4.23.2007

Mommygangs of New York

She was pushing her one-year old daughter on the swing next to ours when we started to chat. She looked...perfect. Especially next to me, with my 8 month pregnant belly peeking over the top of cream cheese-streaked Target sweatpants. She had the right shoes. The right sunglasses. The right diaper bag. And a genuinely inviting smile that made all the rest of it unimportant.

We got the standard name/age/oh isn't she cute where did you get her shoes pleasantries out of the way, and then she jumped right to the question it seemed she was eager to ask all along:

"So what playgroup are you in?"

The way she phrased the question was oddly...presumptive. Or maybe this playgroup GDI just didn't understand how it all worked.

Are these groups so organized that they have names now? Are they...mommygangs?

My mind conjures a large pack of surly, scowling--but exceedingly well-dressed--mothers in battle formation, thrusting their Bugaboos and Stokkes over the cobblestones of Dumbo. They toss hand signals at one another and mouth secret passwords (Dwell Crib Bedding! Organic Produce!) while innocent passers-by duck for cover behind the nearest converted artist's loft. Their weapon of choice: Sippy cups filled with acidic, retinal-scalding orange juice. God help the Upper East Side mommygang that ventures onto their turf for brunch at Bubby's and a walk back over the Brooklyn Bridge. There could be quite a few Petunia Picklebottom casualties by the end of it all.

"No," I answered. "No playgroup. I'm not in one."

Her reaction was first one of confusion. No playgroup? But why? How? Why? Then she pressed her lips together into a sad, frozen smile in an unambiguous demonstration of sympathy.

Don’t cry for me, mommyganger, I wanted to say. I have never been one for organized, scheduled socializing (if you couldn’t already tell by my completely unnecessary sarcasm). Sororities held no appeal for me, and Nate and I don't have a set group of couples that we invite over for potluck dinners the first Wednesday of every month.

The first time I even considered signing up for friends was when I was pregnant and brought home one of those pretty fluorescent flyers posted around my neighborhood imploring me to MEET NEW MOMS! SHARE FEELINGS ABOUT MOTHERHOOD! But as the day of the first meeting drew near I came up with 37 excuses not to show up. It was too humid. I was too tired. The Surreal Life marathon was on.

Instead I would settle for making mom friends the traditional way –praying my existing social network would breed.

The truth is, I could have really used some new mom pals back then, ones who transcended the anonymous message board wags (and my nosy neighbors)as a source of information and advice. But I wasn’t ready to join a mommy group.

Because that would mean I was a mommy.

And that was scary.

I've said before that after 30-some-odd years of not preparing for parenthood, nine months hardly seems adequate to reverse the course. And so I avoided developing friendships around shared breastfeeding woes and vaccination ideology. I didn't want to bond with women over sling choices. But above all, I didn't want to be in any situation where I might be known merely as Thalia's mom, stupidly assuming that one description of me would nullify all others.

It seems laughable now, as motherhood has become such an inextricable—and thoroughly enjoyable--part of my identity. But it took a good long time. Longer than the time you get to call yourself a new mom and join a new mom group.

So now in the playground I decided that maybe it wasn’t too late for me. Perhaps this sweet, chatty woman in the $400 sunglasses was a pilates-toned signal from the universe that it was time for me to branch out socially, experience the joys that other women have expressed to me about their amazing playgroups. Certainly there’s something to be said for having friends with whom you never have to apologize for cutting off the conversation mid-sentence while extracting the bottle of Windex from your kid's mouth.

Right then I knew: I wanted to be in a mommygang! I did, I did! What would I have to do to prove my worth? Shoplift soy milk for the group? Brand a rubber duckie into my forearm? Whatever it was, I was sure I could rise to the occasion

That's when she asked where I got Thalia’s great jeans.

"Old Navy," I told her.

She gasped, horrified.

And in that one brief moment, it was clear I failed the initiation.

I was out.

---
This post also appears (albeit proofread) at Time Out NY Kids as part of my weekly Monday column. Find it along with cool stuff to do with your family around NYC, the awesome city where every parent fits in somewhere.


