For most of my life, I’ve pretty much just gone with my gut when making decisions and kept planning to a minimum. I applied to five colleges while many of my classmates were sending out ten applications, got into three of them, and picked Trinity College because the day I visited it was beautiful, sunny, and there were lots of cute shirtless guys playing frisbee on the quad. From there, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so AmeriCorps seemed to make sense. I applied to programs in Chicago, Atlanta, DC, San Diego, and St. Louis. St. Louis happened to interview me first, and I made a decision later that day. I probably couldn’t have located it on a map, but hey, why not? It worked for me.
Even with my lack of planning, there must have been a divine plan at work, because less than two months into my year of AmeriCorps service, Matthew Pray walked through my apartment door, invited by a mutual friend to a party I was throwing. Our relationship fell into the same pattern of easy breezy flowing from one stage to the next. Exclusivity? That was never a question. After meeting him, I never wanted to date anyone else. We started talking marriage pretty early on, and less than two years after we started dating, he popped the question. I was twenty-three when we got engaged and about to turn twenty-five when we were married. From there, we both knew we wanted kids, so we celebrated our second anniversary quietly at home with our three-day-old daughter.
To me, the whole progression made sense. I thought each stage of my life, from becoming a wife to becoming a mother, was happening at a reasonable time- I certainly didn’t feel like a young wife or a young mother. However, it quickly became apparent to me that most of my peers weren’t on the same track. I was the first of my college friends to get married and the first to have a baby; in fact, I’m still the only one who has chosen to become a mom at this point, which makes me feel even stranger at times about having a two-year-old. Only one of my close friends from high school beat me to the delivery room.
I understand that there is a host of reasons why women now are having babies later than they used to; motherhood isn’t synonymous with womanhood the way it was in the era of the fifties housewife. A lot of the people I know have gone into careers that aren’t what they went to undergrad for, which meant that they spent time working after college, exploring their interests, getting their Masters or Law or whatever degree and then getting serious about establishing themselves in their work life. I get it, and I am blown away by the success of some of my high school and college friends. In addition, some of them just haven’t happened across Mr. Right, and even if they had, he was as focused on work as she was and in no hurry to plan a wedding or complicate things with children. I’m often jealous of these people because they have the freedom that I traded in when I had Maggie. They get to plan cool trips to exotic places or stay out late and drink too much without worrying about embarassing yourself in front of the babysitter when you get home.
At the same time, having a child has changed the dynamic of a lot of my friendships with those people from high school and college. It’s not because I don’t like them anymore or I disapprove of their life decisions. It really comes down to the fact that because I live far away from most of them, and the time I can spend on the phone is severely limited, it’s gotten harder to catch up with people. The less I catch up with my old friends, the less they know about my life now, and vice versa. And if you don’t know about my life now, then you really don’t know me anymore, because being Maggie’s mom has changed me. A lot.
So, I get nostalgic pretty often about all of those friends I used to feel close to who have kind of slipped away, and from time to time I’ll try to reach out and reconnect with them, but I’m also coming to the realization that the people who have stayed in my life, or come into it since Maggie was born, are a blessing. I have friends without children who made it a point to celebrate my becoming a mother and who buy presents for Maggie and who watch videos of her that probably aren’t all that entertaining. They do it because they love me and that automatically means that they love my family too. Facebook has become a totally different experience too, because there seems to be an unspoken rule that exists between moms: As soon as you have a baby, you start liking photos of other people’s babies, even if you didn’t know the mom all that well in high school or college or you had totally fallen out of touch.
I’ve started to lose where I was going with all of this, so I guess the important thing to end with is this: It’s okay to grieve once in a while for the parts of my life that have changed since October 7, 2010. As I get ready to do this all over again, though, I need to remind myself to give thanks every day for the support I get from the friends and family who are in my life. I also need to remember that those people I’ve fallen out of touch with will probably one day have families of their own, and the same things that were important to me– a phone call, a gift, a “like” on a Facebook picture– will become important to them, too. If I can be woman enough to make those small gestures, it’s possible that we’ll one day get to know each other again.