I’ve written here before about friends and parenthood, and how the two interact (and sometimes not). So when a recent survey came out showing how new mothers found it easier to make friends, it made me think back to my own circle of “new mamas.” I wrote about it for xoJane. Here’s the piece in full:
There were 11 of us, each fitting into a unique slot. The Jokey One. The Weepy One. The Neurotic One. The Stylish To No End One. The “I Just Ate My Placenta In Pill Form” One.
I was the Zen Black One, as I was often called (the Zen part; black was a given). We were different in so many ways, but there was a common denominator: We were all mothers to newborns, and we were petrified.
When I joined the new moms group in Brooklyn, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t really care, truth told. After giving birth to an actual human being (by emergency C-section; its own horror movie) in the middle of winter, it was finally spring. With sore everything, vacationing hormones, no sleep, and a serious case of cabin fever, I needed to get some fresh air and see other adult faces, STAT.
We bonded quickly. As in, while walking out of that first meet-up, several of us opted to go for a walk with our mostly snoozy (victory!) babies in strollers and slings. We exchanged phone numbers and emails that day. We scheduled “regular” weekly walks. We hosted play dates (which, at that stage, meant nursing our babies, patting them down for naps and trading whispered “does yours do this” questions).
We arranged to be in the same Mom & Me yoga/movement/sing-a-long classes. We met for lunch and brunch and more walks around the neighborhoods. We were openly stalking each other, and it was OK because we were friends. New Mom Friends — a necessity, much like wide swaddling blankets and good, supportive bras.
It didn’t matter that in our BBL (before baby life), the chances of any of us crossing paths, much more forming friendships, were slim. There’s something about connecting over a shared experience, especially one as overwhelming and momentous as new parenthood, that makes forging friendships seem easier.
A recent study showed that it’s not only your hips that can widen after having a baby (gurrl), but also your social circle. Of the 2,000 women polled, 53 percent said it was “surprisingly easy” to make new friends once they had a baby. According to the research, women make an average of nine new friends when they have a baby. And the new pal pattern continues well into the first year of new mamahood, the survey said. Whereas child-free women typically have 13 friends, the number jumps to 22 once le bébé joins the party.
I’ve written a lot about the importance of having friends-to-the-end types (be it 22 or just two) who would go to war for you, homeys who are there no questions asked or judgments cast, ready to smear on the Vaseline and talking about “somebody hold my earrings.” And when you enter into the motherhood game, with all the self-doubts and guilt and uncertainty bubbling up inside, you need those people in your corner even more.
When I first read this survey, I’ll admit my eyes were slightly angling to the side.
“It’s not like the new mom friends really knew me,” I said, “not like Saada or Nikki or Kisha or Rob.”
They hadn’t seen me at my absolute worst only to champion me to better and back to my best like the true blood Home Team. These just-off-the-bench folks hadn’t grown up with me, weren’t familiar with my history, my narrative, and I didn’t know theirs. So we shared a stance on organic bananas and sleep training. Hardly the stuff of authentic, deep relationships, right?
But I was dead wrong.
With these women, there was more there than a fellowship through a shared experience. There was true kindness, genuine compassion and an investment in each other lives. We rallied, we cautioned, we cared, and many times we stood as the bright light at the end of a crazy-making tunnel, waving each other on: “Keep pressing forward, mama. You’re almost there!”
True, we don’t have the same level of contact now. We moved. Some of them moved too. Life happened. These days I might only chat with a couple moms from the Original 11 once or twice a year, but those friendships remain meaningful. They were real and important and essential.
And because of the time we spent, that first year of new babydom, facing down our fears together, I know without a blink of doubt that if I need to talk about anything, I can turn to one of these now-veteran mamas and she’ll offer the ear, the shoulder, the kindness, or the simple “Me too” to help me find my footing. And you can’t get more ride-or-die than that.
This post originally ran on xoJane.com.
