The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 12, 2000


Motherhood, Online

One evening last month, our son Morgan climbed onto the kitchen table, retrieved a bottle of hand sanitizer I'd just put there, unscrewed the spigot, and poured a big glop into his mouth.

As my spouse talked urgently on the phone with Poison Control, I jiggled Morgan (who, despite lemon-scented breath, was his usual sunny self) at the keyboard, opened my favorite search engine, and typed three words. As I pulled up pages on the toxicity of isopropyl and ethanol (stomach pain, lack of coordination, vomiting no danger signals, thank God), I was already mentally composing the tale.

"July 98 Mothers"

I couldn't wait to email the "July98 Mothers" list this story.

We are about forty-five women, all originally due in July 1998, who came online together to discuss the milestones of our pregnancies, deliveries and children's development: smiling, walking, talking, potty-training. We cover a wide range of parenting styles and philosophies: we work outside the home, at home for pay, or simply at home, caring for children. We are dedicated attachment parents (family bedders, babywearers, extended breastfeeders and women who never breastfed at all). Many of us subscribed to discuss our first (or only) child, but two moms have five.

Online community is hardly new to me. I wandered into computing in 1982, while "talking" with friends at 300 bps. I found my beloved, online, long before we met in person. Our jobs are actually based in California we telecommute. I have unsubscribed from more mailing lists over the years than most people ever join, but there's a sense of family about the "July98 Mothers" list that gives it a starring role in my everyday life.

A commute of less than 20 feet

Working at home means that my husband, Tim, and I are extremely privileged parents: we see our son all day, and our "commute" is less than 20 feet. (We have an au pair for workdays, and trade off evenings and weekends.) But this brave new world is often isolating: we still don't know Carlisle well. We haven't figured out how to make time for playgroups and spaghetti suppers and trash pickups and nature walks. We get out mostly for grocery shopping, and to take Morgan to the mall or library or playground. So we find most of our social opportunities online. Who else is available at 4 a.m.?

I rely on my "July list," which despite the upheavals of its two years of life, is a close-knit group.

We've had some bad scares. One mother lost her baby in April '98, and unsubscribed. We learned not to take our babies for granted. One child nearly died at birth, another had repeated foot surgeries, a third was suspected to have a brain tumor. When another was diagnosed with kidney cancer, we listened anxiously as he went through surgery and chemotherapy. My own son spent one day in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and I counted myself lucky.

Until the summer of '98, we talked birth plans and labor bags and childbirth classes. Then it was postpartum pain, baby-naming ceremonies, and learning to nurse. We moved on to questions for pediatricians, traveling with infants, chokeable foods, stain-remover recipes. We asked each other: how often do you bathe him? how did you wean her at night? how do you cope when you're sick? As our children approach their second birthdays, the conversations follow: time-outs; potty training; gender-coding of clothing and toys.

I've talked about my son's gender-neutral name, and surviving a high-needs child who nursed every hour and a half around the clock. I've gotten support for co-sleeping problems, learned childproofing tricks, worried when Morgan hadn't said "mama." I've given advice on postpartum sexual problems and dealing with mentally ill relatives.

When Morgan had an ear infection and I was collapsing with fatigue, I crawled to the keyboard at dawn and vented. When he toddled down the hall at eight months, when he learned to nurse standing on his head, when he led us around the house peering in closets, when at seventeen months he spoke his first words ("hot sauce") the "July list" heard first.

We've shared much grief: miscarriages, car accidents, the deaths of family and friends. We also share our personal triumphs: promotions, finished manuscripts, house-closings, TV spots, births of new siblings. And we wander off into non-parenting topics: exercise programs; genealogy; home remodeling. We get not only support as mothers, but friendship and community.

Not a diverse community

Like Carlisle, this community is not as diverse as I'd like. Many members are privileged Americans, white, legally married, fairly well-off, but many are not, Asian and black women, single mothers, a lesbian couple, women with disabilities, mothers on the edge of poverty (using cast-off computers). Some are Australian, Canadian, Israeli, European. Some are raising pagan, Jewish, agnostic, Christian, Buddhist or Unitarian families. And we "talk" about these differences. They make for fascinating conversations.

Motherhood at the turn

of the century

For me, this is motherhood at the turn of the century: a varied, but loving, virtual community. In a busy era with limited family support, it has helped teach me, support me, keep me sane. And it has brought many bright people into my life. Whatever else the next century may bring, I'm convinced it will draw mothers not yet born into a new kind of family.

2000 The Carlisle Mosquito