Have you ever caught yourself losing your shit on another mom because she took your desired “Snack Helper” slot at school? Or maybe you once used several consecutive Facebook posts to crowd-source opinions on the best organic crib blankets? It happens. It’s OK. We're moms.
I’ve met a lot of “crazy” moms since becoming a mother. Sometimes it is the mom friend with whom I once had a really confusing interaction, where we just didn’t see eye to eye, that made me want to run to my apartment and never show up for Musical Tots class again. More often, it is the random moms – the strangers I meet daily, who end up telling me the most intimate of details from their lives and with whom I share some of mine. Are all these women crazy? Am I? Or should I reserve judgment until a later time, like after all the kids have left for college and we can get back to the more baseline version of ourselves?
And it’s not just me. Just the other day, a good friend of mine, who I have never heard speak ill of anyone before, was telling me about a mom from her son’s school and punctuated her story with something like, “Oh, she’s a raging bitch.”
I would like to imagine that we women weren’t always like this. But I think, in the procreation years, we simply are not at our best. How could we be? First of all, we haven’t slept in like, four years. Second, between being pregnant, giving birth, breastfeeding, then stopping breastfeeding, getting on birth control, or suffering miscarriages – our hormones are so out of whack I don’t know how any of us get through the day without turning into a Disney Villainess.
It’s not all so bad. The other side to appearing slightly unhinged, is that the mothers I meet also seem to be less guarded, less precious about things, and more eager to share. Never in my adult life have I learned so much about strangers’ marriages, their health, their sexual lives, or their vices and disappointments, than since having had my own children.
Here is a brief snapshot of my most recent Mom Stranger encounters: The mom who started a conversation with me about local schools because I had a packet of school-related papers in front of me and ended up telling me about her thyroid problem, and her divorce from the man who fell out of love with her for the reason she feared most – which is that he just wasn’t attracted to her anymore after she had their son. Another: I was sitting at a café doing work, and WHAM! The mom across the table started sharing her IUD preferences with me, as her five-year-old daughter busily colored in the kid’s menu. And then there was the mom in full Soul Cycle attire in the waiting room at my doctor’s office; who, after learning about the receptionist’s pregnancy, started telling both of us about her “prolapsed everything.”
We moms seem to be able to sense motherhood on a person, like we’re picking up a scent. It doesn’t require looking a certain way, or the dead-giveaway of a baby in a carrier. It is deeper than that, more animal. It is a buzzing energy, sometimes a hyper-stimulated way of being. I imagine the energy as an aftershock from the trauma of having created life; from having been thrust into the tornado of responsibility for another human. The feeling tingles and prickles our skin like tiny magnetic particles and when we come into contact with someone who our body senses as kin, the particles lean out like magnets, yearning to connect.
So maybe we’re not all crazy per se, but more experiencing (and acting on) a desperate desire to feel intimacy with someone like ourselves, to feel known.
Sometimes interactions with Mom Strangers have resulted in enduring friendships. My very close Mom Friends are the ones to whom I largely owe my daily doses of sanity. They are the ones I can exchange just a few texts with and feel understood. They are the ones who I can go out to dinner with and leave feeling the tension in my jaw as having lessened a bit, the knot in my shoulder having loosened a little.
But a lot of the time, these daily but brief, intimate moments, are shared with women I will never see again – or who I might see, but it will be across the park, or on the way to school drop off. Their faces will have become fuzzy, and I won’t remember their names, but that doesn’t reduce the intensity of our once-encounter, our intimate connection that helped me (and maybe them too) get through that tough motherhood day.
For me, these women are a balm to the daily bruises of motherhood. Bruises caused by the physical pain of pushing a two-ton stroller uphill filled with my two children, groceries, and occasionally, the family dog. Bruises from the emotional pain of my ever-shifting sense of identity. I always feel better after having had the opportunity to just be completely frank with someone, and to not have to hold back because of fear of being judged. Or maybe they do judge me afterward, and tell their close mom friends about that crazy mom they met in the doctor’s office, but secretly they are happy to have met someone maybe a little more unhinged than they.
Maybe as the years wear on, the trauma dissipates. As our children get older, I wonder, do the tremors get smaller and smaller? Do they reach a microscopic level, and then, disappear, almost like nothing happened at all? Or does motherhood mark you forever? I hope so. I would hate to think that as I age, as my peers and I get farther away from the moments when we became new mothers, that we may start to close our doors to one another, that we may become guarded, less open to engaging with one another in raw ways.
And it saddens me to think that some years from now, I’ll be waiting in line or sitting in a café across from a mother who long ago, like me, used to worry about things like how much we play with our kids, and how often we should be having sex with our husbands, or when to potty train our toddlers. And that we will have moved on to other things – ones we don’t want to talk about and that we might simply sit there, not knowing and never knowing one another, saying nothing at all until one of us turns and leaves.
Image credit: N. Scrantz Lersch, from the book, "Waiting for the Next Crisis - A Memoir."