I was taking a walk in my village last week with Silas in the sling when a car stopped me on a side street. As I was turning onto the street it was pulling out, so the couple inside had turned around and come back, catching up to me a few houses away from the corner.
They were an older couple, grandparents, and wanted to know how I liked my town. They were planning on moving up from Brooklyn.
My usual response when someone asks what I think of the place I live includes annecdotes about how years before I even considered moving here -- when i was the editor of a local weekly newspaper -- someone had spread a rumor about me being a lesbian and in a relationship with my assistant editor. I was pretty put off by the idea of people who don't know me from Paula Poundstone would have the time and inclination to spread rumors -- true or false. It seemed so ... Oh, I don't know ... antisocial? Not to mention that there's a certain Seinfeldian aspect to the situation: Who'd want to be friends ... or even spend a half hour ... with people like that?
But the couple in the car seemed nice, and I had nowhere to be. I was just out walking, enjoying the summer night and various sounds of window airconditioning units humming from every house I passed. So I smiled and told them a soften version of the truth: that it's a beautiful, quiet town and that there were scads of community-focused activities if one was inclined to take part.
They told me about themselves and kept peppering me with questions. How old was my baby? How long had I lived here? Was I originally from the area?
They wondered if I knew many mothers in town.
I told them that I didn't.
They wanted to know why.
I work. Being away from home more than 10 hours a day didn't leave room for much socializing, and most play groups were either private or suspended their schedules for the summer. I figured once my daughter was old enough to go to the local public school I'd make some more acquaintances. Until then my "social" life would remain on my couch at 10 p.m. while I'm surfing the Web.
That's when the curious woman in the passenger seat told me that she was a clinical psychologist and had made mothering her speciality. She studied women in mothers' groups. She even went as far as to tell me about groups in my area I might like to "check out."
"How interesting," I said, noting that while I don't belong to groups in the local community I did belong to an online forum of mothers that was much the same. We shared tips, recipes, angst and stories. We commiserate about lousy bosses, difficult mates, children we'd like to sell on e-bay. We exchange cards and ornaments at holidays. We bestow gifts at the birth of a child or condolences at the death of a parent or loved one. We chip in and send larger gifts to people who are really struggling with something, just to lift their spirits a little. We even made a point to see one another once a year and do it all over again in person.
I was thinking about all of this as the woman in the car dismissed my virtual support group with the wave of a hand. "You should really find people you can meet in person every week," she said, explaining that face-to-face contact was the "only" way to effectively survive motherhood.
I smiled and nodded and pretended to commit to memory the names she offered. But really I was just wondering when people like her would shift their studies from the handfuls of women who meet in the height of the afternoon -- many of them stay-at-home moms making use of the time between 9 and 5 when the husbands are away -- to the thousands who hash out the same things in the wee hours of the evening or during coffee breaks at work or when their kids are napping or their husbands away.
We laugh, we cry, we wrap our heads around other people's stories; their worries and their celebrations. We adjust our thinking. We gain a different perspective. We are irreverent, and kind, and silly. We lift each other up. The only difference in our virtual playgroup is that our kids only play in posted photographs.
Rather than benefiting the social needs of our children it's our minds and spirits that benefit. And the mind doesn't need to sip coffee from the same urn or eat cookies from the same plate to realize maternal salvation.