Disclaimer: This is a really different sort of entry for me to post publicly on the blog, and is more of a personal reflection than it is interesting for others, I’m sure. However, I’ve had some mild postpartum anxiety coupled with writer’s block (which started when my disability worsened near the end of my pregnancy), and this is the first thing I’ve felt compelled to write. So here is a little peek into my mind, heart, and life.
I’ve had 4 different friends send me this… they know me too well.
I was speaking with a male friend this week, and I shared that I had historically had more close male friends than close female friends, but since becoming a mother, I had gained more female than male friendships. After that thought was typed out, I stared at it and thought, “What happened to me? And where did all these female friends come from??” So I thought about it. And then I thought some more. And then I came to my answer…
A little history
Since I was a young child, I seemed to surround myself with male friends. As the youngest of 3 sisters, our all (but my dad) female household was an estrogen fest. Of course I loved playing with my sisters and I had dolls, but I always wanted a brother.
My mama has relayed a story to me about being at a church friend’s home for a party. I came out of the hallway with my pockets shoved so full of toy guns that my stonewashed jeans were falling down, when asked what I was doing with all the guns I said that the boys and I were playing war. Where ever Rachel was as a child, there was a small gang of boys surrounding her. I gave orders, and bossed them around, I organized and delegated play, and they went along with whatever rules I set.
Growing up homeschooled, my friends were from my church and homeschool group. It just so happened most of them were boys, and many of them had come into my life when we were toddlers and preschoolers. These were the boys who taught me to skateboard, jimmy candies out of coin operated candy machines, play war, and shoot hoops. These were the boys who I played with in the street til it was long after dark, these were the boys who were okay with me sitting on the boys side of the Sunday school classroom (which was not a rule. It was just how we always ended up!), the boys who didn’t seem to mind my wild and bossy ways. Until high school, I considered these boys to be my dearest friends. Of course I had wonderful girl friends in my cousins, and the occasional girl from church who didn’t have any other friends, but my preference was always to be close to brother figures.
This remained my trend, and in high school when many of the families belonging to my stand in brothers grew apart or moved, I was left alone. Alone in a sea of teenage girls who were prettier, smarter, thinner, and far more popular than I. Those girls had always been there, I had always been intimidated by them, and I had seldom understood them; but with the boys gone, I felt exposed.
Two things happened during this time. Firstly, I tried my hand at trying to fit in with other girls, and secondly, I was on the hunt for replacement brother figures. I didn’t like things the girls my age liked. Sure, I liked boy bands, but the Beatles had my heart more than N*sync ever could. I liked makeup, but I wore boys clothing often, and looked very tomboyish despite my long hair and body that developed quite early. I didn’t like or wasn’t allowed to watch most chick flicks and opted for war and action movies. I was obsessed with muscle cars and would rather go to a car show with my old man than go to the mall with a bunch of girls. Some girls I got along with okay, but it was more a mutual existence than friendship. I couldn’t get deep with the girls I knew, and I can’t pin this all on them, because as much as I could play the poor me card, I just didn’t like being with most girls. I found them boring, tedious, shallow, and uninteresting. I found them untrustworthy and petty, and like there was a never ending, silent competition for who was better, prettier, smarter, and more cunning.
Mercifully, during this stage I ended up finding a few other girls who liked the Beatles and Disneyland as much as I did, and was able to gain some solid female friends, some of whom I consider to be very good friends to this day. But still, I was looking for brothers— And brothers I eventually found.
