I made a terrible mistake last night— I walked into a one-two punch. We had choir practice, and have been planning to go for pie afterward, as we sometimes do. Just before I walked into the restaurant, I read on Facebook the ravings of one of the horrendous white supremacists from Charlottesville who explained how the death of the 32-year-old victim who was run down by a car was no real loss because single childless women are leeches on society who’ve failed to fulfill their only reasonable function, procreation. Take my word for it if you haven’t read it— it’s not going to help you to read it. I’m pretty angry with the person who cross-posted it, I deliberately did not cross-post it, and I hope you don’t Google it. I’ve given you an accurate rendering of the high points.
I know he’s wrong, and I know he’s spewing filth, and I also know from personal experience that he is not alone in feeling like women, particularly childless women, have no value. I then walked into the restaurant and then sat for an hour at a meeting of what I call the Mommy Club, where you can’t participate in the conversation if you don’t have kids. It’s not an intentional exclusion, and I understand that. They in fact intentionally included me. Arranging this weeks in advance and confirming my intention to participate again and again. But when we all sat down, four of the women at the table had kids and stories about their kids, and one of us didn’t. You need more resilience than I had in me just then, to sit there for an hour knowing that you have nothing to contribute to the conversation, after hearing about how you have nothing to contribute to society.
When it’s me and one other woman (even a card-carrying Mommy Club member), we can have a wide-ranging conversation where both of our experiences come into play. But once I’m outnumbered, I’ve got no shot to participate in the conversation, and coming, as it does, at the end of a long day, at the beginning of a long week, it’s just more than I can easily metabolize. The longer I sat there, the more my head pounded. By the time I got home, I was in tears. Mom had made no effort to clean up the kitchen, so I’m there at 11 p.m. dealing with leftovers and loading and reloading the dishwasher as she sings out that she can’t keep her eyes open another second and heads off to bed. And I couldn’t relax to sleep, so I’m exhausted and without resources again this morning. A morning of another 16-hour go-go-go day, in a week filled with them.
Here’s the thing about the Mommy Club— I get it. I want that fellowship for Mommies. I want them to find and support each other. Frankly, I’m happy to be supportive of Mommies. If my life had gone differently, my greatest wish was to have been a mommy myself. I’ve been a cheerful aunt and godmother and babysitter and religious educator for kids starting at the age of 7. I’ve celebrated my friends’ and family’s inductions into the Mommy Club and wept with them at miscarriages and prayed with them for sick and troubled children. Occasionally, I’ve gone even further into the trenches, keeping their children calm and distracted when they were in the hospital in planned and unplanned moments, among other forays. However, I frequently bow out of these gatherings, knowing that they turn into meetings of the Mommy Club, and knowing that those are hard for me to sit through. It just starts to sound like a litany of ways I don’t belong.
If you insist, knowing that I’m single and childless, that I come to Pie Night, I’m going to need to be included in the conversation. I’m going to need some sign that I exist. Can we have even a thread of conversation that I can participate in? Just anything neutral? Because if it’s exclusively husbands and kids, it’s not really a kindness to me that you insist that I come. I don’t need any part of “you’re not in this club” underlined for me, thanks. I’m crystal clear about it. And I can mostly deal with it— I’ve found meaning and purpose in my life on the outside of that club that I never believed I’d find. I feel like I live a pretty incredible life, and one I’m grateful for every day. Just not when I sit there silently with my face pressed against the glass of the life I thought I’d have, or when I’m having my nose rubbed in the modern perception of the single childless woman by the lunatics of the Interwebs.
This time last year, there was a guy in our choir. If we had gone for pie and he had been there, I think the conversation would have been carefully engineered to include topics that he could participate in. Frankly, I think the conversation would have been almost exclusively about him, but let’s just start with the first thing. I think the fact that I’m female renders me less visible in these conversations. But I don’t think my request is unreasonable. We don’t even have to talk specifically about me and the parts of my life that we don’t share— dating or full-time work or, I don’t know— Toastmasters— we could talk about common ground. Our church community or the many domestic tasks that we have in common, or books or current events. The choir director is having a party this week and we’re all invited— we could talk about that. We could talk about pie. Most of us have siblings and aging parents— anything like that. We could even talk about kids’ books we like. But when the topic is exclusively Mommy fails and discipline strategies for unruly toddlers, I really ought to be allowed to be excused.