Home Culture

I’ve been suddenly thrown into momland and am a bit unprepared.

When I lived in the city, I would walk to the supermarket and bump into all sorts of people who didn’t necessarily have stretch marks and slings. There were students and freelancers and store workers and dancers. Often the dads had shifted their schedule to do the playground thing a few times a week.

In my new, very traditional town, the men go off to war leaving the women and children and old people behind.

Between towns, there’s a lot of variation of this mom culture. Working class, Irish/Italian-Americans reside in my Bighaired Town. They take their many children to St. John’s on Sundays. The little girls in pink with large bows affixed to the tops of their heads. The boys with their hair shaved short and large white sneakers. After church, the dads watch football wearing team sweatshirts.

I don’t have a lot in common with the other mothers who wait with their kids for the bus in the morning. But they’re good people, and I get them.

I don’t get the mothers at Ian’s preschool. Ian goes to preschool two towns away. There is some serious money out there. Mansions and horse ranches. This is where Nixon retired after his disgrace.

One mom confided in me that she lost 3 million in the stock market last year, but that didn’t seem to break them. In fact, they are in the process of building a new, better home.

They come dressed to pick up the kids in three inch heels and forty minute hair. I’m not quite sure if they expect to see Brad Pitt at the pre-school or not. Hint: he’s not there. Who puts on lipstick to pick up a two year from school? Nobody sees you. House to car to school to car to house. Why bother? Then there’s me with a black t-shirt, ripped jeans, and clunky shoes.

I’m not blending very well yet in my Big Haired Town or the Loaded Town. And the cloistered mom thing is stifling. I think I’m going to look at the Chronicle for Higher Education’s job page.

20 thoughts on “Home Culture

  1. Personally, I usually realize there are stains on my shirt *after* I go to the store/coffee place/etc. My grooming extends to remembering (usually) to brush my hair.

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  2. Since I’ve been working at universities (in Mississippi and now Arkansas), we’ve always had at least some contact with people in our niche wherever we’ve been, but that contact has rarely satisfied our “blending” needs. That’s partly why I blog. For Melissa, it’s been a struggle, but she talks a lot via e-mail with old friends, and over time she’s found people that she can blend with locally: at the library, in book groups (she finally got one going at our church), and elsewhere. Big Haired Towns have been a struggle for us, but I suspect that if my jobs had taken us to, say, Connecticut rather than the South (which very nearly happened), and we’d both ended up working to afford rent and day care and commute costs and all the rest, we probably would have found such Loaded Towns to be just as difficult for us to personally adjust to, maybe even more so.

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  3. I now live in the burbs of San Fran – East Bay. 4 years ago I was a New Yorker. I think many of us find oursleves in places we didn’t expect doing things we didn’t expect. I even joined a mothers club so my kid could have a playgroup. I care less than I ever have about what people think – I tend to have aquaintances rather than the intense friendships of yesteryear though I do keep up with a few old friends. I like where I am at cause it’s pretty and easy for the kids. Yet my hubbie hates the commute and we will probably be back in the city as soon as he can afford it.The beauty of being a mom is that there are so many ways to get there. I love hipmamma and all the cool mamas out there showing us that you can still be an individual. I also can’t imagine the hairdos and lipstick as I live in the land of tennis shoes and suv’s (I don;t have one)Take heart – you will find your own way.

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  4. I’m sure there are some kindred spirits around you somewhere. You’ve just got to find them. I know it sounds stupid, but you may want to do some PTA/volunteer type stuff to get to know a few people.
    Or check out if there are bloggers in your area?

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  5. “I know it sounds stupid, but you may want to do some PTA/volunteer type stuff to get to know a few people.”
    It works; that’s how Melissa became friends with all the local librarians.

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  6. I feel the same way. I go out to the bus stop and the only person I really connect with is the 55 year old democrat (only one besides me on the street) who is seeing off her last (accident) daughter. The other two women who are usually out there work, but part time. I don’t blend well at all. I also was in the land of 3 million dollar stock losses for a while at my son’s elementary school. I was always the most underdressed person at pta. Like Lisa said, I tend to have acquaintances now, not close friends. We’ve moved too much. I’m not sure how I feel about that–if I long for the close friends again, or if I’m satisfied with the way things are now. I suspect that the women I see at the bus stop don’t blend well either. They seem to me like their just getting by. Maybe this is just the way things are in our postmodern world.

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  7. Sometimes I wonder how easy it is even to have intense friendships once you’re out of, say, your 20s. It just seems to get harder and harder to make friends at all, the older you get.
    Not that this really addresses your specific cultural dislocation. I lived in a town with the loaded moms for a year, and because I was teaching, I had weird (=not 9 to 5) hours and would occasionally do things like go to lunch at a local diner or go shopping at 11 in the morning. It was the land of ladies who lunched and shopped because that was what they did. (Sometimes they had kids in tow with all the requisite accessories. I sat next to a booth of 4 women with tiny babies once and 3 of their 4 babies were named Jacob.) It was very strange. I was glad I at least had the university world where things made sense to me, even if I had absolutely no friends there either.
    Good luck with the Chronicle…

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  8. Maybe the answer is to quit being condescending and look for commonalities. Why do you take your children two towns away for day care. Is it because you would prefer your children be around rich people? Is your repulsion of their values actually a question about your own values because you realize you are alot more like them then the poor people you look down on?

