I also never realized I would feel strongly enough about some of my own choices to feel some element of judgment towards mothers who made different choices. I can own that now. Far less now, but as a new mother, I clung to my own decisions as, to some extent, the "right" ones. I tried (with the exception of as a message board participant) to keep my judgments at bay, but I identified myself with my own choices and that identification, and the passion with which I clung to it, is, for better or worse, what has made me the mother I am today. So I'm okay with that because as much of a challenge as this third year has been, I feel like the choices Husband and I have made up to this point have been the right ones for our family. That shift is important--what is "right" versus what is "right for us".
One facet of the Mommy Wars that I'd never experienced before, though, barged its way into my life when I was living in Los Angeles. The battle that wages, I think needlessly, between moms who work and moms to stay home.
Sure, I'd had a few of my working friend moms say things that got under my skin. A friend, at the time pregnant with her first child, asked me of being a stay at home mom, when Ethan was barely 3 months old and I was (albeit secretly) in the throes of postpartum depression, "So, how do you like being a lady of leisure?!" Guh. The image of me lounging on the couch, popping bon-bons and perusing Amazon.com until my husband's credit card smoked, all while wiggling my toes for an on-call pedicurist didn't quite jive with the reality of me haggard, exhausted, unbathed, bouncing a colicky infant around the house from morning 'til night, crying myself to "sleep" (and by sleep I mean the 45 minute stretches of cat-naps I was allowed for the first year of Ethan's life) and wondering what I had done in a past life to deserve this and what I had done to mess up my present life so badly.
I also had a friend, expecting a child around the time Ethan was 6 months old, who planned to go back to work fairly soon after delivery and asked me that since I "just stayed home with Ethan anyway," if I could watch her child, too, until she was old enough for daycare. Because what every mother of a high-needs 6 month old needs is another person's newborn in the mix to really give her something to do with her day.
Now, don't get me wrong--I LOVE these women. They are two of my sweetest and most wonderful friends and I think of those words now with a giggle. They didn't have kids when they said those things, they didn't know. And honestly, that woman's baby was so sweet-natured and calm as a newborn, taking care of her might have actually gone a long way to calm my nerves that were so badly shot from dealing with Hell On Wheels E.
And though they said those things (and I am certain that unwittingly said things that perhaps rubbed them the wrong way, too), and went back to work after having their kids, while I stayed home, I never for a second felt judged by them nor did I judge them. There are personality traits and extraneous circumstances that make work either a joy or a necessity (or a bit of both) for moms who go back to work. It's not about who places a higher value on being a mother. At the end of the day, it's about what works for each family, each mother. In my life on the East Coast, I was able to maintain friendships with moms who were, for whatever reason, at home with their kid(s) and with moms who were, for whatever reason, working. I've never understood why this had to be an issue at all. Ever.
Until I moved to Los Angeles. I made fast friends with a woman who was at the time, staying home with her little girl. We became part of a group of friends, and I am not exaggerating when I say that I felt as though I'd met someone I could be friends with forever. Her laugh was infectious and her enthusiasm for life and our friendship truly kept me afloat in the early months of living in LA, when I was struggling to get my emotional feet on the ground. She made me tea on Friday afternoons while our kids played in her adorable cottage house, only a mile from mine. She watched Ethan for me during those months when I was undergoing acupuncture for the wonky uterus. She gave hugs both coming and going, and they were real hugs that made you feel connected, not just the cursory tap on the back that really don't mean anything.
And then, everything changed. At a regular Monday play date at one of our mutual friend's house, words spilled forth from her that made us all wince and wonder, "What? What is going on here?" Comments about how we were stay at home moms so we didn't need to care as much about where our kids went to preschool as she did. She left in a rush, popping her little one's shoes on and walking out the door, claiming some appointment or other, and Ethan never saw his little friend again. I only saw mine once.