These brothers were different. They weren’t my childhood church friends, these were guys a few years older than I was. These were guys who took me shooting, who taught me to smoke Swisher Sweets on park picnic benches, and who I played practical jokes with in the home improvement store we worked in. These were the guys who taught me to defend myself in a fist fight, who put up with my growing temper, and didn’t get offended when I was sarcastic. These were the guys who taught me an appreciation for violent movies, wild driving, and how to properly use a knife. Let’s just say they were a little more rough around the edges, and my gosh I loved it. I loved every manly, macho, chauvinistic second of it, because they offered me a sense of protection. Once again, I found that though they taught me to be tougher and wilder than ever, I was able to tell them what to do, and they did. Sure, on Saturday nights they were all together wasted at bars I was too young to go to, but if I demanded their heathenous rumps visit my church the next morning, they feigned complaint and showed up anyway. I criticized their girlfriends, and they usually just laughed it off. I was probably incredibly annoying, but they kept me around– and obeyed me, something other gals never did.
Then a whole lot of really dramatic stuff goes in here, and add a few more close female friends (several of whom confirmed my fear of them with their back stabbing and emotional thrashings), and then add some more male friends (most of the United States Marine Corps variety), and more and more dramatic events, and then we get to marriage. (Sorry, this is getting tedious, I swear we are nearing a point… eventually.)
The tipping point
Of course, once I was a newlywed, MOST of my friendships dwindled away. They were largely single, I was mostly twitterpated, and I was left with a few solid and wonderful friends. I got pregnant a hot minute after we were married, and I was lonely. Yes, I had my sweet Milkman, but my single girlfriends were off going to bars, coffee, concerts, and lumberjack festivals (someone’s gonna stab me for mentioning these), and I missed the banter and snark that I had enjoyed so much with my guy friends. So like all good pregnant women do, I went to the Internet in search of OTHER pregnant people, and I found them— by the droves. Consequently, they were all women. I was in uncharted waters. I joined so many mom groups, that my life was completely surrounded by women. And then I started this blog, knowing 99% of my audience (if I ever got one) would be other women. And then I became close to these women, and I let them in my life, and each pregnancy, I added more women to my life. And this blog grew and had even more women in my life.
Some of these women shredded me to pieces, but some of these women became close. And these women? They taught me how to cloth diaper, how to breastfeed, how to babywear, and what baby led weaning was. They taught me how to find the right meme for any conversation, how to survive on zero sleep, and how to be okay with eating chocolate in my closet while hiding from my kids. They taught me to be terrified of secondary drowning, what to do in case of a pea getting stuck in my toddler’s nose, and when to call the doctor for a fever. They taught me that some women are still cutthroat no matter their age or status in life, that it’s okay to cut yourself loose from the pack, and they taught me that being hurt deeply by other women isn’t a reason to swear them off for eternity. They taught me to love the children of strangers, how to file fostering paperwork, and how to say goodbye. They taught me how to trust other women, that it isn’t always a competition, and that some conversations are just better between women. They taught me how to make junk food when pregnant, how to give up sugar, and how to make a whole plate of brownies 9 days after giving up sugar because I was stressed. They taught me how to balance my sarcasm, how to be winsome in settling disagreements, and how to approach hot topics without being a jerk. They taught me love, friendship, and the value of having friends in other time zones.
And I wasn’t lonely anymore. And I wasn’t as insecure anymore. And I wasn’t as tough anymore. I began to soften.
So I sit here, 7 years after joining my first birth group and wondering how I found myself tightly knit to small groups of women across the Internet, and think: wait. When did I stop disliking other women so much? I had spent my whole life before motherhood scared of women, avoiding them as much as I could, and even (foolishly) priding myself in how much I didn’t need them. And yet, I find myself not just tolerating them, but loving them. The ones I’m close with and talk with daily, the ones whose familiar names and profile pictures pop up commenting on the blog, the ones whose little ones I see growing up on Instagram, the in person friends I have who are mothers now, or soon to be mothers, and all the ones in between, and I realized, sure I was always intimidated by other girls and women, but these aren’t just women.
These are nurturers, life givers, advocates, warriors, survivors, booboo kissers, macaroni n cheese slingers, kale smoothie blenders, healers, comforters, researchers, counselors, and go getters.
I don’t have to watch chick flicks, paint my nails, go shopping, look perfect, or be smart for these women to connect with me, because we have one of the highest callings on earth in common:
To be called “Mother”.