Off to Stroller Mafia's weekly boardwalk takeover rumble.
Brass knuckles: check. Rusty chain: check.
Sophie the Giraffe: triple-checked.
(Facebook status: Friday, Oct. 1, 2010)
I’m typing this with a baby sprawled across my lap, blowing kisses at me. She is half-Indian, a quarter Dutch and a quarter Canadian House Blend. Her middle name, though, is French. Because I belong to a gang.
It could’ve been the opening of a joke: A nurse, a psychologist, a scientist, a teacher and an editor walk into a bar. Actually, a crosswalk. Pushing strollers and holding travel mugs, they feel for one glorious morning like they are winning at the mat-leave thing. That’s a heady feeling, and once you’ve had it, you can’t stop wanting more. The feeling that you’ve got People.
I didn’t see this coming. Three months after an effortless first pregnancy and easy birth, I was emerging from a dark, dark place because I’d had trouble breastfeeding. I was vulnerable, and the Stroller Mafia preys on the vulnerable.
It was supposed to be an occasional thing. A walk by the lake. A drop-in session at Early Years. Okay, maybe the play dates in the very heart of gang HQ were a mistake, but I was too far gone by then. I’d borrowed wipes and lent out baby carriers and my kid had already ingested part of their potted ficus. There’s no going back once the infant intestine is involved. The only way out is through.
We were all so different, too. Surely I wouldn’t get caught up in anything with these people. Four were into yoga – the fifth wanted to like it, but didn’t. Three had midwives; the other two had obstetricians. Some co-slept; some bottle-fed. One was back to teaching fitness boot camp five months after having a baby; one would rather eat her child than dig out her running shoes. One of the kids spent seven months in stained but soft hand-me-down blue sleepers from her cousins; another had a collection of tiny shoes to match her every outfit. No, this was a mat-leave thing. I’d leave it behind in a year.
Things escalated when we realized normal people weren’t down the same rabbit hole as us. We swapped babysitting for date
night brunch; threw on coats over our PJs for cuppas while trying to teach our babies not to eat the Christmas tree; burst into laughter loud enough to wake the baby while texting each other at 2 a.m. Our kids were completely different, yet exactly the same in so many weird ways (“I swear she can hear me think about taking a shower”).
We learned a lot, too, from anecdotal wisdom (Poison Control said if your kid drinks fabric softener, push the fluids, but it should be okay) to professional expertise (she doesn’t have object permanence, so if she can’t see you, she thinks you’re gone forever).
Together, we made it through the first year of motherhood. Sometimes at a slow plod, sometimes at a frazzled sprint, as happens when the familiar stink-cloud hits you in the store at the same time as the realization that you left the wipes in the hallway.
Before we knew it, we were commiserating over daycare drop-off and the return to work. The one-night (okay, one-year) stand should have ended right there. But along came twoberty, threenagers and fourmones. In the middle there were more pregnancies, more than one miscarriage, moving house, Halloweens and birthday parties. We couldn’t just walk away. The Stroller Mafia had us.
You know what comes with having People? Not just that delicious sense of belonging without fear of judgment, though that would have been enough.
The best people always come to the rescue – sometimes just with a well-timed text message, sometimes with something more quantifiable: Last week, Teacher did a late-night Pedialyte run to Scientist’s home, and Psychologist dressed Editor for a job interview. Last month, Editor lent Teacher her carseat after a distressing incident.
And last November, when I struggled for the second time with low milk supply, Scientist pumped every night for more than a month so my newborn could have antibodies and nice, fatty breastmilk. Her name is Ève, and so is my kid’s. Because the Stroller Mafia honours its own.