The Secret Society

I went out with another mother today. This is what happens when you become one; you hang out with other ones, even if you don't know them very well, even if you have nothing in common. This is not completely the case with E. Our husbands are acquaintances because they work in the same racket, and we used to run into each other in dark smoky bars half snookered (or all snookered, depending) before both of us ended up "in the family way." Now, even though what we have in common is obvious fertility, a hazy meeting or two, and new babies, we're pals.

I'm probably not the "chummiest" of people. I know this--I think of it as an asset really. So I often find arbitrary community-building a little off-putting, even though I really like this woman, and think she has an adorable baby who reminds me nothing of my own. But here we are, two intelligent people who used to have separate lives outside motherliness, now finding ourselves *smacko* in the same life.

She is a much chummier person than I am. She's easy-going, loves to shop, likes to meander, even loves to talk on the phone. I always feel like Quasimodo when she calls me up enthusiastic and peppy, and I grunt, "Huh. Uh...yea. Okay. Coffee first. Then talking." When we meet, she's so darned happy about being her daughter's mother, and is so darned conscientious (cloth-diaper-havin'-co-sleepin'-shiny-non-polluting mom) I feel even more like a bitter, washed-out ex-booze-hound harridan than usual.

Today we met for the obligatory cup of java, and then went to The Mall. Initially, she was only going there to pick up a DVD that was waiting for her, and then we were going to hunt the elusive consignment bargain elsewhere. However, as is the way with tots, they had other ideas: mine wouldn't sleep, and hers was as fussy as a diva with no Evian bidet in the dressing room. The weather was shite, so rather than brave the elements with two non-compliant tiddlers, the mall was where we stayed.

First we went to the bargain chalet Marshall's, where Athena, Huntress of the Discount Rack found thousands of cheap, adorable outfits for both her daughter and for the bun (which I sneakily kept putting back on the racks). Then we cruised through the seconds toy aisle, where I felt much more at home among the half-chewed, dusty, rejected toys. I bought a pig.

By this time it was clear that the babes were going to remain uncooperative in our quest to be sociable in public. I figured we should just cash it in and go home. But she's very crafty in the mothering department, and held an ace up her sleeve. Off we went, babies red-eyed and bummed out, us whizzing through that most hallowed but profane of churches with our tricked-out strollers. We raced through a department store, reaching our destination. "Turn to the right," she said.

There, tucked next to the regular bathrooms in a nice department store, opened up a special room: The Mother's Lounge. Two cushy seats awaited our weary bums. Two well-appointed diaper stations awaited our weary buns. There was a sink just for us. Elena flicked off the overhead fluorescents like a pro as we walked in and were bathed in mood lighting for a soothing experience. The gentle pop music that was piped in was neither offensive nor loud. I almost heard cherubs sing in the drop-ceiling panels.

I had no idea such a beast existed. In my utter obliviousness to all things maternal, I probably walked by this room thousands of times in thousands of places with nary a second glance. Sure, I've seen a changing table or two in a couple of bathrooms in my life, usually in airports where harried mothers desperately try to keep their precious and cranky babes from getting staph infections before they fly on to O'Hare. But this, this was like a holy city, a glowing citadel of peace and serenity, the Bodhi tree of the mall.

We sat there, breast-feeding, shooting the shit, rocking the babies, reminiscing about life pre-bun. Women, sans children, would poke their heads in searching for the loo and flee. It was as though they looked through a portal to an alternate dimension and feared what they glimpsed there, familiar yet strange. This was Through the Looking Glass.

We sat there through two breast-feedings and a couple of crying jags, two naps, and another unsuccessful social interaction between the tiddlers (my bun screeching in glee, her daugher screeching in fear). We sat there so long that when her husband called her up, and she said, "We're here in the lounge," she looked at me and explained that he had reached her there quite often. "I'm here all the time," she said. "I meet other mothers and we blab about nursing. Or whatever." She looked at the clock on her phone. "You have to be careful here. Time has no meaning, and all of the sudden you realize you've been here two hours."

I said, "The only thing missing is a bar. I could really use a mojito."

So there we were, not at home, but not in public. It was like the white room in 2001: A Space Odyssey, a special way-station just for us, a little place of respite for the mothers who are characteristically overlooked and ignored by the younger, hipper, more glamorous parts of society. There, as a special reward for our second-class citizenship and our love handles, our rapidly increasing wrinkles and our frequent public humiliation as we bare our sprinkler busts for all to see, there we could kick up our heels, have a little kaffee klatch, show our war wounds, leave the strollers in the way and let the babies cry their hearts out without indignant stares and rolling eyes.

I may not be chummy, but I'm glad to know this other mother who has navigated the by-ways of maternal perks with pride. Sure, it ain't much more than a windowless basement room with crappy wallpaper and the smell of disinfectant, but it's a little patch of heaven. And that's well worth friendship to me, if I have someone to go share it with.