57 Comments:

Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Oh, sister, I so hear you. Been there near that mommygroup, done been repelled from that mommygroup.

There's a damn good reason why we congregate in cyberspace - in cyberspace, no-one can judge your jeans.

4/22/07, 10:15 PM  
Blogger Fidget said...

my playgroup is this gaggle of moms who know each other and some of us have known each other forever or our spouses have known each other.. or someone stumbled in.. It's this weird extended dance remix of women who don't directly talk with each other normally but our kids get along so once a blue moon we crash someone house and set the hellions free... I tried organized mommygangs and I just cant do it.. I'm sorta half assed commited to one right now b/c I agreed to share my personal ordeal with vaccinations but I havent been to any meetings because it interferes with The Price Is Right (or so I tell myself).

4/22/07, 10:16 PM  
Anonymous mrs. Q said...

Wh-wha-what? I can't even imagine uttering those words: "So, what playgroup are you in?" What's the right answer? "Um, the anti-playgroup group"? Or "I'm just the nanny." Thank God I have friends who have decided to breed at the same time we did. Now we just hang out together with our kids. The idea of making friends with someone just so the little man can hang out with some strange kid his own age just seems so weird. And un-fun.

(And Old Navy jeans rock. WTF?)

4/22/07, 10:32 PM  
Blogger Jeannine said...

No way, she gasped? Although I was way skeptical of the whole mommy scene at first, I have met mothers here in Chicago that really are the coolest bunch of broads. Nobody gets hung up on all that "right" label/preschool waiting list/neighborhood crap, and some of them are pretty damn wealthy. It really has been good to be able to vent to women who know what I am talking about with the whole crazy hospital birth/marriage/family/work thing (not that I don't still adore and hang with my not-mom friends). That blows that your neighborhood isn't offering you the same opportunity. Well, if you are ever in Chicago...

4/22/07, 10:41 PM  
Blogger mcewen said...

I wouldn't go as far as to say I was banned from the Mummy group, but sometimes it is better to leave graciously, before someone kicks you out - always best to try and hang on to a shred of dignity, no matter how miniscule.
Cheers

4/22/07, 10:59 PM  
Blogger margalit said...

I almost died when I found out a few weeks ago that people have to PAY to get into local mommygroups. And it's not a few buck, either. The MommyGroup organization that assigns you to a MommyGroup with people that have kids in the same age range as your own charges over $100 bucks for this assignment. And then you get to pay dues to the MommyGroup you're assigned to. WTF?

I'm so glad that when my kids were teeny, all my friends also had babies and toddlers and we didn't need no stinkin' mommygroup.

4/22/07, 11:00 PM  
Anonymous dorothy said...

I don't belong to any playgroups, either, mostly because of the working thing. I just don't feel like sharing my daughter when I'm with her - so selfish I am. And I would totally fail all the tests, because the little angel's pants are not only Old Navy, they're Old Navy clearance.

Shoot me now.

4/22/07, 11:06 PM  
Blogger movin'mom said...

I was approached 15 years ago to be a part of a mommygang. Thank God we move so much...as soon as I ran out of excuses it was time to move on.

I guess I took the cowardly way out.

4/22/07, 11:17 PM  
Blogger Mona said...

I would be interested to know what hazing ritual that woman endured to enter her playgroup.

I'm all for Old Navy and I would have high-fived that answer.

Besides, I bet you could take her.

4/22/07, 11:17 PM  
Blogger mothergoosemouse said...

Urban Baby - oy. Mayberry used to lurk for fun, but I banned those snots from my browser when I found my first OB sliced to ribbons for having the audacity to be put on bedrest.

Old Navy rocks.

4/23/07, 12:07 AM  
Blogger CakeHead said...

I tried two of those playgroup thingees out. I found the only thing most of us had in common was children. The *nice* group were the ones with more money, the snotty group were the one's with none. I fall into neither category and so I spend my time off with my son, just MY son. I love it.

4/23/07, 1:35 AM  
Blogger Awesome Mom said...

