For those of you who were unable to access my essay, here it is. It was originally posted in October under the heading "A Small World."
ONE RUBBER DUCKY AT A TIME
By Elise Free
There is something that I selfishly and unselfishly enjoy about being a mother, that has nothing to do with my daughter and yet everything to do with my daughter.
My friend Mieke has the wonderful ability to befriend complete strangers, everywhere she goes. She knows the personal history of every Starbucks employee in California, firefighter, police man/woman, postal worker, neighbor, passerby, shopper, etc, etc. In fact, if you don't know her and you live in the SoCal area, you are either a hermit, or a total a#$hole.
It's an ability that I admire and envy. When it comes to strangers, I'm shy and would rather not strike up conversations about the weather or price of gas. And it's not because I want to separate myself, if anything it's the opposite; but it is difficult to make the unknown known. And I guess fear lies at the heart of separating ourselves from the people who share our universe. Mieke has no problem with this. If the universe was a mansion, Mieke would request that the other 4 billion people sleep in her bed. And I love that about her.
She can walk up to any woman at the park or Costco and say, "I noticed you are wearing a pushup bra, now is that as comfortable as my athletic one?" all the while lifting her shirt, displaying the sports bra to her new best friend. And the person at the other end of this conversation, this complete stranger, you would think, might be startled by her directness, but it's the contrary. If anything, they are relieved, relieved that someone has broken the invisible barrier of strangerhood. And here they are, two women in the middle of Costco pulling up their shirts, while others walk by completely jealous of this interaction, wishing they too were invited to pull up their shirts and discuss their saggy boobs. And while Mieke befriends this complete stranger, she simultaneously hands over her business card, saying, "call me, I know a great plumber, agent, and boyfriend for your niece's daughter. In fact, come over on Sunday, we're having Wafflestompen, it's a Dutch thing, you've gotta try our puffages." I wish I could be this brave, but I'm not. So I'm forced to use my baby to make friends.
Today, Addie and I were shopping for diapers and other baby paraphenalia at Target or as they say in France, Tar-geh. It's Veteran's Day and every other mother and child on the westside was also shopping for binkies and sippy cups. Each aisle I approached, a conversation ensued. Women with their babes in tow, seemed desperate to connect. And I don't mean desperate in a negative way, I mean, "dear God, I've been playing 'here comes the spinach, down the hanger, and peek-a-boo baby doll, how big are you, Goodnight moon, Is Elmo feeding Dorothy?, please don't stand in the stroller, stop kicking your sister, wash your hands, don't pick your nose, don't eat your crayons, let's play nice, use your indoor voice, that's a beautiful macaroni necklace' kind of way." It's an adult, seeking another adult's company in the lonely job of stay-at-home mother, kind of desperate.
In aisle 7, I ran into an African American woman (who by the way had lost all of her baby weight, sob sob) and she asked, "Is your daughter about a year?" I said, "14 months." And the conversation was on. Her daughter was 13 months and also bald. We joked about how other babies have hair, but our little baldies are just as beautiful. We chatted about teething, Motrin, innoculations, Chicken pox, walking, behavior, how they grow so fast, first birthdays, diapers, wipes, bottles, breastfeeding, pediatricians, family, going back to work. She mentioned that in two weeks she would be returning to her job, after a year off, and how hard it would be to leave her babe. Her daughter's name was Hannah. She has four teeth and they all came in at the same time. In five minutes I learned more about this woman than I know about some of my closest friends, and the only reason is that we share a common interest, our babies. Our children open up a world for us. If we are too shy to say, "You wanna be my friend?," we can say, "Is your baby also standing up in the grocery cart?, or "Have you tried the new Luv's, do they really handle big poohs?"
It began with my pregnacy, and it didn't just include women. Men were also dying to talk about their lives, their wives, their children. "When my wife was pregnant, when my baby was born, when our lives changed forever..." I was amazed that in a city like Los Angeles, there were so many people who longed for friendship, conversations on the sidewalk, in line at the grocery store, the UPS guy, a barrista, dogwalker, neighbor. Through this beautiful, difficult and miraculous job of parenthood, I've realized that we are united and bound to our world and the people sharing this space.
When we empathize with a complete stranger about 3 o'clock feedings and sore baby gums, concerns over diet and innoculations, frustrations of balancing family and careers, we really can't be strangers anymore. The ties that bind us are bigger than the space between us. And in the mansion of 4 billion people, you can't help but think, "wouldn't it be nice if we all lived in the same room" and no one was really a stranger after all?
We need each other, to understand how we are truly in this together. Whether we're online with someone in Australia or Bangladesh, or shopping with another mom at Target, the love for our children is the glue that holds us together. They're our future and more importantly our present, connecting us to the moment and eachother, one diaper, one rubber ducky, one person at a time.