Today, sweet Thea is one.
In the past year, I have loved more deeply than any depth I could have imagined. I have been more tired and more hungry–that includes running 70 miles a week back in the old days. I have felt more pure joy, more intense responsibility, more gut-wrenching fear. I have cared less about how my stomach looks in a bathing suit or how fast I ran my long run than I ever could have imagined was possible. I have also felt both more profoundly connected to other women, specifically to my own mom, and more lonely for female friendship than I ever have before.
Navigating friendships post-parenthood isn’t just difficult because time is trickier to manage and priorities have shifted, but because I am not the same person I was before. Every other major change I’ve gone through–graduating from college, starting my first job, changing careers, even getting married–has just felt like the culmination of what I’d been building toward, if not forever, for a long, deliberate time.
There are moments when I’m moved to tears by the memory of the hug the lactation consultant gave me when we had to start supplementing. Or by the mom in line behind me at Stop and Shop who offered with only gentle kindness to pour formula into our bottle while I paid so Thea could eat just a few seconds sooner. And, of course, by the realization of the love that my own mom has always had for me. But between these kindnesses of strangers and the central, important relationship with my mom is this vast gulf where I imagined I’d easily find friendship.
But there are times when I feel like I’m standing on the other side of a gulf from women I’ve known for years. I don’t want to be anywhere other than my side of the gulf but I miss my friends. I still care deeply about education and writing and reading and running and bleeding-heart politics. I know that no one–a mother or not–wants dinner conversation to be a litany of milestones another person’s child has accomplished. But, among some friends, especially those who don’t want kids, and with whom I can remember rolling my eyes at “those kind of parents,” I feel hamstrung. Self-conscious of sharing more than a sentence or two about the most important part of my life, I’m uncharacteristically withdrawn or resort to reminiscing (which always seems like the sign that a friendship is in its twilight).
I didn’t expect making new friends to be so hard. I thought I’d naturally get along with someone at the library story time or the new mom group. But, at the story time, I want to make sure Thea isn’t eating the books and I don’t want to complain about how hard it is to be a mom. I love being a mom, even the hard parts. I know I am lucky that I can be with her as many hours a day as I am. I don’t want to read books called Go the F— to Sleep or take pictures of my daughter crying and post them with sarcastic hashtags on social media.
Maybe the core of it is that I’ve never been much of a joiner.The only team sports I’ve ever done are cross country and track. And, of course, what distance running is all about is feeling compelled to push yourself beyond your own limits for the sake of the common goal you share with your teammates rather than about communicating mid-game for a strategic play (had to think for awhile about what the thing is called when teams move in a certain way in order to get the ball to a certain place…).
The tension is perhaps that now I feel so intuitively that I can no longer be an individual just doing her bit. I’m part of a family. And I’m part of this much bigger group–of women, of mothers. It’s the most intensely personal connection I’ve ever felt to a group of people, but at the same time the work of motherhood is so specific and so singular to my family.