my 8 month pregnant belly peeking over the top of cream cheese-streaked Target sweatpants. She had the right shoes. The right sunglasses. The right diaper bag. And a genuinely inviting smile that made all the rest of it unimportant.
We got the standard name/age/oh isn’t she cute where did you get her shoes pleasantries out of the way, and then she jumped right to the question it seemed she was eager to ask all along:
“So what playgroup are you in?”
The way she phrased the question was oddly…presumptive. Or maybe this playgroup GDI just didn’t understand how it all worked.
Are these groups so organized that they have names now? Are they…mommygangs?
My mind conjures a large pack of surly, scowling–but exceedingly well-dressed–mothers in battle formation, thrusting their Bugaboos and Stokkes over the cobblestones of Dumbo. They toss hand signals at one another and mouth secret passwords (Dwell Crib Bedding! Organic Produce!) while innocent passers-by duck for cover behind the nearest converted artist’s loft. Their weapon of choice: Sippy cups filled with acidic, retinal-scalding orange juice. God help the Upper East Side mommygang that ventures onto their turf for brunch at Bubby’s and a walk back over the Brooklyn Bridge. There could be quite a few Petunia Picklebottom casualties by the end of it all.
“No,” I answered. “No playgroup. I’m not in one.”
Her reaction was first one of confusion. No playgroup? But why? How? Why? Then she pressed her lips together into a sad, frozen smile in an unambiguous demonstration of sympathy.
Don’t cry for me, mommyganger, I wanted to say. I have never been one for organized, scheduled socializing (if you couldn’t already tell by my completely unnecessary sarcasm). Sororities held no appeal for me, and Nate and I don’t have a set group of couples that we invite over for potluck dinners the first Wednesday of every month.
The first time I even considered signing up for friends was when I was pregnant and brought home one of those pretty fluorescent flyers posted around my neighborhood imploring me to MEET NEW MOMS! SHARE FEELINGS ABOUT MOTHERHOOD! But as the day of the first meeting drew near I came up with 37 excuses not to show up. It was too humid. I was too tired. The Surreal Life marathon was on.
Instead I would settle for making mom friends the traditional way –praying my existing social network would breed.
The truth is, I could have really used some new mom pals back then, ones who transcended the anonymous message board wags (and my nosy neighbors)as a source of information and advice. But I wasn’t ready to join a mommy group.
Because that would mean I was a mommy.
And that was scary.
I’ve said before that after 30-some-odd years of not preparing for parenthood, nine months hardly seems adequate to reverse the course. And so I avoided developing friendships around shared breastfeeding woes and vaccination ideology. I didn’t want to bond with women over sling choices. But above all, I didn’t want to be in any situation where I might be known merely as Thalia’s mom, stupidly assuming that one description of me would nullify all others.
It seems laughable now, as motherhood has become such an inextricable—and thoroughly enjoyable–part of my identity. But it took a good long time. Longer than the time you get to call yourself a new mom and join a new mom group.
So now in the playground I decided that maybe it wasn’t too late for me. Perhaps this sweet, chatty woman in the $400 sunglasses was a pilates-toned signal from the universe that it was time for me to branch out socially, experience the joys that other women have expressed to me about their amazing playgroups. Certainly there’s something to be said for having friends with whom you never have to apologize for cutting off the conversation mid-sentence while extracting the bottle of Windex from your kid’s mouth.
Right then I knew: I wanted to be in a mommygang! I did, I did! What would I have to do to prove my worth? Shoplift soy milk for the group? Brand a rubber duckie into my forearm? Whatever it was, I was sure I could rise to the occasion
That’s when she asked where I got Thalia’s great jeans.
“Old Navy,” I told her.
She gasped, horrified.
And in that one brief moment, it was clear I failed the initiation.
I was out.
This post also appears (albeit proofread) at Time Out NY Kids as part of my weekly Monday column. Find it along with cool stuff to do with your family around NYC, the awesome city where every parent fits in somewhere.