Mommy Groups: The Power and the Glory

The "Pregnant Woman" statue at Irela...

I gave Jeanine Cummins a blurb for her new novel, The Crooked Branch, which just released. It is an excellent, entertaining book, funny and dark in parts (with lots about the Irish potato famine) which everybody should immediately buy and read. You should also pick up THE OUTSIDE BOY (which I just recommended to my daughter), a coming-of-age story about an Irish traveller, and marvel at Cummins’ writing. Anyway, the contemporary main character is a new mother struggling with the  who tries to fit in with some mommy groups, which reminded me of my own experience.

Mommy groups are apparently a universally traumatizing experience among mothers. Everybody has a war story about a mommy group, just like everybody has a war story about poop and vomit.

When Eldest was a toddler, I tried out some Mommy groups. They had age ranges for the groups; she was on the older side. They met at playgrounds and Sea World and the point was for the moms to talk and the babies to play.

Two things happened at the groups: the mothers ignored me, and my kid tried to play with the other kids, but they didn’t play back. The mothers mostly spoke of Their Own Greatness or the Majesty of Their Husbands’ Paychecks, or how they were 100% verified geniuses because they bought a house before the market hit that crazy bubble and, like, THEY TOTALLY KNEW the houses were going to go up.

I tried to stick it out. To get out of the house. But I always ended up depressed and even more lonely than when I first started. Once, we went to a Cry Baby matinee, where you can see a movie for cheap and not worry if the baby cries. I met the mothers at the front and then bought my ticket at the booth. They went in without me.

There was no group for slightly older kids, so I started one. I went to one more playgroup event at the old group, and a mother literally confronted me. “You think your baby’s smarter than mine? Is that it?” she demanded. Such a nice human being.

I’m not sure what it is about Mommy Groups that makes insecure, threatened women even more outwardly uptight and defective. It’s like they suspected I was plotting to steal their husbands or my kid was going to get all the glory (no, and yes, ha ha).

Anyway, that Mommy Group I started went well. In particular, my neighbor Michelle joined and soon another woman, Rebecca, did too. Rebecca and Michelle run their own real estate business now.

After I had Little Girl, I decided to give Mommy Groups one more try through Meetup.

This time, it went well. I found the only group in the United States full of honest-to-goodness, no-bullshit women. I think sometimes dramatic, insecure women join, but they either quit because they can’t take the honesty; or they relax because they know they don’t need to pretend to be the fucking Queen Bee all day and night. And if there is the occasional sneaker who’s still like that, she’s tolerated. And if somebody is really just being unpleasant all the time, they are asked to leave.

In our group, the women talk about the nitty-gritty difficulty of life with young kids. They talk about work and home, how they miss one or the other or how they balance both. They talk about how they’d like to take a vacation but they can’t afford it; but if somebody actually gets to take a vacation people are genuinely happy for them.

In our group, we have married women, divorced women, working women, stay-at-home-moms, work-at-home moms, and combinations of all of the above. There is probably a woman who can give advice about nearly any situation you can think of beyond motherhood. Illness, special education, in-laws, mortgages, jobs, healthcare. Everything and anything.

If somebody has a Martha Stewart-like penchant for Pinterest and crafts, it’s common for women to openly or secretly despise her. But here we do not disparage her talent– we stand back and say, “Go on with your bad self, and make me one of those homemade cheeses while you’re at it.” If somebody loses weight or runs a marathon, I’ve never heard anybody whisper, “That bitch! I hate her!” In other words, I haven’t been witness to the ugly competitive I’ve seen in other groups.

In this group, women seem to understand that another woman’s accomplishment does not diminish you in any way.

For my last two book launches, my Mommy Group friends made up a large contingent of supporters. Nobody’s jealous that I got published. They’re happy. They get the book for their friends and relatives. I never feel like somebody’s waiting to shank me, the way I do with other groups.

So I’m still in this group, though my youngest’s seven. I go to the book club and Mom’s Night Out and bunco and to see movies like Magic Mike. This week, there was Death By Chocolate, which is exactly as awesome as it sounds.

