A Mom Like Me

A Mom Like Me

Portrait of beautiful serious afro american woman over black background

By Betty Christiansen

At first glance, Gwendolyn and I have little in common. She’s in her twenties; I’m in my forties. I have a house; she has an efficiency apartment with a shared bath. I work in publishing; she works in fast food. I am white; she is black. I drive a car that seats seven; she rides a bike. Yet she is a mom, just like me.

She has two small children; I have three. We have meals to make and homes to clean and staggering amounts of laundry. We both have husbands. We juggle everything around our jobs and their jobs.

Our common ground is the bus stop. Our mornings are the same: a scramble of rousing kids, feeding them, and rushing out the door by 7:45. She and her son are always on time; we are always running late. We take turns reminding the kids to stop running, to stop pushing, and to stand back when the bus pulls up. “Goodbye,” I tell my kids when they climb on the bus. “Have a good day! I love you!”

“You be good,” she commands her son. “Don’t disappoint me.”

Gwendolyn is a mom like me, except she doesn’t have a car. Some mornings, I’ll drive her to the bank or to Kwik Trip, the convenience store five blocks from our homes. She’ll get some cash and then buy milk and breakfast, or milk and beer. She asks me where I have to go that morning, and I tell her I have a meeting or a photo shoot or a press check. I’ll ask her if she’s working that day, and she’ll say yes, she’s got the closing shift at Taco Bell, or no, she’ll be home with her two-year-old, and she doesn’t know what she’ll do with her that day. I tell her I know; my youngest is finally in preschool and I remember those days.

She might ask if she can wash some clothes at my house, because there’s no laundry in her building. Sometimes, we’ll load up all her laundry when it reaches a critical mass and pile it into the back of my car, and I’ll take her to a Laundromat.

We are both protective of our children. Mine are old enough to walk the block back home from the bus stop by themselves in the afternoon, but still I watch out for them. Gwendolyn does not let her son do this; if she is home and not working a shift at Taco Bell, she will walk down and get him, or have her husband do so if he is not working a shift at Burger King. If neither one can, she’ll ask me if I’ll make sure he gets in their apartment okay, where his very frail granny is waiting for him.

“You know I will,” I say.

One morning, they’re not at the bus stop, and I ask her about it the next day.

“Anthony didn’t go to school,” she says. “He had a cough.” She then goes on to tell that he needs to go to the doctor, but not because of the cough. It turns out a woman from that damn Child Protective Services came over yesterday, eyeballing the house and following up on a police report. “My house is clean,” Gwendolyn declares. “I ain’t got nothin’ to hide.”

But apparently there were sores on her son’s arms, and a teacher saw them. A police officer came to the school, took photographs, and filed a report with CPS.

“They could’ve given me a heads-up,” spits Gwendolyn. “They said they tried to call, but my phone isn’t working. They could’ve sent me a note. They never asked me what happened.

“I could’ve told them he has these bumps on his arms, and he keeps scratching them,” she goes on. “I ain’t got nothing to hide. I make sure he has clean clothes, clean socks and drawers. I know they’re looking for that kind of thing.”

I don’t know what to say, so I just listen. It wouldn’t help to explain that the teacher is legally bound to report her fears, that everyone is just looking out for her child, that they’re doing what’s required to keep him out of harm’s way—even if that might be harm by a parent.

For all our mornings together, I don’t know Gwendolyn well enough to know if she would hurt her son, or if someone else in their house would. I have seen small, round scars on her son’s legs, and I’ve heard her threaten him for getting in trouble in school. I don’t know how seriously to take that. After all, I have threatened my children, too.

What I do know is that this would never happen to a mom like me. A professional mom, a well-spoken mom, the mom who volunteers in the classrooms because she can; she has the flexible schedule and the car. The mom who can be home for her kids, never uncertain of their safety. My own son has had eczema on his arms, and no one has questioned me.

I’m all for Child Protective Services—but how about a Mom Protective Services? Where is that agency, the one that makes sure a mom like Gwendolyn has a way to shuttle children, work without worrying about them, make sure they’re fed and dressed and on the bus on time? Who makes sure she can get her laundry done? Who makes sure that she has a way to wind down from all of this without needing the beer that might lead to arm sores and leg scars? Who’s looking out for the moms like her?

Because Gwendolyn doesn’t have a car, I drive her and her son to his doctor’s appointment. When I pick her up later, she seems relieved, even happy. It was eczema after all, and now everyone knows it. She also picked up her new glasses from the optometry department while she was there, and they look sharp. I tell her so. She looks at me, smiles, and says thanks.