I am so glad that my friends have kids so I was able to avoid the whole mommy gang thing. I have heard some interesting stories from my friends that did succumb.

I suppose that woman would be horrified that much of my kid's clothing comes from consignment stores or thrift stores.

4/23/07, 2:07 AM  
Blogger Robin said...

Wow, playgroups sound awfully formal and rigid in the States. Flyers? Payment? My playgroup is just that - a PLAYgroup - a few like-minded moms (English speaking moms who wanted some English speaking friends for their kids) who happened to meet one way or another and thought it would be fun to get together. We take turns meeting at people's houses, there are no formal activities unless a mom feels like it (maybe once every few months). Our (older) kids are mainly 6-7 now and we're still going strong. The kids race around on their own and the mothers sit around drinking coffee, stuffing our faces, and shmoozing. We come from different countries and different backgrounds, but we've found enough common ground that we often get together *gasp* without the children. Our kids are old enough that they don't "need" the playgroup, we fully concede that it's for the moms anyway. And, we swap loads of tips on anything from where to find cheap playclothes to what type of tequila makes the best margaritas, you name it. If we were looking at a potential playgroup mom, you can bet that we'd be rejecting them for being TOO perfect, not not perfect enough! Sheesh. We like our moms with stained pants - they're real.

4/23/07, 2:18 AM  
Blogger Mahlers On Safari said...

I loved the ending! Laughed out loud!

But I hate to break it to you but you do belong to a mommy gang. Actually... you are a major mommy gang figure, Mom-101. You've gone from not wanting to be identified with "mommy" to having a major chunk of who you are professionally being associated with being a mommy. That is a pretty major change. But I think you are doing great!

Keep leading the gang, mommyblogger.

4/23/07, 3:14 AM  
Blogger lola coca-cola said...

Wow, those playgroup-ers seem super hardcore. I go to a couple and they are just like-minded moms (in my case, AP) getting out of the house together at a park so the kids can play and we can all share snacks. That being said, I would not open with "what playgroup do you belong to?" That's just weird. If I ask anything, it's "do you go to a playgroup?" and if she seems like she would like it I tell her about the playgroups that I go to. And for what it's worth, playgroups keep me sane.

4/23/07, 3:25 AM  
Blogger Lady M said...

Hey, I'd join your mommygang.

I have to admit that I haven't shopped for cute clothes for Q in a long time . . . we've been relying on souvenir t-shirts from our relatives' vacations.

4/23/07, 4:47 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

bwhahahaha I can SO relate to this. When I was newly pregnant I registered with the Twins & Multiples Association (thinking that they would be the experts in all things multiple) who then hooked me up with the T&M clubs near to me. It took about 11 minutes for me to realise I was in the wrong place (10 of which were taken up getting the boys out of the car, into their pram, into the hall and out of the pram). Not only I was completely under dressed (who was to know that it was a 'dressy' occasion) but I created a void in the universe by admitting that I had only breastfed for 6 weeks and used disposable nappies! Thank god the boys were old enough to feel the pity emanating from the holier than thou clan!

A

4/23/07, 5:14 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

erm I meant weren't old enough of course (sheepish grin)

A

4/23/07, 5:20 AM  
Anonymous madge said...

Ha! That nutjob would have LOVED the answer given by the women in my old moms' group, "The jeans? Oh, I don't know, they're hand-me-downs."

I think she might have keeled over and died.

4/23/07, 7:04 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Yikes, who knew Mommygangs of New York were so exclusive?

There are lots of groups here, but most of them are very territorial (I got turned down from a Moms Club because we didn't live in the suburb school district...seriously.), or they're carefully designed to not let working moms in.

Luckily, we have a good group here in virtual land, and that helps a little bit. I'd love to have local moms to hang with, but I haven't met many I like.

And Cordy wears Old Navy and Gymboree, but most of it is clearance or second-hand from thrift stores. The woman would have had a stroke if I told her that.

4/23/07, 7:41 AM  
Anonymous Amy said...

Posts like this make me glad I live in Indiana and not NYC - where it's perfectly normal (if not completely appropriate) to show up to a playgroup in your jammies.

