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Mothers Anonymous

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Of particular fascination to the UrbanBaby women are those mothers whose economic status seems to many posters both enviable and ridiculous: stay-at-home moms with full-time nannies and expensive tastes.

11:07 A.M.
“my wohm [work-outside-the-home mom] friend is always muttering sarcastically how it must be nice as a sahm [stay-at-home mom] to have lunch with friends & hang out at the park. So I told her it must be nice to afford designer clothes & go on luxurious vacations 2x a yr. Now she is mad at me! WTF?”

11:08 A.M.
“both of you steer clear of me, I’m SAHM who lunches and I have designer clothes and take luxe vacations.”

11:08 A.M.
“la di da.”

One night, a woman posts this seemingly non-rhetorical question: “If your dh had a 5mil trust fund would you stay home? 2 kids and dh does not work.” Responses range from a deadpan “uh, yeah” to “someone has to work . . . 5 mil is not enough for forever.” A long thread branching off examines the premise that a trust fund providing interest of $350,000 to $500,000 is not enough to live on. “Not enough for whom?” asked one poster incredulously. Another poster replies, “Me. We currently live a 15k/month lifestyle, net, with 1 dc and no school costs”—and then promptly summarizes her expenses for an invisible audience: “7k rent, 1k PT sitter, eating out 1.5–2k, utilities 500, travelling 2k, clothing 1k, out and about ‘cash’ 1k.”

Yet although there’s a lot of talk about money—including inane semiotic detanglings of the differences between old and new money—just as often the financial nitpicking is submerged into chitchat about other differences, from breast-feeding to baby nurses. And so the women focus on the five pounds that separate them from the woman who shares their bench in the playground. And everything, from a serving of YoBaby yogurt to the precise numerical factor that mothers should spend playing with their children (Thirty minutes a day? Thirty minutes an hour?), is pulled into the calculus of how good a mother you are. Strangely, the sensation one gets from the most privileged mothers on the boards is of constant scarcity. Only so many children can get into a “top-tier school,” someone else’s toddler has more words than yours, other people are taking vacations so vastly superior to your vacations that your vacations barely count as vacations.

And maybe people go to UrbanBaby to be judged in the first place. Certainly, there is something masochistic about the experience, because no matter what you do, someone will disapprove, starting with the day you give birth. Refuse the epidural, and someone will sneer that you’re a hippie fool—beg for the drugs, and someone else will suggest you’re a weakling. Home-birth? Lunatic. Scheduled C-section? Control freak. IVF? Unnatural. You can hire a doula and a midwife and a lactation consultant and be called a flake, or hire a nanny, a night nurse, and a maid and be called a spoiled brat. Or you can hire no one and get called a “martyr mom.”

Perversely, this is a comfort: If there are no right choices, there are no wrong ones either.

SEARCHING FOR "BITTERNESS"
Which is not to say that there isn’t supportiveness on UrbanBaby. On the boards devoted to pregnancy and newborns and women trying to conceive, you can find answers to every question, immediately, from a chorus of helpful invisible fellow mothers, at any hour. Much of the advice is witty and precise: People will recommend toys, help you choose an OB/GYN, reassure you after a miscarriage. Last Monday, a mother posted, “I feel like I was a bully this am with dc. I was yelling, dd was in tears, ds (4) said ‘You made me upset and I hope you’re happier when you pick me up,’ ” and her invisible friends commiserated in a flash: “that was me yesterday” (two minutes later), and “i hate when that happens. i went through a couple of weeks like that & finally told myself just to snap out of it” (four minutes later.) On UrbanBaby, nothing is too ordinary to discuss and nothing is too abstract—and it all just keeps flowing by, swerves in the river of the shared mother mind.

Mothers post about happiness as well, often defensively invoking another parenting site: the cheery, cloying BabyCenter. “I love my muffin so much it hurts. New mother here to 6 mo ds and I still can’t believe this amazing little thing is my son. Ok, sorry for the babycenter moment. Carry on!”

But sometimes, the dark side of UrbanBaby is more alluring. It’s what keeps me lurking on the craziest, most surrealistic boards—especially the toddler board, which attracts the most outrageous, least child-centered posting. It’s there that you can feel like you have tapped into that cartoon fantasy of the Manhattan Mother, or at least her startling real-life analogue, a woman who may not always be likable but who is full of complicated conflicts and contradictions.


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