I recently wrote a story for xoJane about how, across the board, manners are fading away. And with social media, smart phones and our overall busybusybusy lives, civility is circling the drain. Rudeness is The Thing right now, and it’s not going anywhere.
The surprising thing about the piece? Most of the comments. It seems people don’t want to hear about how rude we are. “Get over it, Grandma!” That was the tone of more than a couple of comments.
Here’s the piece in full below. Have a read and do let me know what you think…please. :-)
I called it “The Do Better Guides.” The idea — a hopeful campaign, really — was me writing a series of mini books offering tips, tools and intel to help us all improve on those small things that build on each other to become more meaningful, important, bigger things.
Things like: how to write a thank-you note; answer the phone like a professional; be a gracious host; not hold your cutlery like you’re playing an upright bass; and learn to use email like a reasonable adult. This was about formalities, yes, but also — and more decisively — it was about upgraded living, adding depth to our day-to-day through civility, kindness and grace.
The project never really went beyond incubator stage (I still have the green folder with pages of organized notes). My creative attention was drawn elsewhere. But the other reason it ended up in the back of my mental file cabinet was pretty simple: I felt it wasn’t necessary.
After all, this was early 2006. It was a year before the first iPhone came out; Twitter was maybe a month old; and Facebook was still exclusively for college kids. People already knew all about this digital decorum stuff. Right? Wrong.
Cut to today. Folks are walking into traffic and mall fountains because their eyes are glued to a small screen. I’ve lost count of the number of couples I’ve spied out at a restaurant sitting right across from each other, only a moody candle between them, and no one is talking. They both have their heads buried in their respective laps, fingering their phones.
And the intimate and wildly inappropriate details of strangers’ lives that I now know thanks to the yellular thing that just never went away — Bluetooth headsets be damned!
Online communication isn’t fairing too well either. According to a recent survey out of the UK, 78 percent of social media users say the rudeness levels have hit the virtual roof. Folks have fewer misgivings about throwing shade or virtual ’bows at someone, especially since you don’t have look them in the eye. Although, online beefs have crossed into the real world as well: one in five people surveyed admitted to cutting back on face-to-face with friends in “real life” after an online dust-up.
Manners, be they in the digital or regular old analogue world, are dissolving daily. By the time we reach the end of this decade, grunting and live-action emoticons will likely be all we have left.
In March there were at least five different blog posts or articles that rained down on email and voicemail etiquette, but not in the way you might expect. These pieces posited that our digital salutations and sentiments and niceties were not only unnecessary and disruptive, but also kind of rude.
New York Times columnist Nick Bilton kicked over the powder keg with his post on how leaving a voicemail instead of simply texting someone is downright impolite. Bilton also threw asking for directions and saying “thank you” in an email into the how rude! fire.
Then Slate jumped in, beefing about the way folks sign off on emails. Best, Yours sincerely, xoxo – time to kill them all, the post said. They are outdated and annoying.
Really, though? Are we that cranky and in such a collective rush that saying “hey” at the start of an email can actually be taken as an affront? The real world does not move at “Scandal” pace, friends. Let’s calm all the way down.
You can write an email using full and proper spellings (C U 2mrw? Nope.). You can answer the phone with “Hello, Jane here,” instead of “Yeah” or — truly the worst — “Whut.” You can get a note card and use a pen to write a short string of words that express your gratitude for a kind gift or gesture. You can keep the phone in your purse or pocket instead of on the dinner table. (And, by the way, you don’t have to Instagram every. single. plate. that is set before you at said table.)
You don’t have to make everything Social Media Moment. You can occasionally pick up the phone — or failing that — Skype/FaceTime or send a personal email to a homey, talk to them like they’re your friends for real, because they are.
You can get off the phone when you’re interacting with other humans — this includes cashiers, waiters and store clerks. You will never ever need to send that text while you’re driving. And there will never be a reason for you to use your speakerphone in shared spaces. You can do all of these simple things and still get on your grind, make that paper, find your truth, make it big, conquer the world, or whatever it is that is so very urgent.
