I had to go get a new contact lens prescription, at the local Target. To my NYC friends, I know, that must sound very suburban — and it is.
The eye doctor was a nice man in his 40s, and we instantaneously connected upon realizing we both were parents of young children. This is very much a thing, which is something I don’t think I expected. I mean, upon having children, I expected to have more to talk about with people who were parents, for obvious reasons — now we share a common experience. But, it’s more than that. It’s like you instantly “get” each other, and you immediately begin operating in an entirely different mode. I don’t know how to describe it exactly — I guess it’s instantaneous empathy, and trust, and understanding. The appointment was very short, and yet in that short time, in between the eye tests, we talked about very substantive things — the struggles we were facing as parents, the financial challenges in New York, our plans for the future. We said what we could to help the other, to be supportive and optimistic, while also listening and assuring the other that we totally understood what they were going through.
It sort of felt like encountering a war buddy, if I had gone to war, and if the eye doctor and I had ever met before — which I haven’t, and we hadn’t, so maybe that’s a bad analogy. Maybe it’s like there’s a war going on, now, but only some of us are fighting it — those of us who are parents — and so when we see a fellow silent warrior there’s an instant camaraderie.
Maybe the best way to put it is this (and I think I’ve tried to express this before, but it’s never really come across right): if you are a parent — and not super rich, or famous — you are living an unreasonable life.
Your life becomes unreasonable, in the way LP uses the word “unreasonable.” It’s not that it’s impossible, but it is definitely unreasonable. When you’re living that kind of life, you are extending yourself beyond most people, especially if you’re striving for a good life — meaning you’re actually trying to juggle a successful career, a good relationship with your spouse, and being an effective and loving parent, while keeping your children safe, and happy, and cared for. You also know that most people do not at all understand this, unless they’re also experiencing it. And I guess that’s the “recognition” that happens when someone realizes I’m a fellow parent — or I realize that they are. At that point, it doesn’t matter what our prior judgments of each other were upon first meeting; they go out the window. We understand, in that moment, that we are the same.
It is slowly causing me to go through life a little differently. I don’t seek out other parents, but when I encounter them, I am instantly open to them, as they are to me. I also find myself going through my day to day interactions with far less trepidation — as if I know there’s a silent tribe of people out there, fighting my same fight, rooting for me as I root for them.
But then — this weekend, the unreasonableness of our life came bearing down on me, as it does from time to time. From sun up to sun down, my days are jam-packed, and there is never any rest. My mind wants to quit, my body wants to quit, but I can’t quit, it’s not an option. These moments pass, but when they hit, they can be hard to break out of. My first inclination is still to lash out rather than reach out, because often I don’t know who to reach out to. Jimmy is in my same boat. We do our best to support each other, but, if the boat you’re both in is sinking, that can only go so far.
So, here’s the tension: my imagined community of fellow parents vs. my refusal to seek support when the challenges of parenthood become too much.
My resistance to seeking support takes the following form: I don’t connect with other “moms.” My attempts to join moms’ groups have not gone well. I experience them as overly judgmental and nails-across-the-chalk-board irritating, including the twin moms’ groups. I’ve also forced myself to talk to other moms I meet, but I find that I can’t stay engaged. I feel like we’re not speaking the same language.
So, in these moments, what happened to the insta-parent connection? Why does it disappear when I attempt to make a mom-friend? Is it because it needs to be another working mom, and thus far I’ve only found myself connecting with working dads? I can’t tell, but I don’t think so — I’ve had the same reaction to working moms.
Two recent experiences caused me to question this further, and specifically the degree to which I am full of it when I say that “I don’t connect with other moms.”
As I’ve written about before, during pregnancy, I got cholestasis of the liver. It’s an unpleasant, and dangerous, condition that the doctors don’t know much about and that causes an increased risk of stillbirth. Because it was so frightening, when I was pregnant, I joined a Facebook group of pregnant women who also had the condition for support. I got a lot of great information from that group, and I promised myself that I’d post about my experience once I was through it to offer information and comfort to other women trying to grapple with the condition. I kept my promise, outlining in my post everything from when I first found out I had the condition, and how, and what conversations I had with my doctors and the decisions we made — to sharing what I felt and how I got through some of the fears I experienced.
My high school friend Shira — my best friend senior year — is currently pregnant with her third child. She lives in Israel. She became an orthodox Jew during high school, I watched her slowly transform (i.e., become increasingly religious). When she told me she was moving to Israel, I was upset. I thought she’d never speak to me again, because I’m not Jewish, and we’d had several extended conversations in high school about what that meant through the eyes of orthodox Judaism (that I did not find comforting). After she moved to Israel, I never heard from her again (as I expected), until we both joined Facebook. I friended her and sent her a long message, and she responded. Her response was polite, but not exactly friendly, and when I suggested we talk on the phone she never answered. The next time she messaged me was years later, when I was pregnant. At the time I didn’t know what to make of it, but now I think maybe my pregnancy made her feel like we might have something in common again. At the time I first messaged her, we had almost nothing in common. I was single, living loose and wild in Manhattan. She was married, in Israel, and starting a family.
She messaged me again recently. In her third pregnancy, she had gotten cholestasis, and she had joined that same Facebook support group — and she had seen my post, sharing my experience. She told me that, in Israel, they take the condition very seriously. She had been hospitalized for days now, and they were monitoring the baby every three hours, even though so far both she and the baby were doing fine. With her there bored in the hospital, we got to talking about many things, including motherhood. Since it’s Shira, I didn’t worry about what I said or how I said it — even though it’s been a long time, she knows me, well, and I knew she wouldn’t take it wrong. Because I shared what I shared, we connected on a deeper level, and it started to feel like it did back when we were best friends. She told me she’s visiting New York next April, to spend Passover with her sister’s family. She suggested our two families get together. So much for orthodox Judaism being an issue.
Then there’s my sister. She is a mother, who wouldn’t touch a moms’ group with a ten-foot pole. At first, I wasn’t sure she shared any of the challenges I’ve experienced. She seems so efficient about motherhood, so matter-of-fact. But when I forced myself to drop my guard and be honest with her about certain things that happened, or thoughts or feelings that I’d had, she sighed (the sort of sigh where it seemed like she was shrugging off something heavy) and said: “me too.”
So, I guess it isn’t the moms’ groups, I guess it’s still me, fighting the power of a shared experience, even as I feel so grateful for the camaraderie, for the silent tribe of fellow parents that I imagine exists. Isn’t that odd? Why can’t I just relax, and allow the connections to happen? I don’t really know. Maybe I’m committed to things being not only unreasonable, which I could live with, but unreasonably difficult, which is a lot harder to live with.
A good question is: why? What are my payoffs, for having a difficult life? What are my payoffs, for staving off connection, and not living in gratitude?
I think I’ve been living in this stubborn state of scarcity, as if everything has to be a struggle. Meanwhile, there’s an abundance of everything I need all around me. It’s like dying of thirst while standing in a pool of fresh, clean water.
It’s stupid. I’m being stupid. Can I stop?