Betty Christiansen is a writer and editor who lives with her husband and three children in La Crosse, Wisconsin. She is the author of two books—Knitting for Peace: Make the World a Better Place One Stitch at a Time and Girl Scouts: 100 Trailblazing Years—both published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang, a division of Harry Abrams. She’s also the editor of Coulee Region Women, the women’s magazine of the La Crosse area, and a graduate of the creative nonfiction MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College.





Moms Night Out

Moms Night Out

By Susan Buttenwieser


You don’t know these other Moms very well, haven’t gotten past the small talk phase of friendship during late afternoon pick-up, when everyone just wants to get home. You’d been hoping that socializing with them might produce kindred spirits, maybe somewhat of a support network even.


The Moms from Toddler Room A have the night off. They are letting loose at the back table in a T.G.I.F. knock-off.

“Get your husbands to baby sit,” the email from Cruise Director Mom instructed earlier. She’s the self-designated organizer of the monthly snack schedule, teacher thank-you gifts, and lice outbreak alerts. “Because tonight is MOM’S NIGHT OUT!!!!”

Immediately, the Reply Alls started rolling in.

Compara-Mom was the first to rsvp. “So TOTALLY psyched!! Can already taste the salt on my margarita! I am ready to PAR-TAY!” Her main reason for getting out of bed each morning is to display her vastly superior child-rearing skills.

Cheery-Bitter Mom chimed in. “Literally cannot wait! Stuck at home all week with two sick kids and they are driving me crazy! Let’s get this PAR-TAY started!” She makes baby food from scratch, sews all her children’s clothing, and loathes them.

“Just wish we could start the PAR-TAY right now!” Overly-Aerobicized Mom signed off with her signature yellow smiley-faced emoticon.

Now here you all are in this brightly lit restaurant with no discernable cuisine. It is mostly empty except for a few happy-hourers anchored to the bar. The Moms pound umbrella drinks and nibble at nachos smothered in cheese and hot chilies. Nearby speakers blare that one Edie Brickell hit that gets Cheery-Bitter bouncing in her chair.

At first everyone is giddy and the conversation is easy. It is seven p.m. and you are in a bar. Not home navigating baths or bedtime stories or scraping barely touched chicken nuggets into the trash. So giddy that everyone is able to overlook the fact that the Cruise Director chose a place that is subpar to an airport lounge.

You discuss the preschool teachers where you all know each other from. How hard it is to find something to wear that feels remotely flattering. How hard it is to find time to exercise. How hard it is to find time to do anything for yourselves. How lucky you all are that the Cruise Director organized this.

But then that first sheen of excitement wears off and an awkward lull washes over the table. You are missing the social crutch of attending to your children’s constant needs in the confines of the playground or the pre-school hallways. The Cruise Director tries to flag down the waitress for another round. Compara-Mom tells Cheery Bitter that she looks like she’s lost weight. Overly Aerobicized agrees. And then there is more awkwardness.

So the Moms turn to the one subject that comes so easily: husband hatred.

Compara Mom won’t let her husband buy groceries. The Cruise Director can’t trust her husband to take their kids to the playground because he doesn’t provide “appropriate supervision.” Cheery Bitter’s husband always fucks up the laundry and Overly-Aerobicized’s can’t cook.

“He still hasn’t figured out how to put a diaper on!”

“He won’t get up with the kids in the mornings. Not even on Mother’s Day!”

“He thinks cereal is a suitable option for dinner. Sugar cereal!”

“He has no idea what he’s doing!”

Another round of umbrella drinks arrive along with baskets of Buffalo wings and fried mozzarella sticks. One Eagles’ song after another plays, followed by a Randy Newman double shot. The fluorescent lights beat down on as the grievances fly around the table.

“He never even thinks about buying wipes.”

“Oh don’t get me started on wipes.”

“They think the wipes somehow appear mysteriously in the apartment by themselves.”

“He won’t do anything about a routine.”

“He’s let’s the kids watch TV whenever they feel like it.”

It is hard to get a word in edgewise as the outpouring of vitriol grows louder and more vicious. Then Overly-Aerobicized over-shares about sexual problems.

A long silence follows. Finally the Cruise Director comes up with a lighter topic.

“Do you remember right before you gave birth? Those last few days of freedom,” she slurs. “What is your favorite memory from The Before?”

The Moms clamor to share their memories: getting breakfast in bed, foot massages, candlelit dinners.  

You decide to keep yours quiet. The week before your daughter was born, you and some friends went to a strip club in your neighborhood, which has since been shut down and turned into a bagel cafe. It was a no frills dive, a rarity in the city now. A small stage lined the whole of one mirrored wall with the bar directly opposite it. At one point during the long evening, the dancers all gathered around you, placing their hands on your outstretched belly, squealing whenever they felt movement. “Bless this baby,” the women said a few times, in between quietly complaining about the lousy tips they were getting that night.