Then late in March, the NYT ran another story about digital etiquette. But this one was highlighting the rising need for “old-fashioned protocols”since smart phones and social media have basically slaughtered grace and kindness. (xoJane’s Jane was even quoted in the piece: “Nice is very cool right now.” Finally!)
The story — in the Styles section, of course — points to a glut of good-manners gurus elbowing their way into Gen Y’s rude, little lives. They are coming at you with books, blogs, and on You Tube. Listen, there’s even a video tutorial teaching people how to shake hands. Explosion fist bumps and bro-hugs are not the way to roll into that biz meeting, young one.
It’s all a little hysterical — both definitions.
On one hand, I’m snickering at the level to which we’ve devolved. This next generation of kids will be able to create an app over a quick kale smoothie lunch, but don’t know how to look you in the eye to talk about it. But then I think, maybe not. There are other adults and parents who also believe that propriety still has a place in this Jetsons world and we’ll teach, instill, educate, and the kids (and adults) will indeed be all right.
Where do you stand on the manners front? Old fashioned or two-point-oh?
Shocked. Horrified. Sad. Teary. Heartbroken. Baffled. Speechless. Frightened. Hurt. I’ve been a mix of these things — sometimes all at once — in the four months since the unthinkable tragedy that happened in Newtown, CT.
But right now, today, I’m angry. Seething to the point where my ears are on fire, my heart’s beating faster, and I’m trying to keep my thoughts straight when really all I’d like to do is straight punch someone in the face.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate voted down a new gun bill that called for an expansion of background checks, extending them to include gun shows and the internet. And, do note, the expansion was not going to infringe on the much-ballyhooed Second Amendment. This new legislation, with the expanded background checks as its centerpiece, was common sense and, in my opinion, a mere scratched-surface of this country’s glaring and serious gun problem. The bill was also supported by over 90 percent of the American public.
So where did things go wrong? How could Democrats not gather up the 60 votes they needed to pass this bill? Why didn’t the Senators, whom we’ve elected, do their goddamn jobs? What the hell happened?
Fear –no, cowardice — money and politics. That’s what. Complete bullshit, truly, and an egregious insult to the 26 lives snatched away at Sandy Hook school on December 14 and to the over 3,500 other people killed by guns since the Newtown massacre four months ago.
Speaking to the press after the gun control filibuster, President Obama called it a “a pretty shameful day” in Washington. He’s right, so very right. And he’s also angry, like me.
“But the fact is most of these senators could not offer any good reason why we wouldn’t want to make it harder for criminals and those with severe mental illnesses to buy a gun… It came down to politics — the worry that that vocal minority of gun owners would come after them in future elections.” - President Obama
Standing there with the President, just a few steps over his right shoulder, was former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head during a reported assassination attempt in January 2011.
Giffords is angry too. Furious, as she said in an emotional and blistering Op-Ed in the New York Times on Wednesday. She lambasted the U.S. Senate for down-voting* the bill:
“Speaking is physically difficult for me. But my feelings are clear: I’m furious. I will not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done, and until we have changed our laws so we can look parents in the face and say: We are trying to keep your children safe.” - Gabrielle Giffords
(*By the way, here’s the list of the 31 Senators, included four Democrats, who voted “nay” on this bill. Remember them come election time next year.)
Also surrounding the President were some Newtown families. I can’t begin to imagine how these broken parents, mothers, fathers, loved ones felt hearing that, essentially, the horror they are currently living will likely happen again. Another city. Another mall. Another school or moving theatre. I can’t imagine how it must sound to them, this message that what happened to you in Newtown is not enough to make us evolve and seek change.
They’ve got to be angry too.
But I know, as do you, that being angry doesn’t move the needle. Action is needed. It’s needed right. now.