It’s as if we’ve signed a secret pledge, acknowledging the truth that everyone has a unique struggle,  and that we will treat each person with compassion. Which, for some reason, is a quality that’s often buried in others.

Or you can distill it even further: if you’re in a Mom’s group or starting a Mom’s group, begin with the same rule preschoolers must abide by: BE NICE. End of story.

^Note: the picture above was suggested by WordPress, and I thought it was a really haunting, beautiful photo, so I put it in.


My Mother, Myself, Boo Bah and Nagasaki

My brother scanned a bunch of old family slides and sent them to me. Most are countless pics of zebras, old-school Disneyland, and my older brothers (there are maybe two existing baby pics of me) but these held particular interest to me:

My mother with fanThis pic of my mom, posing with a fan, in front of this screen that they shipped from Japan to the U.S. and transported all over creation with them. I think my mom was about 28 at the time this was taken.  In every photo we have of her, she posed like a fashion model.

Looking stylish, circa 1970.
Looking stylish, circa 1970.
My mother and my paternal grandmother at the zoo with my older brother, circa 1972.
My mother and my paternal grandmother at the zoo with my older brother, circa 1972.
My parents looking like happy hipsters, circa 1968 or 69.
My parents looking like happy hipsters, circa 1968 or 69.

She had me at age 42.  After my birth, there weren’t many pictures. Not just not of me. Of anything.  I think they stopped doing anything they thought worthy of taking pictures of.

When I look at these photos, I think: “Hey, these are mostly of my oldest brother,” and “Boy, my parents sure did a lot of stuff before I was born. I wonder why I never got to go camping or go to all these amusement parks or the beach all the time.”  Also, “This family looks a lot happier than the family I remember having.” 

In one photo, there is a wooden lawn chair settee pictured, taken years before I was born. I remember the wooden set well. It was our family room furniture when I was little.

My brothers
My brothers

Yes, wooden furniture, after being outside for over 4 years, became our indoor furniture. I was too young to know, but this must have indicated how poor we had become. Perhaps that was why no one took pictures anymore.

A certain amount of melancholy therefore accompanies my picture-looking. I know that my own children, young as they are, love looking at photos of themselves when they were little. They love it more than anything, except perhaps the accompanying stories, which they beg me to retell.  “I remember that Christmas,” they say, “when Ethan got six Boo-Bahs and he made them all go off at once.”

(If you don’t know BooBah, it was a trippy PBS show, TRIPPIER THAN TELETUBBIES, where these weird things came to Earth in white pods. Ethan had six of these one Christmas. I believe there were only four characters, which means that he got duplicates. Imagine these all being set off simultaneously. Now you know why I’m the way I am.)

Anyway, this silk screen was made for my parents in Japan from an antique print.  It’s handpainted.  I could not take it to Hawaii, and it bore damage from all its moves and from being stored in dusty garages.  My friend has it in her house now and I believe has shown it more TLC than it had gotten in 50 years.

When I was 15, my parents wanted me to wear a kimono and pose in front of the fan.  My dad had these big, hot, yellow lights that he used to wash out everything.  I wore a different kimono and merely knelt, having no dance experience.

age 15

If my eyes appear blue, it’s because I wore blue contacts.  I used to hate having brown eyes until one day I looked at them in sunlight and they glowed like the Twilight vampire eyes after they eat.  Prior to that point, I had only seen them in the semi-dark of the unnatural light of the bathroom mirror, and they appeared muddy to me.

The two things I remember about this photo: I was hot and I was annoyed at having my photo taken.  My parents said I cried every time I got my photo taken, thus they never took my photo. As a parent, I have to say that my son cried when I POSED him for a photo, so I stopped posing him.  I still have lots of pics of my son.  I think it was more of an issue of control.

But the craziest thing I found on the slideshow was this photo of the statue from the Nagasaki Peace Park.  You see, I wrote of it in my novel.  Many months after I wrote about it, I found that my parents had taken a photo of the statue.  It appears they took it shortly after it was installed.

Nagasaki Peace Park statue
Nagasaki Peace Park statue