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April 28, 2014

My Co-Workers in the Mother Trade


“Just when I most needed important conversation, a sniff of the man-wide world, that is, at least one brainy companion who could translate my friendly language into his tongue of undying carnal love, I was forced to lounge in our neighbourhood park, surrounded by children. 

All the children were there. Among the trees, in the arms of statues, toes in the grass, they hopped in and our of dog shit and dug tunnels into mole holes. Wherever the children, their mothers stopped to talk.” –Grace Paley, “Faith in a Tree”

I live a long way from Grace Paley’s Washington Square Park, Ms. Faith Darwin up in a tree. Paley’s fictional Faith and her scrappy friends talking politics and gossip as their children misbehave in the playground. These other women whom Paley (as Faith) calls, “My co-workers in the mother trade.” And I love that idea, the necessary solidarity even while personal alliances can be complicated. I think some of us could go a long way toward sorting out these Mommy wars (which are mostly fictional anyway) if we looked upon our fellow mothers like this. If our approach could be this un-adversarial, acknowledging the trade element of it, that motherhood is work and struggle, and yet in comradeship, our solidarity, the burden of it all is less. In our comradeship, there is even pleasure. The whole idea makes me long for a tree to perch in, for my very own corner in Washington Square Park.

But I kind of have that corner, I really do.

You know, Mom-friends get a terrible rap. I know this partly because I’ve done the rapping, acknowledging the disappointment and loneliness of my early days of motherhood, how I used to wander playgrounds desperate for someone to talk to as I spent my days caring for a nonverbal baby-person. I used to go to Mother/Baby yoga and not talk to anybody, and instead, measure myself agains all the women whose hair was styled, whose abdomens didn’t resemble deflated tires, the women who seemed to know exactly what they were doing, where I’d never been so inept in my life.

But that was a long time ago. (And what I’d give for an deflated tire abdomen these days, living as I do with its pneumatic cousin…)

Harriet began (pre)schooling about 18 months ago at a cooperative play school (speaking of comrades). I was nervous. “Other moms,” I thought, wrinkling my nose and thinking about yoga. But immediately, things were different. Part of it was the school itself, I think, which is part of a really excellent community. There is an atmosphere of friendliness fostered among the children, and that atmosphere makes its way up to their parents too. I remember during Harriet’s first few weeks at the school, I’d arrive to pick her up in the playground, and I soon found myself invited into the other mothers’ conversation. It got to the point where on sunny days, we’d linger in the park for hours, burying our feet in the warm warm sand, the children happily playing while I chatted with their moms.

Last year when I was pregnant, the other mothers celebrated my pregnancy alongside me and commiserated about its trials. When I was having health concerns (the kind that left me bursting into tears when other moms asked how I was doing), the support I received from these women buoyed my spirits. When Iris was born, other moms picked Harriet up from school, kept her for afternoons, and were incredibly generous with gifts that made her feel special. Because of the playschool moms, our family is part of a community that ties us to our neighbourhood and to this city. With the playschool moms, I’ve had the most important conversations.

(Sometimes, the playschool moms are dads, though not often. They’re sometime nannies too. And the playschool moms work part-time, full-time, work from home, work at home. There are a million ways to do it.)

It’s not just playschool though, because Harriet started kindergarten this year and it’s been just the same. I drop her off in the mornings and meet up with moms and dads starting out on their own days, and they’re always friendly and kind. In the first few weeks of school when Harriet cried every morning and then when I eventually left her, I’d be crying too, they were all so nice to me, so supportive of the tearful woman with the new baby whose big kid was a basket-case. Those who’d been through it already told me everything would be fine, and they weren’t lying. I meet them these days, on the other side of winter, and can’t quite believe how far we’ve come. Our conversations tend towards small talk, but these connections are vital. I know these people, I like these people. I know their kids, I’d trust them with my own kid, and I know that if I needed help, I wouldn’t be alone.

These are not friendships exactly. Maybe some of them will grow to be, but the collegiality in Grace Paley’s phrase is precisely right. These are my co-workers in the mother trade, we’ve all come so far since baby yoga, since we were desperate and tired and had something to prove. At kindergarten drop off at 8:57 Monday morning, never is there anything ever to prove, except that we made it before the bell rang, and that is huge and that is awesome. A victory we all share in. It’s a lovely way to start a day.

3 thoughts on “My Co-Workers in the Mother Trade”

  1. Sarah says:

    I love, love, love this! I rarely go to the playground without thinking that I’m living in one of Grace Paley’s stories. (The other line from her that’s always going through my head is “That week I was dying too” from the start of ‘Living’ when Faith’s friend calls her up to say she’s dying…so good!)

  2. m says:

    Love this. I’ve never read Grace Paley, but obviously this needs to change.

  3. saleema says:

    Wonderful post!

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