4/23/07, 8:06 AM  
Anonymous Jon said...

just say no...

...to playgroups.

- Jon
- Daddy Detective
- www.daddydetective.com

4/23/07, 8:08 AM  
Blogger kgirl said...

Wow, that's a freakin lot of pressure (and money) just to hang with some other moms.

Come hang with us. We're slightly dishevelled and we don't drive the fancy strollers, but somebody always bakes cookies, and there's a starbucks on the corner.

4/23/07, 8:28 AM  
Blogger slouching mom said...

"Don't cry for me, mommyganger."

I LOVE THIS LINE!

And Old Navy is the source of practically every scrap of my boys' clothing.

So there, mommygangers! Are you recoiling in horror?

4/23/07, 8:49 AM  
Blogger Tracey said...

Dude, I love our Chicagoland playgroup (yes, I joined one online so that I could pick and choose who I got to hang out with and where!) We are all about hand me downs, nursing, bottle feeding, cloth diapers, disposables etc. Do what you gotta do to get that kid to adulthood.

4/23/07, 9:21 AM  
Blogger Girl con Queso said...

Brilliant.

4/23/07, 9:52 AM  
Anonymous Cynthia Samuels said...

FIRST of all, I'm with Mahler's on Safari (14 down). You are WAY past not being part of a playgroup. We're in the ultimate gathering here at Mom-101 and we love it -- and its hostessa -- to pieces.
Secondly - in the things never change department -- I lived for 20 years in a big building on the Upper West Side. My kids grew up there, learned to ride their bikes in the courtyard etc. But thrity years ago (God how can that be?) when I wanted to hook my older son up with the toddler group in the building, they wouldn't let him come. Why? Because I worked and he would therefore be coming with a nanny instead of me. I'm still pissed. Some things never change and it's sad because they really need to.
One of the listservs I'm on is now fighting over whether it's correct or POLITICALLY correct to endorse the choices of moms who stay home. As if they have the right to decide what's best for another family. Not exactly solidarity. So mommygangs and politigangs (this from a fierce feminist who kept her name and always worked, btw) are both dangerous. That makes the way we gather here even more precious.

4/23/07, 10:21 AM  
Blogger Stie said...

I also hate the playgroup thing.
Love your writing (as always). Your posts are like stories that I don't want to end. When can we expect that novel of yours?

4/23/07, 10:56 AM  
Blogger Kendra said...

I have to tell you that your post made me feel just a little better about my own, similar situation. Although I have a slightly different view on playgroups. I would LOVE for my daughter to be a part of one. However, we know virtually NO ONE in our town and when I ventured out to a Mommy and Me sponsored group I was treated like an outcast. They would talk about their playgroups right in front of me and would NEVER invite us. I felt like the geek in middle school again. I am so glad that other moms are not involved in playgroups because it makes me feel like I am not holding my daughter back. Plus, your posting gave me a good chuckle!

VBACadventure

4/23/07, 11:11 AM  
Anonymous dana said...

What a great post! I felt like you were speaking for all moms who aren't part of the playgroup cliques.

Because I work outside of the home, the SAHM's in my neighborhood exclude me from their weekend playgroups. I don't know why, really. But it kind of sucks!

4/23/07, 11:24 AM  
Blogger Lawyer Mama said...

Egads. I love Old Navy, so take that Mommyganger!

4/23/07, 1:26 PM  
Blogger Patois said...

I so very love your images of mommygangs! I returned to work within three months of my children's births, so I could never manage belonging to one of them. Since I quit work last summer, I've been at places with my youngest where such playgroups are happening. (We just happen to be at the park or wherever at the same time. I am not stalking the groups.) I get the feeling they all look at me and my youngest with that horrified "Old Navy" look. And I feel mighty pleased, as I'm sure you do, too.

4/23/07, 1:56 PM  
Blogger BOSSY said...

"'Old Navy,' I told her.
She gasped, horrified."

Bossy would gasp horrified too - but that's just because she'd be upset she didn't buy them first!