You don’t feel like these Moms would understand how at that particular moment, right on the edge of motherhood, it was just the boost you so desperately needed. The dancers’ collective excitement at your huge belly was like having your own personal alternative cheerleading squad.

Remembering this right now only widens the chasm you have been feeling all evening. You don’t know these other Moms very well, haven’t gotten past the small talk phase of friendship during late afternoon pick-up, when everyone just wants to get home. You’d been hoping that socializing with them might produce kindred spirits, maybe somewhat of a support network even.  

Instead, after making up an excuse about needing to get back home you leave some money on the table and start gathering your things. When you stand up to leave and push your chair in, the Moms seem to barely even notice your imminent departure. As if you hadn’t really been there in the first place. 

Susan Buttenwieser’s writing has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and appeared in  Women’s Media Center Features and other publications. She teaches writing in New York City public schools and with incarcerated women. This piece is part of a collection that is being developed with the artist/illustrator Sujean Rim.

Photo: Patrick Schöpflin

The Girl From Anthropologie

The Girl From Anthropologie

By Juli Fraga


Like many childhood relationships, my friendship with Abby had simply run its course.


In the first months of new motherhood, meeting new moms came with ease. Our babies served as relationship glue and brought us together for coffee, walks and play dates. Of course, like any relationship some friendships were better matches than others.

Three months after my daughter’s arrival, I met my “match” in the dressing room at Anthropologie. That afternoon, surrounded by the scents of vanilla and lavender in the dimly lit hallway of the dressing area, our babies were natural conversation starters. Their cries echoed through the doors as we tried on the same blue, bird printed T-shirts. “Nice t-shirt,” I said when I saw her emerge from the dressing room. “Ugh, I was hoping to get a few things to wear instead of my sweats, but I don’t love my post-baby body,” she replied. “How old is your baby?” I asked. “She’s three months old. How old is yours?” “She’s three months old, too,” I replied.

Her name was Abby. She told me she had recently moved to the Bay area. Then she noticed that I was feeding my daughter a bottle and asked if I was having problems breastfeeding (I was). She confided in me about her nursing struggles, too. After months of feeling like a failure because my body couldn’t produce enough milk, I felt seen and validated. We exchanged email addresses. She contacted me the next day. The title of her email read, “Girl from Anthropologie.” Her message made my day. As much as I loved my newly born daughter, I felt lonesome. Prior to entering the mom tribe, I led a heavily scheduled, active social life. My husband and I traveled a lot, and I often joined my girlfriends for dinners and concerts after work.

New motherhood hijacked these social plans, and the freedom I had enjoyed with my friends for years. When I became a mother, most of my girlfriends were single and childfree. While they continued going on weekend vacations, happy hours and late night dinners, I spent my days and evenings at home immersed in diaper changes, burping, feeding, and sleep training. Abby’s email offered a breath of new hope — a thread of adult connection that broke up the long stretches of loneliness that accompanied parenting a newborn. We had coffee that week and met weekly for the first year of our daughter’s lives. We went to the park and every Wednesday we met at a café for an early dinner. I learned about Abby’s pre-mommy life, and how she had once been a preschool, director. We talked about how much we missed our careers, and how they had been impacted by the pause button of motherhood. We even survived our first mom crisis together.

One afternoon Abby called me panicked. Her daughter had a high fever and a red rash on the bottom of her feet Our girls had played together the day before. Not only was she worried about her baby’s health, she was also concerned about my daughter. Her daughter had “Hand Foot Mouth” disease, and within two-days, my daughter had it, too. We spent hours on the phone supporting each other as we both dealt with our children’s first fevers and the worry that accompanied it.

Then, shortly after our daughters turned two, she disappeared. Slowly. Looking back, I had missed the signs. It started when she wrote back after every third or fourth email I sent. Her messages were cordial, but not inviting. “Hope you are doing great, too. Can’t believe it is almost fall.” She ignored my invitations for dinner and play dates, and changed her RSVP to “no” for my daughter’s birthday party. “She’s probably busy after her vacation,” I told myself. My denial served as my armor, a Band-Aid for my hurt and confused feelings. Then, one afternoon as I walked down the street with my daughter and my husband, I spotted Abby walking ahead of me. I recognized the butterfly tattoo on her ankle and her silver Birkenstock sandals. “Abby,” I shouted.

