April 1, 2017

The Marchies are 10.

My daughter’s 10th birthday marks another milestone: The friendships I made on a now-defunct Internet forum have lasted a decade. It startles me even more than the fact that my tiny newborn is now a YouTube-watching, long-legged tween who texts me funny GIFs and penguin emojis.

I started lurking on the Babycenter.com board for March 2007 due dates shortly after I found out I was pregnant, and I began posting in earnest when Evie was a newborn. I was lonely and bored and realized that if I positioned myself just right, I could feed or cuddle the baby while typing on a laptop. I found people: funny, smart, interesting people who were grappling with the sweeping life change brought by a tiny baby. Friendships formed, quick and fierce. Someone invited me to a private forum, away from moderators and public web searches.

In those heady early days, our connection was intoxicating and all-consuming. We talked about everything that mattered to us: our husbands, our jobs, our health concerns, our favorite books. We agreed that our mothers know exactly how to push our buttons (because they installed them), and we promised ourselves we’d do a better job. And, of course, we talked about our kids. Our Marchies. Every doctor’s visit and development milestone was rich territory for conversation. While our IRL (In Real Life) friends would politely smile and indulge us for a few minutes as we talked about our baby, the March moms asked all of the detailed questions: “Does gripe water work?” “Where did you get those baby leg warmers?” “Talk to me about swaddling.”

Our first online community was a discussion forum with 100 members. We prided ourselves in getting along with no drama, ever, but that’s not how large groups of people work. As our friendships drew closer, there were secret, gossipy conversations which then became fodder for more gossip. Small groups began to spin off. The center could not hold.

I remember the weekend it fell apart for the first time, just shy of the Marchies’ first birthdays. I recall crying in front of my laptop, calling my best friends, sometimes hearing their “real life” voices for the first time, and pleading with them not to quit the forum. I realized that all of my closest friendships could disappear into the ether as quickly as a person could click “Delete” on a website.

Our group was like a forest of trees with an entangled root system. No individual could extricate herself without becoming tangled in the whole mess. When connections between a few people became toxic, everyone felt poisoned. The biggest fights became fires.

I recall at least two conflagrations, and a few small flare-ups. Each time, we lost a few members but most of us emerged from the ashes and decided that what we had together was worth the risk and the pain. We rearranged and replanted, a little bit wounded and a little bit stronger.

Our group changed shape as technology changed. We stepped away from our laptops and online discussion forums, and we found each other on Facebook. As the Marchies went off to preschool and gymnastics and play dates, we carried our conversations in our purses. Some of us developed closer friendships than others, and we gave up on the utopian ideal of a drama-free community and accepted one another as people who might not always agree, but remained connected nonetheless.

Siblings followed the Marchies in waves. I didn’t seek out a July pregnancy board with Felix; instead I commiserated with the March moms who were pregnant with their second children at the same time.

We have held each other up through illnesses, divorces, and the rawest of grief. When one of us suffers, we all feel it. We rally together PayPal campaigns, send flowers, and explain to confused relatives how we know each other.

We know each other from the in-between spaces in our lives. The sleep-deprived chats when we were awake nursing our babies, now the quick Facebook posts from our phones while we wait through piano lessons and soccer practices. I’ve heard that the closest friendships come after spending hundreds of hours together doing small, ordinary things. This is why good roommates and neighbors have a lifelong hold on us. So it was with the March moms; our forging ground was the lonely banality of motherhood, and the conversations were digital but the connections were real.

I’ve learned so much about friendship from this group. You can’t keep score of which friends are closer to each other than you. If you want to meet up with people in person, you have to take the time to plan things and it’s always worth it. You can’t be sensitive to every slight or keep track of every misplaced word. Well-intentioned advice is still a gift, even if it’s not one you wanted or particularly like. Even digital gardens require watering.

I’ve also learned a lot about parenting, which is one of those jobs that changes as soon as you get good at it. It truly does take a village, and my children are being raised by dozens of moms (and a few dads) who have been with our family every step of the way. Not only have our kids grown up together, so have we.

The Marchies at our first Midwestern meetup, 2009

West/Midwest IRL,2011

Wisconsin IRL, 2015. It's become a thing.


Brenda Rios said...

Beautiful! I'm reading through my tears. Tears of joy.

Margaret said...

I love this SO MUCH!!!

Amy said...

So true. Thank you for this. And for being my friend.

KH said...

Amazing as always. So glad I found this group!

Hendrik Friedheim said...
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