4/23/07, 1:57 PM  
Blogger modmom said...

i thought i was the only one!

pssst…. i just posted a mother’s day contest
for an outfit with shoes.
please come over + enter

4/23/07, 2:21 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Chicky said...

Any mommygang that wouldn't accept someone who dressed their kids in Old Navy is not a gang I would want to be a part of.

I attend a playgroup and after a year and a half of attending it every week I've grown weary of the politics. I think it's time to let go. Hold me.

4/23/07, 3:12 PM  
Blogger GIRL'S GONE CHILD said...

But seriously, Liz, who wants to bite the curb and get kicked in the face with shoes that cost $39? Heh.

We have gangs here, too, which is why I started my own. And, two years later: I have one member.

Getting jumped for a mom gang is WAAAAY worse than dating, me thinks. Then again, sex makes everything easier. Maybe if mommies were sleeping with one another we would be less uptight?

4/23/07, 4:06 PM  
Anonymous Lisse said...

Hey listen, toddlerhood is way too young for clique training. I'm not kidding, you'd be amazed at how exclusive preschoolers can be.

4/23/07, 5:42 PM  
Blogger Jaelithe said...

Ah, if only we scattered playgroupless blogging souls lived closer together, we could start our own Mommygang for mommy misfits. I love Old Navy jeans. The majority of clothing my son owns that did not come from Old Navy came from TARGET.

Or the second-hand store.

Here in the Midwest, the vast majority of of playgroups are church-based. And not just church-based, which I could live with, but evangelical, which I can't. "Today's playgroup activity: making cross-shaped cookies with blood red frosting to remember the sacred sacrifice of Our Lord. What? You mean you aren't you ready to accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior? No playgroup for you. May God occasionally allow a cool breeze to visit your poor child's soul when it's burning in hell, Amen."

The few playgroups around here that are not church-based generally charge monthly membership fees. (You mean I have to PAY you to be my friend?)

4/23/07, 6:11 PM  
Blogger carrie said...

Eeeeeek! Jeans from Old Navy! Run ladies, run.

I don't think I'd fit in either.

Carrie

4/23/07, 6:41 PM  
Blogger J at www.jellyjules.com said...

I honestly never knew there were organized groups of women who got together with specific topics to discuss...personally, having a baby is time consuming enough..what I want in a group of friends is to be able to talk about something ELSE for a change. Not that it actually happens that often...we are all obsessed with our own kids, I'm sorry to say, but the idea is there, and I need to know that if I want to talk about Lost or Madame Bovery or what color to paint the hallway, there's someone listening. Not judging, just listening. I guess I'm not a mommyganger, either.

4/23/07, 6:45 PM  
Blogger Oh, The Joys said...

Soon there will be waiting lists and applications for the mommy gangs. We'll all be trying to get into the "best" one, we'll be paying stiff fees...

4/23/07, 8:29 PM  
Blogger Erica said...

Bahaaahaha. That was a hilarious description! I would be totally screwed, as I am sure Wal-Mart jeans would probably cause the mommygangers to gasp and piss their $350 jeans.

4/23/07, 9:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mommygangs of Austin are equally dangerous....beware!

They get really into local politics and if you disagree it gets very ugly very quickly. Old Navy jeans are perfectly acceptable, though. So long as they don't hurt the Edwards Aquifer....

4/23/07, 11:47 PM  
Anonymous wordgirl said...

Thank Jebus that we're way past that stage. I thought Old Navy was just fine. Guess that makes me tragically unhip as well. Hey...maybe that's enough of a foundation for us to make our own mommmygang.

4/24/07, 12:07 AM  
Blogger Suzanne said...

Farcically, I've lately been writing for a local glossy magazine that is targeted at your new friend. I recommended that they contact you, as they are looking for a New York mom who blogs to contribute something. If they haven't already done so, I am going to get on it, because they need you. Oh yes.

4/24/07, 12:58 AM  
Blogger ~Kat~ said...

Holy crap can I relate to THIS only these "gangs" are the suburban, sea-side dwelling, "Kennedy-wife-esque" kind who not only eyeball my tattoos and the fact that I PLAY with my kid while at the playground but they also call me his NANNY!!!! AHHHH.