Thankfully I know some smart, mobilizing mamas, like Kristin Wald and Liz Gumbinner (a.k.a. Mom 101). Kristin sent me an email with a healthy list of links outlining what we all need to know about the gun control debate — and trust when I say that she’s got plenty more vital links to share. And on the Mom 101 blog there’s this fantastic post with a list of things we can do and organizations we can join.
I’m angry and frustrated, yes, but I cannot let that render me useless. My plan: use it all to get vocal and demand action, demand safety, demand change and results.
At our engagement party, my mother-in-law gave me two little dolls. Action figures posed on a boat — the Love Boat, of course. The woman doll was black and the man, white. They were cute, these Mini Wes, and I treasured them instantly. When I was pregnant with our son, my mother-in-law giddily handed over the additions to the doll collection: two babies in carriers. She had been holding on to them for over three years. The girl baby, dressed in pink everything, is black, while the boy is blond and sports a tiny blue outfit. “That’s all they had,” she said, with a mix of annoyance and disappointment (aimed at the toy manufacturers, I gathered).
One day our son, now 4 years old, was playing with the figures, bending their legs, twisting their arms, and taking them to see the wooden elephant at the zoo. He pointed to the doll family, “That’s you, mama. That’s daddy. And . . . ” he paused, looking at the two babies carefully, “this is me.” He pointed to the blond.
I asked him why he chose that one, trying to sound as innocuous as possible while my heart raced and thoughts like, “We never should’ve left diverse Brooklyn for central Connecticut — it’s 82.3 percent white here!” trampled over my good sense.
His answer to my potentially loaded question was casual and plain, “Because this is the boy, Mom! And I’m a boy.” (Thankfully he’s not yet old enough to add in a salty, “Duh!”)
I’ve thought a lot about race and identity as it relates to my kid even before he was born. Now that he’s here, I still have questions. More specific, I have questions about how to prepare my son for “The Question.” That wildly disorienting question people of mixed ancestry will certainly face: What Are You?
As this kid moves (too quickly, sometimes) out of toddlerhood, making a fast break towards Little Kid Ville, he’s able to follow more, interpret and reason more. Along with an ever-expanding vocabulary, there’s also a level of cognition that surprises me daily. Yes, he’s capable of understanding layered things like how the seasons, sun and moon, and the year’s calendar relate to each other, but could he also grasp a more nuanced and intricate concept like race? It’s certainly not as simple or literal as black and white, and the only clear thing about race is that it’s often a murky subject for adults too. How, then, do I introduce it to a fresh, bright mind? Do I enter it by talking about skin color or should I put the focus on cultural awareness instead?
Granted, right now for a child his age the main difference in people seems to be that boys have penises and girls do not. He’s also noticed that some of his friends have straight hair while others have curly ‘dos like him. Outside of that, I don’t think any other variations register with the little guy. My introducing all these other textures might confuse more than enlighten, and the answer to this crucial question of identity — one that he essentially needs to figure out for himself — doesn’t need more convolutions.
I think about the reaction my Asian friend got from the 4-year-old niece of her white fiancé when she said to the girl, in passing, “Did you know I’m Chinese?” The little girl’s eyes grew into moons, my friend said. It was if she had said, “Did you know I’m a princess?” The girl was baffled, evidenced by her followed-up question, “But why are you Chinese?”
Yeah, for some, 4 might be a tad young to broach this potential Rubik’s Cube. The best I can do is cobble together a plan — or at least a raw blueprint — for when that part of my son’s curiosity clicks on and he comes up with his own questions and thoughts on race. From there, I’ll play it as it comes. Who knows what this kid will wonder about regarding his identity and place in this world? However, I do know one thing: we won’t be traveling down the “we don’t see color” road, because that’s venturing into the absurd and simply untrue.
I’ll aim to be as open and forthcoming as I can be while remembering one key point: I know what it’s like to be a black person, my husband knows what it’s like to be a white person, but neither of us know what it means to be both of these things at once.
My original essay appears on Mom.me’s blog. You can read it here.