She turned around and things felt awkward. She didn’t hug me. She didn’t apologize for her absence. Instead, she looked me up and down and said, “Hi.” My daughter started crying. Abby focused on my daughter’s tears and said she hoped her day improved. I felt foolish for saying hello. Clearly she had broken up with me and didn’t want to talk about what had happened between us. I mentioned we were going out to lunch, and we made small talk about the upcoming holidays. “Where are you going to lunch?” she asked. “I’m not sure yet, ” I replied. “Hope you have a nice holiday and thanks for saying hi,” she said.

Afterward, I felt a knot well up in my stomach. Her rejection stung, and my stomach bore the brunt of my hurt feelings. I could tell our friendship was over. She had asked me where I was going to lunch because she didn’t want to see me at the same restaurant. Even my husband who is usually clueless about female relationships commented on the awkward interaction. “I’m sorry, but I think she’s divorced you,” he said. That was over a year ago.

This past fall, I once again ran into her at the Anthropologie dressing room. I felt like a hurt ex as I tried to act unaffected by the strangeness between us. We made small talk about kindergarten applications. But this time, we were trying on different t-shirts. She tried on a plain colored tee while I tried on a floral printed cardigan. I almost asked her what I had done that  offended her. Had I unintentionally hurt her feelings? Had she outgrown our friendship as our daughters became older? Like a detective trying to find answers, I replayed our last play dates in my mind. Nothing glaring stood out. Her silence communicated that she didn’t want to tell me why our friendship had ended. That afternoon, I was at the cash register when she left the store. She turned to wave and said, “Bye, Juli.”

While I never learned why my friendship with Abby ended, I grew to appreciate our relationship for the joy it provided during my early years of motherhood. And I realized the person I needed to forgive was the one I had neglected the most: myself. I had beaten myself up as I imagined I had deeply hurt Abby. “What did I do?” I had asked myself repeatedly.

One day, I observed my daughter on the playground. I watched closely as she held hands with a little girl as they went down the slide. Their little hands released from each other as soon as their feet hit the ground. They ran in opposite directions, and my daughter began playing with another friend near the seesaw. Studying my daughter’s fun filled play, I realized that like many childhood relationships, my friendship with Abby had simply run its course. She decided to let go, and that afternoon, so did I.

Juli Fraga is a psychologist, writer and mother. Her essays have appeared in the New York Times Motherlode, The Washington Post and the Mid. You can find her on Twitter @dr_fraga. 

10 Thoughts On Being a Mom-Friend

10 Thoughts On Being a Mom-Friend

Friends pic

Friendships can be temporary and still rich and authentic. When it stops working, whatever the reason, give yourself and your (now-fading) friend a break. It’s part of life. Move on – and remember what you gave to each other while it worked.


When I had my first baby, over a decade ago now, I wondered how I’d strike up solid friendships with other new moms.

Looking back now, I realize how lucky I’ve been. Here are some gestures, big and small, that can go a long way toward building a real friendship. 

1. Be honest about the hard stuff. We all benefit from being real about how tough it is to be alone with a baby and find time to just use the bathroom. Don’t gloss over the lowlights.

2. But don’t be toxic. Envy, anger, and endless complaining are easy to fall into but bad for both of you. And besides, little ears are listening. 

3. Make her laugh. And hope she’ll do the same for you. Having someone to laugh with is even more important when you are sleep-deprived and full of self-doubt and generally just finding your way.

4. Listen. Put your phone away. Those snippets of real-life conversations will carry you through the hours when you don’t have adult company.

5. Snap a picture of her with her kid. We can’t have enough candids of ourselves with our kids. Take one when she doesn’t know you’re watching and send it to her. Even better, print it out and stick in an envelope before your next play date. 

6. Share your hand-me-downs. But only if it’s something you don’t need back. No one needs the added stress of trying to keep track of your onesies or get spit-up out of your favorite overalls.

7. Ask about her pre-parenthood life. And tell her about yours. 

8. Keep money in mind. We’re all on a different budget. You might need to realize that pricey lunch spot won’t work for her – or learn to put your own constraints, graciously, on the table. 

9. Remember that it’s not always about you. When she doesn’t return a few texts and you’re feeling left out or forgotten, she may have stuff going on that has nothing to do with you. 

10. Strike a balance when it comes to favors. Be willing to offer help and be able to ask for it. Be generous, but not to the point where you become resentful. Remember that she’s not your built-in babysitter and you’re not hers.

Finally, know that friendships can be temporary and still rich and authentic. When it stops working, whatever the reason, give yourself and your (now-fading) friend a break. It’s part of life. Move on – and remember what you gave to each other while it worked.

Karen Dempsey is a Brain, Child contributing blogger. She has written for the New York Times Motherlode blog, Babble, and Brain, Child. She lives in Massachusetts. Read her work at www.kdempseycreative.com. or follow her on Twitter.