I'm a crunchy person up to a point. I trek to the farmers' market every weekend to fill up my recycled-plastic shopping bags with avocados and organic strawberries, but I've never made my own reusable fabric toilet paper squares.
When my daughter was born, I decided I'd be the kind of mother who emphasized bonding and nurturing touch over schedules and order. I pored over attachment parenting manuals and message boards and then I set out to find like-minded mom friends. You know, the kind of ladies who knew the virtues of calendula.
I sprung for a six-week session of holistic infant care classes. The instructor, a soft-spoken doula, ranked among the hippiest hippies I have ever known, and that's saying something, since I spent two years living in a Berkeley cooperative. In her ankle-length broomstick skirt, the doula purred out instructions on infant massage and optimal co-sleeping arrangements to a small klatch of mothers and their newborns. It was a relief to find women with whom I could trade tips on swaddling and adjusting our ring slings. The mothers and I got along so well that a few of us continued to gather in a park every week after the class ended. Throughout the spring, we took over sunny park lawns and let our exclusively breastfed babies dine al fresco.
Within that pacific collective of mothers, I met a woman I'll call Milo Flynne's Mom, a woman who seemed to have lost her name the day she hypnobirthed her son. Her outgoing voicemail message chirped, "You've reached Milo Flynne's Mom and I'm busy attachment parenting, baby-wearing and breastfeeding my freedom fighter of a baby right now! Please leave a message!" We were probably never going to be friends.
By the time Milo Flynne's Mom became convinced her craniosacral therapist could cure colic by adjusting the tides of Milo Flynne's cerebrospinal fluid, I was cluing in to the fact that I might be even less crunchy than I thought. It's not that I didn't value the burgeoning bond between my daughter and me, but I couldn't quite get behind Milo Flynne's Mom's sense of superiority. None of the other moms were as smarmy as her, but I was on the far right of the group. If Milo Flynne's Mom was cultivating a community herb garden in Vermont, then I was a Texan with a concealed weapon permit.
Milo Flynne's Mom and I did a good job of muffling our mutual disdain, but as our children grew, so did our differences. I tried to cloth diaper my daughter, but found that all that sorting, soaking, hosing and fluffing was getting in the way of my Words With Friends habit, one of the few vestiges of my pre-maternal life that I'd been able to maintain. Milo Flynne's Mom ostensibly forgave me my disposable diapers, but when changing her son near me, she'd coo to Milo Flynne, "Cloth diapers are sooooo much easier than people realize, you lucky fluffy-bottomed boy!"
When the time came to introduce my daughter to solid foods, I did some research and decided on a moderately-priced brand of jarred organic baby food that I could order in bulk online, and I planned to mash up soft fruits and veggies for her when they were available. In contrast, Milo Flynne's Mom founded a homemade, organic, non-GMO, gourmet-baby-food-making school out of her apartment. While I admired her opportunism in charging clueless new parents $60 to learn how to push the "puree" button on their blenders, I hated that she couched it in judgment of "lazy" parents who would just pop the lid of a "junk food" jar, lazy parents like me.
During a summer meeting of our group, I whipped out a canister of store-brand cheesy poofs for babies, perhaps the most delicious snack food on the planet for parent and child alike. I have no idea what's in those things aside from cheese powder and awesomeness, but they're the most exquisite "sometimes food" created since Cookie Monster started eating veggies. While offering my cheese-coated fingers to my daughter to gum, I noticed Milo Flynne's Mom staring at us and pooping an organic brick. She fished a reusable snack bag from her Fair Trade, hand-woven satchel, removed some slimy green film and then offered, "Baked kale?"
At the end of summer, I went back to my teaching job and made the difficult transition into being a working mother. I continued to meet the crunchy moms on the lawn most weeks, sometimes rushing to the park straight from picking my daughter up from daycare. One crisp afternoon, I dashed up with my baby tucked under my arm like a football and unfurled my blanket just a few minutes before the end of the gathering, desperate for a little face-time with other moms. I hugged my baby in close, trying to ignore that she smelled of the treacly perfume of her daycare teacher. I listened to the mothers chat about working, about their worries for finding childcare and being apart from their babies. At that Milo Flynne's Mom stared right at me and said, "I'd miss working too, but could never leave my baby with strangers."
After months of eye-rolling and groaning at Milo Flynne's Mom, I finally just packed my baby up and left. In hindsight, maybe it was a coincidence that she looked towards me when she said that, but I didn't give her the benefit of the doubt. I was as defensive as Milo Flynne's Mom was devout. Maybe I shouldn't blame her. After a woman has a baby, she is broken down, hazed and then rebuilt in the form of a mother. We were all thin-skinned, sometimes sanctimonious and desperately insecure. Then again, she was especially annoying and that lawn was probably covered in pesticides.
This essay originally appeared on Salon.
Follow JJ Keith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jj_keith