When I had a baby, there were two major factors in my feeling isolated: I was the first person in my group of friends to have a kid, and, when my daughter was four months old, I moved across the country to a city where I didn’t know anyone. After moving, I found out that this city, Seattle, is called “The Big Freeze” because of the chilly attitude of its inhabitants. Before I moved, I had assumed that Seattle would be brimming with geeky parents. It is, after all, home to a number of large tech companies and start-ups, and it is the home of grunge. (Fun Fact: All the Goodwills in Seattle have the best grunge clothes. Apparently, I am the only one in this city who refuses to accept that fashions have changed in the past 5 years.)
When I left my previous home, I was starting to work again and had met some other young moms at a library event. Slowly, my life was coming together. However, once I moved, I was maddeningly alone, stuck with an active, sleepless baby, and without friends. I couldn’t simply go online and find board gaming groups and language clubs and and a local LARPing troupe, join them, and make friends because I had this baby with me at all times. I couldn’t take a few hours out of my day to read stimulating material to keep my mind active because, again, I had this baby who was in constant need of attention. (A fun family trait I married into: sleeplessness. Some of my in-laws sleep 4 to 5 hours per night. My daughter was showing signs that she, too, had no interest in long bouts of sleeping.)
A recent Gallup survey found that 28% of stay-at-home moms suffer from depression, compared to 17% of women, with or without children, who work.
So I had to find a way to stay sane. I figured that I needed two things: nerdy parent friends who could hang out a few times a week, and daily intellectual stimulation that could happen while I was playing with baby or breastfeeding.
To solve the first problem I joined every parenting meet-up on meetup.com that I thought might help me meet friends. I went to events for moms at local bookshops and cafes. I thought that, by casting a wide net, I would be certain to meet a few others I could relate to. However, things did not go as planned. At a moms’ night at a local coffee shop, there was a knitting circle. I don’t knit, so I brought a chain maille project I was working on, figuring that knitting and making chain maille are essentially the same thing, only using different materials. The other mothers were tolerant of me, but I didn’t leave with any phone numbers or email addresses.
At playgroups, we would frequently talk about our kids. I started to see the other moms as my coworkers, and talking about our babies was the SAHM equivalent of chatting about work. However, chats about work tend to cycle through the funny, the mundane, the strange, the abstract, and back to the funny. Chats about kids pretty much stayed on the mundane level. I have had more conversations about bananas than anyone should in her life. I should mention that I am in no way interested in food and pretty much eat cereal three meals a day. It was a struggle to find things to say in these conversations. I found myself being quiet in the corner, playing with my baby while trying desperately to think of an anecdote to add to the discussion that didn’t stem from a Star Trek episode.
So I decided that a wide net was not appropriate. It put me in contact with people who were kind, thoughtful, and caring, but not people who wanted to let our kids crawl all over each other while we talked about what an abomination the second season of True Blood was. My next step was to change my focus. In math education we often complain that the curriculum is a mile wide and an inch deep. That was how my friend search algorithm was turning out to be. My method needed adjustment. I searched for meet-ups that were specific to my interests. I was lucky to find one for skeptic parents in the greater Seattle area. Meet-ups happened infrequently, and some of them were a bit farther from my house than I’m normally comfortable going, but I forced myself to drive the half hour to go. This paid off. I would hang out for an hour before I had to get the baby home, but that hour was filled with memorable and stimulating conversation. I haven’t yet managed to form a group of friends, but I hope to slowly find people with nerdy interests and bring them together. Maybe I can host a board game night at my apartment. The stipulation will be: you have to accept that my apartment is a mess because in the rare moments that the baby sleeps I do stuff like write, or make chain maille, or work on my website, and I just don’t find time to do things like vacuum, mop, or pick dangerous things off the floor.
The other aspect of my isolation that needed to be dealt with was the lack of intellectual stimulation. Before moving, my job had always kept me talking to new people, thinking about big ideas, and goofing around with my co-workers. Now, with only one or two hours a day spent with other people, much of my day consists of the sound of my baby’s cooing, me talking about socks, shoes, sleep, and milk. I needed the sounds of other voices.
TV was out of the question because it is bad for children to watch. I opted for podcasts that could be played in the background. I could listen to them in spurts while changing diapers, washing dishes, or supervising tummy time. While breastfeeding I would read. I created a twitter account and started following people who posted links to articles that interested me. While nursing I would read them on my ipod, sometimes reading portions aloud to my daughter when she looked bored. I have always been the sort that prefers communication to be in-person rather than mediated by technology, so I felt a sinking sadness that so much of my mental stimulation was being passed through a tiny, hand-held device. My world felt limited, like I only had this tiny crack into the broad reality that others shared. But a tiny crack is better than nothing.
Stage three of my plan to make friends and talk about non-kid stuff is to make friends in the places I normally go. At Geek Girl Con, a panelist on the panel “Geeks Raising Geeks” gave me this idea: go to a playground wearing a Star Wars shirt. Someone will comment. Become friends with that person. It may be too cold to wear t-shirts, but I do have the cutest Princess Leia outfit for my daughter that I hope will garner the right kind of attention from the right people.
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