Today I finally worked up the courage to drag myself to a local MOPS meeting for the first time since moving to our new town. First, MOPS (Moms of Preschoolers) is an international mom group that meets locally 2x a month, designed for stay-at-home moms to connect, fellowship, and support each other. I used to attend on and off in our old town. I remember going the first time, about 8 years ago. I had just moved back to this town when I was still married to my ex-husband. I had 3 very small children (1.5, 4 and 6) and had just moved. I was going crazy! He was working out of town a lot. I needed to connect. I attended for a few years until I had my 4th, and then it became more hassle than help to go. I feel like at some point you “mature” as a mom and get so busy at home that socializing isn’t as necessary, when you need every second of your day to cook, clean, wipe noses, butts, get kiddos to nap, and do the grocery shopping. I also was starting to train for midwifery, and had opened my own shop. When I met my wife and became second mom to #5, I recommitted to stay-at-home motherhood and took the littlest a few times. MOPS is a faith-based, non-denominational group. I was nervous to go after coming out, but I knew half the town, and thus half the moms in the group, and could congregate with the ones I knew didn’t care, and didn’t care if anyone else had an opinion on the matter.
Then we moved last summer. I’ve been meaning to go, but since they only meet every 2nd and 4th Wednesday of the month, while you’d think I’d have time, almost every time I remembered I had some scheduling conflict. (Avoidance much?)
The “rule” of MOPS is that you have to have a preschooler. Luckily for me, I’m going on year 14 of preschoolers. So I have the longest MOPS-eligibility ever.
Today, I was determined to work up the courage to go. I didn’t even have a child to take with me. Which is less work, but I have become an expert in hiding behind my cute kids to break any and all social ice. When you are holding the pudgy hand of an adorable toddler, you need no social skills. You needn’t make eye contact, think of things to say, or come up with an introduction. You just look at your adorableness, and people start oohing and ahhing and you go from there. You can bet the convo will start with something like, “Oh he’s so cute! How old?” And wow everyone with, “He’s the youngest of 5”, and then the child, on cue, will either do something super cute or super embarrassing, but you’re “in” at that point. No need for social awkwardness after that! Or you use your kid as an excuse to bow out of any social situation. “Oh, you need to poop?” “Oh you’re crabby? Naptime!” “Oh you want me to push you 845 times on the swing?”
Fourteen years of very little socializing leads one to become quite anxious about socializing. Especially when not occupying your arms with adorableness that you can always divert your eyes to. What do you do with your arms!?! I’ve noticed in the past few years how anxious I’ve become in new social situations. I guess that’s because I don’t regularly practice that anymore. When I have a new social situation it’s a big one, (Joining a new group where you don’t know anyone, meeting my wife’s entire squadron at once, etc). Rarely do I run into situations where it’s low-key newness, if you will. Let’s face it, some days I haven’t talked to an adult all day! Many days I may, but it’s only one person. I’ve been a bit surprised lately how panicked I’ve become in these situations, much more than I used to. Guess it’s a skill that needs to be practiced regularly. So I channeled my wife today as I pulled up in the parking lot. She’s TDY this week again, at a new class across the country, and she’s in a group where she knows no one. And I know she’s handling it a lot better than I would. But she gets to practice it a lot more, too.
I walk in to a crowd of about 40 moms, forcing myself not to panic and just turn around and leave. They all had babies to hold (I feel like it’s been forever!) so they don’t need to do anything with their arms or their eyes, and I wore something without pockets! I know I won’t know anyone here. I scan the faces, hoping to see someone I can immediately connect with, but don’t. Finally, after standing awkwardly alone for several minutes, I sit down at a table and introduce myself. If I can connect with one person, I’ll relax. If I can make a few people laugh, I’m golden. Both happen.
Why was I so nervous? When has it ever ended not well? Why is it still so panicky to put yourself out there?
In this case, there’s a big reason. There’s something I have that I can guarantee no one else there has. A wife. It’s a Christian group. I don’t think it will be a big deal but I know it’s very unusual. How do I bring it up? In a group like this, I want to just stand up and introduce myself to the entire crowd, drop the word “wife”, watch the response, and know how to proceed from there. In most one-on-one situations, I promptly, casually mention my wife and continue talking. In a group like this, I prefer an announcement. I feel like it’s a situation that I have to announce it, like, “I’d like to let everyone know I have a wife! Let me know if you have any questions!” I wait for a chance but don’t get it. At my table of 3, I wait for the opportunity to casually mention but am somewhat surprised that it just doesn’t come up. We talk about kids. We all have them, of course. Husbands are just as presumed in a mom group. I realized in an everyday meet and greet, a first question would be, “Are you married?” In a mom group like this it’s assumed.
I’m excited to announce to them next time I come that I have a wife. I don’t want to avoid the topic, because I’m far from ashamed about it. I love telling people, especially when I can brag about her. Even today, casually chatting it up with a few people and not seeing an opportunity to mention it, it’s kind of disappointing. But I also don’t want it to seem like I’ve purposely not mentioned it, and later have people feel as though I was trying to hide the fact or mislead them.
Of course in my mind I can conger up the worst case scenario. I either announce it to the group, or a woman at my table, and after I leave there’s a big meeting discussing whether or not I should be asked to leave the group. I’m pretty positive that would not happen, but those fears pop up none-the-less. It excites me to push the boundaries of acceptance, being an ambassador to representing a different family life in a gentle, loving way. The short video welcoming us from MOPS international was about finding acceptance and community in belonging to a group made up of individuals with different backgrounds and ideas and beliefs instead of the present day practice to group together solely based on your opinions. I’m excited to see if this includes moms like me.
Putting myself out there is challenging. I’m in a place right now where I want to connect with others yet feel more vulnerable to others than I have in a really long time. It makes it scarier the more you need to, the more vulnerable it becomes. I also don’t want to go to a group where I never end up connecting on a personal level. As an introvert that becomes an extrovert in the right groups, I need the one-on-one connection, or else it feels even more lonely to go than to not go. I moved from a town where I felt many people knew me, even if it were just recognizing me at the grocery store. Stepping out in a bigger community where I don’t have that is a lot scarier. But I know it comes with practice. My stay at home mom life is slowly morphing which brings more change and insecurity and the unknown as well as a blog for another day.