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Keeping Up With The Mommies

When we lived in New York, Maddie and I
went for play dates all across the city thanks to church friends
scattered throughout the five boroughs (and even –gasp- New
Jersey). I loved visiting our friends in their homes and getting a
chance to hang and chat in a controlled environment – no
worrying about a kid running too far away or talking to strangers
or whatever. I also enjoyed simply seeing my friends’ homes
and getting ideas for creative ways to cram more crap into a tiny
space, or new ways to make the house look cool with no cash: in New
York, it’s pretty difficult to make enough money to do the
whole “designer” decorating look, and we all had homes
filled with flea-market finds and hand-me-downs. And as much as I
my friends and I are alike, our homes were all very different.

Since I’ve been in Texas I’ve been going to a playgroup
comprised of pretty much all families in my subdivision. And while
I’ve never been much for the “Keeping Up With the
Joneses” syndrome, I can feel it creeping into my psyche

It’s difficult to keep from
comparing yourself to your friends when your friends all live
within blocks from you, live in houses built by the same people at
the same time as yours, and are all in roughly the same
socio-economic bracket that you are. When you go on two playdates
in a row to two different houses with the same floorplan it’s
hard not to compare, to think about who spent more money on kitchen
upgrades or matching furniture.

I’m not saying the women in my playgroup are materialistic or
obsessed –not at all. I’m saying you can’t help
but compare yourself to them – after all, they’re
variations of you! Kids the same age, husbands in the same tax
bracket, same taste in neighborhoods, same house size – what
else would you do? At most playgroups at least the beginning of the
conversation is peppered with talk about the house – when did
you buy? What did you renovate? Did you do it yourself? What are
your plans? Not nosy, just interested and joined by a common theme.

So I compare myself, and I come up short. My house doesn’t
look like a page from Pottery Barn – far from it. And I
confess that a small part of me is worried about having to host
playgroup at my house, and having my friends discover that the only
furniture in my house that matches are the hand-me-downs from
relatives and the set of bookshelves we got at Ikea. I’m
afraid that when they say, “Where’d you get the
coffeetable?” I won’t have the guts to admit I dragged
it in from a neighbor’s trash pickup one night. Will they
think less of me? Will I be less cool, or even tacky?

And more importantly, why do I care? I don’t mean this
in a “You go girlfriend”, pep-talky kind of way. I ask
the question objectively – why do we care? My neighbors talk
to me on the sidewalk and say, “I noticed when I drove past
your garage that you’ve got a LOT of boxes!” and I
think, Why are you looking in my garage? In New York, there are so
many people on top of each other that you develop protective
blinders, trying to at least give the illusion of private space in
a busy block. But here people look, compare, and talk.

I’ve got it partly figured out, at least from a mommy
point-of-view. Here in this neighborhood we’re alike in so
many ways, and comparison is a way to measure how we’re doing
as a mom and homemaker. When you’re a stay-at-home mom, there
are no reviews, no raises, no conference debriefings to tell you
how you’re doing. So at the park, you discuss your
10-month-old with a total stranger just because she’s got a
12-month-old, and you can see if your kid’s
“fast” or “slow”, just so you know.
And at playgroup, you talk about retiling the bathroom and
organizing the utility room so you can see how you measure up in
your job of keeping the home. Or at least, I do. If I’m on
the same level as all these other families, and I can make a
beautiful home that’s welcoming and gracious, then I’m
doing my job well. It’s something concrete I can point to and
say, “Well done, homemaker! You successfully hosted a group
where the moms admired the backyard you planned and weeded, and the
kids enjoyed the nutritious-yet-delicious snacks you put together!
You must be a professional!”

I’m rambling here, and perhaps not getting my point across.
All I’m saying is that I find myself coveting –
coveting sofas with matching love seats, coveting guest bathrooms
with oil-rubbed bronze fixtures – in a way I absolutely never
did in New York. Part of my still finding my identity here, I know,
part of my worrying I won’t find any good friends here who
will really like me. But I don’t think I’m alone in
this, or I would be the only one at these playgroups having these

So for all those moms out there who feel like you have to
“keep up” with your friends, whether it’s making
homemade baby food like your neighbor or getting a bigger swing set
than your daughter’s friend so you’ll look like you
love your kid more, give it up. Give up the worry, and give up the
comparison, and know that there will never be a way for you to
measure what a good job you’re doing.

Are you perfect? Nope. Good enough? Yep. Want proof? Look how happy
your kid is in the home you’ve created for her. Look at that
healthy toddler, happily crawling across your (mostly) babyproofed
kitchen in total security. And no granite countertops or custom
cabinets are going to make that any better.


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