Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Discovering the Tribe of the Penguina
I was lucky to meet my husband in college. We were in a self-contained environment that made becoming friends, and dating, simple. Life after college is not so easy. Even after getting married, you find yourself trying to find friends. You have friends who are still unmarried and/or in and out of relationships but you also want friends who are going through the same things in life that you are. You start doing what I like to call "couples dating." You know, where you and your significant other spend time with other folks who are also paired up. You don't ditch your old friends, you just add new groups. Sometimes friends transition into the couples group, or, sadly, back out, but it is helpful to have a mirror to reflect who you are as an individual and as a couple. I'm sure these norms will be true of my parenting relationships as well.
I was rather shocked to find myself going through all this yet AGAIN when I had a baby. I was bound and determined not to be one of THOSE couples that disappeared with the baby only to surface again at a random PTA meeting when their child was in third grade. I didn't want to stop being friends or spending time with them just because our lives had gone through a dramatic shift. Nor should I have to. But, just like couples dating, it turned out I needed something different. I didn't want to scare some uninterested young woman by telling her how awesome my placenta looked and how I was giving it to a search and rescue program 'cuz human organs are hard to come by. I needed people I could ask if it was normal that I felt really conflicted about my breasts being both sexual and udders. While I trusted my friends (both single and coupled) to be there for me, I realized it was ok to seek something beyond what I currently had. I wasn't sure what it was or that I even really needed it, but I was at least sort of aware that I wanted an additional form of support.
There are plenty of ways to go about finding supportive people in your life. When trying to conceive I need online support, people who were there when I wanted and needed them, but who didn't "really" have to exist for me. I could celebrate the joy of their positive pregnancy test without having to endure a baby shower or see them every day. I found that with Jax I needed to get out of the house and into a very real place. I needed to see and talk to actual physical people and have a reason to comb my hair, even if I wasn't going to manage a shower. My son wasn't old enough to see beyond my arms, but I needed a play date. A chance to sit with someone and just shoot the breeze about all this bizarre baby stuff in my life. I really needed a Mommy Tribe.
For me, it happened at my first La Leche League meeting. Yeah, I learned about breastfeeding, and it was really neat and great and all that… but it was the few minutes after the meeting when these ladies really got to talking that I knew. I mean, what sort of crazy people consider Sci-Fi inspired names for their children? Or homeschool AND go to Dragon*Con? My people. I knew it when a woman I had just met looked across the table at me when I cracked some Über nerd pun and said "You've found your tribe!" It was true. I got in my car and I wept. It is a bizarre and spiritual thing to find something you didn't know you needed so profoundly. (Before you get too excited, I'd also like to note that I was about three weeks post partum, insanely hormonal, and had just found a parking ticket on the windshield of my car).
Finding my Mommy Tribe was a transformative experience. Here they were, like minded people who are raising their children with the same basic core values I hold dear. In my case, they happen to be pretty much exclusively women… which is not really surprising considering I met most of them through a La Leche League meeting. They are not, however, the homogenous group one might expect. Often, when I describe a basic group of breastfeeding cloth diapering mama's people picture either a group of crazy hippies or ultra conservative nuts. I would say my Mommy Tribe has both and they are really the more awesome for it. That's what I need. My husband told me it sounded like my Mommy Tribe was the start to a really great joke: "A Pagan, a Catholic, a Mormon, and a Seventh-Day Adventist walk into a room…" and the diversity goes way beyond that to matters of intimacy and lifestyle choice. Why am I telling you this? Because I want to surround myself with people who are like me in the ways that are important to nurturing who I want to become, but different enough to stimulate my thoughts, to make me stand up for what I believe, to be accepting and tolerant, to see the world through another prism. I want my son to grow up around people who encourage him to be his best, to know why he believes what he believes, and who love him for who he is no matter what. That's what I've found in my Mommy Tribe.
I've got an upcoming post about dealing with the Mommy Tribe relationship, because, like any relationship, it definitely has its ups and downs. I'm also looking for suggestions for posts as this month I'm going for a post a day in honor of NaNoWriMo just type already style efficiencies.