After a short series of emails, I learned that she was trying to find a job, her mind was in a different place from me and our other friends, she didn't have the luxury of play dates or socializing with us. I wished her luck on her job search, hoped she found a job she loved quickly and hoped to see her again soon. I was confused because I'd never had a working mom friend...well, dump me. I respected her need to find a job, it was a need for her on a number of levels and I understood and respected them all. But I didn't understand, and I still don't, why going back to work meant that she could no longer be friends with me. She made it clear that this search was going to dominate her life in a way that excluded even the most speedily chugged cup of tea once every few weeks. So I accepted that. And then, over time, I went about making peace with the fact that I never saw her again.
Except for the one time I did see her again. It was the night before I left LA. She'd started her new job, one she fought hard for and was busting with enthusiasm over. I was proud of her for accomplishing such a huge goal of hers and looked forward to hearing about it. And somewhere in the back of my head, I was hopeful that something like, "I'm so sorry you're moving away and that I didn't make more time for our friendship when you lived here." In spite of months of no contact and my mending hurt feelings, I still hoped that there would be some clearer explanation or expression of sadness on her part. She emailed me often the week leading up to my departure, asking if we could get together, so I knew she wanted to see me; wanted to share something with me. I just didn't know what.
We met in the hotel lobby bar and ordered wine. Made some giggly small talk and I felt momentarily so at ease, having my friend back. We talked about her new position, the responsibility, the accomplishment of having made the cut. As the evening went on, I realized there was no expectation of a contribution to the discussion from me. She wanted to tell me all about how wonderful her new life was, the one she'd gotten because she'd chosen to dump me, well, us.
At one point she thanked me for my understanding way back in February. She thanked me for understanding that she needed more from her life than making big dinners, taking care of her husband and shopping. She told me she had never been the type of woman to be part of a group who talked shit and gossiped about each other (um, we don't). She told me she was so grateful I understood that she wasn't like me, she didn't have the luxury to spend her days playing with her kid and did I mention, shopping?
I sat across the brown crushed-velvet couch from her, my head reeling. She hadn't wanted to see me to make amends or extend an olive branch or to say she wished we'd gotten to be closer friends. She'd wanted to see me to brag about her new job and in order to take one last jab at all the things, or the very ideas of the things, she'd left behind when she went back to work. All the things she thought I was. A shallow, gossiping hen who spent her husband's money and mindlessly coo'ed at her child all day long.
A smiled a tight smile through most of the evening, saying very little, but was grateful when Husband texted me that he was stuck in the room with a snoring Ethan and was thirsty--could I please bring him some ice water from the bar.
In the end, this woman and I hugged, but it wasn't one of her old hugs; it was a cursory "I guess we have to do this, huh?" hug and then she clip-clopped in her heels out of the hotel while I flip-flopped my way to the elevator. Even if we weren't departing the next day for our new home up north, I knew I'd never see her again.
The next day, I noticed she was gone from my Facebook friends list; she'd removed my from her friends list. And still, in spite of how mind-numbingly offensive her comments had been back in February and the night before, I still felt sad. After some time I've realized that my sadness is about the ideal rather than the person. True, I adored her when we were close, and I was sad when we weren't any longer.
But the most upsetting element of this is the image of the stay at home mom that informed the entire experience. And I know that there are working moms who have felt equally shunned and disparaged by moms who stay home. It makes me so sad that people feel like lines have to be drawn and value-judgments have to be made and that like can only interact with like. If that's the truth, then that means I have lost an entire population of dynamic and interesting women as potential friends.
You know I rarely talk about people in my life outside of my own nuclear family. And I try to never tell a story that will hurt anyone's feelings. I don't tell this story as a way to anger her or hurt her feelings now, if by some chance she should happen to read it. I miss her. I'm saddened by what happened to our friendship and wish it had been different. At the same time, the experience has weighed heavily on my mind in the past few months and especially the past couple of weeks, and I felt the need to write about it, get out in writing in front of me and ask others in their comments, not to pass judgment or say negative things about this particular person (or me, pretty please!) but to chime in on how the Mommy Wars have impacted you in your experience as a mom, be that working mom, stay at home mom, nursing mom, formula feeding mom, cosleeping mom, sleep-training mom and any of the other issues that tend to leave us standing on opposite sides of a line, ideals drawn like guns, to protect our points of view.