4/24/07, 7:46 AM  
Blogger PunditMom said...

Well, it's clear to me what needs to happen next -- the Old Navy mom gang! Trust me, I've been part of that one for years! Imagine if you added Target to the list -- she would have run off screaming!

4/24/07, 10:12 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

Man, do I agree! No mommyganger here or former sorority girl. Been solo my whole life. I truly hate cliques and much prefer the friendships I make with all different sorts of people.

I love the gasp at the end of the post. Funny ending. So NY. :)

4/24/07, 12:44 PM  
Blogger TX Runner Girl said...

The closest we've come to a playgroup is going to gymboree. For the most part, I like it. There's a nice mix of kids wearing Target, Old Navy...and Dolce and Gabbana and Juicy Couture. Sad, but I didn't even know D&G made kids clothes. :-) Umm yeah, I'm not spending $194 on D&G mary janes for my 2 year old.

4/25/07, 9:52 AM  
Blogger Mrs. J said...

Loved this post! A good reminder as to why I choose to fly solo with my brood. Even up here in the sticks of Dutchess Co., the playgroups are divided by transplants (from the Mommy Gangs of New York) and God-fearing townies (Godblessem).

It seems like, in the context you mentioned, "What playgroup are you in?" is not much unlike asking a stranger "What do you do for a living?" or even better (and by that I mean worse), "What does your husband do for a living?" Or, eff it, let me be honest: "How much money y'all make?"

They're sizing you up as they ask the question and that sucks. Like many things about mommyhood, no one ever warned us that the Playgroup Scene was middle school: the remix.

That said, moms do need camaraderie from other people who are going through the same things. I'd do mommy group stuff if I actually enjoyed the people. I want to say there should be a match.com for moms, but anybody who'd actually use it isn't anyone I'd want to know, you know?

Anyway, so happy to have found you through TONY; I love your voice and am honored to be neighbors on the table of contents. :) Good luck with everything!

mbj

4/25/07, 10:10 AM  
Blogger Suburban Hostage said...

Can you imagine if you had said thrift store? She would have called DFACs on your ass!

4/26/07, 10:19 AM  
Blogger Suburban Turmoil said...

This is brilliant! I definitely head up a mommygang. I kicked all the bitches out of my first playgroup and now jealously guard the membership of my current group to keep things nice and noncompetitive.
Find a couple of likeminded friends and start one of your own.

4/26/07, 1:23 PM  
Blogger Mama Luxe said...

PLEASE tell me you took at least a little artistic license with the ending. Please? And here I was looking forward to moving back to the area. Hopefully it will not be quite as bad outside the city.

4/27/07, 12:11 AM  
Blogger Damselfly said...

Geez. I feel so unfit. What would mommygangers say if they knew my baby wears second-hand jeans from eBay?!

4/27/07, 4:17 PM  
Blogger Moondance said...

This whole playgroup thing is strange to me, but this woman's question is just coming from the stratosphere. It's like asking "Which sorority are you in?" or "Do you go to the Hamptons or the Vineyard?"

Of course, for me, it's "the backyard."

4/28/07, 1:06 AM  
Blogger Staci Schoff said...

"signing up for friends" --- Bwahaha!

With my first baby I tried that Gymboree, Kindermusik, playgroup crap -- and what I learned is that just because someone has kids (given that like 85% of women my age do), doesn't mean I have a fucking thing in common with them...

Unless I want to talk about baby poop -- and if I'm getting out of the house to socialize, I'd really rather not, thanks!

4/28/07, 2:22 PM  
Anonymous Elizabeth said...

You should have replied "oh, I'm in the most influential playgroup in the country, it's called Mommybloggers. What? You haven't heard of it? Well, it's VERY exclusive." Hee hee!

I am getting so excited for you! And I just noticed you've got the BlogHer conference badge on your sidebar, which means you're coming with a teeny baby in a sling, who I will be fussing ALL OVER, if that's okay with you!

5/1/07, 10:01 PM  

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