It was the 2,691st diaper that sent me to Meetup.com, cruising for other people who knew my sweet hell. I wanted to meet people in the flesh– to see their eyes when they told me that a runny nose was a sign of esophageal cancer. On the message boards, you can’t tell the doctors from the delusional.
I tried a “Conscious Moms” group first. I’m conscious, I thought. I notice things. But their consciousness went as far as their money. The list of snacks to bring to a meeting included the following: organic vegetables imported from countries along the Pacific Coast, freshly-squeezed juice of an Edenic fruit tree in Hadar, and wheat-free crackers. They also met in the middle of the day; someone had to work to fund their consciousness.
Then I joined the "Working Moms." The group closed down. The moms were too busy.
After the first two failures, I thought of all the reasons that I couldn’t join the other groups: Not the "Professional Moms." What if they were Jack & Jill-types? I don't quiiite fit that mold. Not the "Yoga Moms." What if my dog wouldn’t go downward? Not the "Single Moms Mentorship Group." I was too old to be a mentee and not established enough to be a mentor. What would I do at a meeting? Not the "MILF" group. What if I got to the meeting and the “F” didn’t stand for “fund”? Not the "Lesbian Moms" group. What if they were racists who reached to touch my daughter’s hair?
My only choice was to create my own group.
I needed to be as specific as possible to attract the people who would accept my daughter and me with open arms, right? My group, “Brown, Queer, Single Moms who are Kinda Broke and Interested in Positive Discipline but Sometimes Eat Fast Food and Who Are Interested in Social Justice but Also Watch Orange is the New Black and Who Don’t Yell and Who Craft and Are Poets and Memoirists Who Like to Drink Sparkling Moscato but Only After the Babies are Asleep,” never got off the ground. I’d reached the end of a certain road in the land of identity politics. Sameness had failed to save me once again.
I know why the Black kids eat together at the lunch table. It is about more than comfort; sometimes it is about life and death. I think about my foremothers who literally put their lives on the line so that I would have a right to spaces that were not filled with mirrors. Still, there is lore about safety in segregated communities, about feeling at “home.” How do we miss that home has violence too?
I did not grow up in the age of social-emotional learning. I wasn’t allowed to enforce boundaries at home, so I learned to run away. I ran to a nearby field, to our basement, or to my room behind a closed door. I always ran alone. I never packed enough to sustain me. When I got tall enough to matter, I didn’t notice. I never grew up.
I kept searching. I went to college far from home. I tried to join exclusive college groups, putting myself at the mercy of children too young to understand the power they abused. I joined a sorority in graduate school, then a cultish church, then another cultish church, then a feminist organization, then the queer “community.” Each family was supposed to be more like me than the last. Each family was supposed to be safer than the last. Each family was disappointing.
My attempt at creating a specific mommy group was another search for asylum– a "safe" place, untouched by American violence. No such place exists; not even the Conscious Moms are always aware enough to avoid the kinds of hurt that we inherit from our country's founding fathers: racism, classism, ableism, heterosexism, sexism, the silver wig… I am not innocent either. We are all in process.
Part of my process is recognizing that the ideologies that I have absorbed into my identity are supposed to push me out into the world, not close doors until I am afraid of my own shadow. There is hurt in the world. There is pain. There is loss. There is meanness and betrayal. There is also strength and intuition– the strength to express need and enforce boundaries, and the intuition to know when to walk away from those who respect neither. Acknowledging that I already have access to both may be a step in the direction of finding solidarity, which is more valuable than, and not synonymous to, sameness.
I may not need a group of identical moms (in body or politics) to find solidarity, but I will need to use my inner resources. I may need to ask "conscious" mom groups to consider the schedules of mothers who work. I may need to identify and express my specific needs to a group for Single Moms. I may need to swat a few hands away from my daughter's hair at the Lesbian Moms group, or ask serious questions about the MILF acronym before I show up with my bills. What I need not do is run. That's child's play.
Asha French is a writer and mother in Atlanta.