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  9. Uh, Dan, I send my kid to pre-school two towns away, because he’s only two, and this was the only program available for two year olds in the area.
    Thanks guys for the helpful suggestions for meeting others. I surfed around last night and found an art school where I can take some classes.
    Russell, I think that providing community services is one thing that the Mormon church does extremely well.

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  10. Nobody sees you when you pick up the kids from preschool–EXCEPT the other loaded moms, the yummy mummies someone called them. You have to look good for your peers! (You, darling, are not one of them.)

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  11. Um, Laura, a dirty little secret: the famous Mormon network only works if you fit. For me, the Mormonness just adds another layer of complexity to my attempts to make community: being a liberalish Mormon makes me seem freakishly conservative to the parents at the Waldorf school my kids attend, while being liberal, a little too educated and ambitious, and having my kids at a Waldorf school makes me seem weird and even frightening to the other Mormon moms in my area.
    Bottom line is that mothering can be a lonely business, especially if it takes you out of the workplace for any extended period of time. Even the big hair and the heels can be just camouflage adopted by lonely people trying to fit in; somehow it reminds me of high school. Nobody really feels completely content with her situation, and so a great deal of energy is expended trying to exude the aura of success–looking good and confident becomes the whole game. Scruffy moms have their own dress code and prescription behavior–we go to the library, not the mall, Whole Foods, not Starbucks. Maybe one’s 20s are really the only time one escapes that surface world and really connects on some philosophical level–academics can postpone re-entry for a while, but parenting sucks the rest of us right back into teenage angstiness.
    Yikes–I’m scaring myself!

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  12. It’s funny, Kristine. The word “high school” came to my mind as well, but in a different way.
    When you’re in the world of work, you immediately have things in common with your co-workers. You talk the same language, have the same interests, and probably even the same politics. When you’re thrust into the mom world, you don’t have much in common with the other women other than the kids. Without work or city friends out here, I’m coming in contact with people I haven’t encountered since high school. Hey, maybe that’s a good thing. It’s probably not healthy to only talk to people who know about Eugene Maleska and Dan Zanes.
    And despite my disdain about the primping, I wasn’t really scorning the rich moms. They’ve been very nice to me so far. I’m just curious about them. How do they have the time to do all that primping with four kids? Are they meeting others for tea after the pre-school pickup? There must be nannies and maids involved, but I’m not sure.

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  13. Laura, I’m an academic who moved my family from one coast to the other last year for a promotion at “very very very elite” college. I’m empathizing with your dilema. The culture shock hit us like a brick wall!
    West coast living was urban, laid back, open minded, and a great fit for us. East coast living is in a very small college town with a giant gap between the ubber wealthy and the poorest of the poor. My neighbors on one side could lose three mil with no problem, the neighbors on the other side couldn’t handle loosing three dollars. Our biggest struggle is over the fact that we’ve never experienced an environment with such strong class lines and it’s a daily struggle not to be pulled into making judgements about both extremes.
    Amazingly, we’ve found some good friends and that has helped us cope. To be honest, we just got lucky finding them. But admittidly, they are new to the community as well and are near our age with kids the same age as ours. Our only other saving grace is that we live in a very strong blue state…yes, just call us the liberal elite. We’ve all seemed to bond over the disheartening results of the election. And thankfully, our state is progressive enough to support human rights with regard to gay marriage.
    All that said, I have to tell you that this community is growing on me. It’s not ever a place I expected us to live as a family, but there are definitely advantages to living in a place where you don’t ever need to lock your doors!
    -Robin

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  14. Laura, I’m an academic who moved my family from one coast to the other last year for a promotion at “very very very elite” college. I’m empathizing with your dilema. The culture shock hit us like a brick wall!
    West coast living was urban, laid back, open minded, and a great fit for us. East coast living is in a very small college town with a giant gap between the ubber wealthy and the poorest of the poor. My neighbors on one side could lose three mil with no problem, the neighbors on the other side couldn’t handle loosing three dollars. Our biggest struggle is over the fact that we’ve never experienced an environment with such strong class lines and it’s a daily struggle not to be pulled into making judgements about both extremes.
    Amazingly, we’ve found some good friends and that has helped us cope. To be honest, we just got lucky finding them. But admittidly, they are new to the community as well and are near our age with kids the same age as ours. Our only other saving grace is that we live in a very strong blue state…yes, just call us the liberal elite. We’ve all seemed to bond over the disheartening results of the election. And thankfully, our state is progressive enough to support human rights with regard to gay marriage.
    All that said, I have to tell you that this community is growing on me. It’s not ever a place I expected us to live as a family, but there are definitely advantages to living in a place where you don’t ever need to lock your doors!
    -Robin

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  15. This is such an interesting conversation, but also so typically female. I can’t imagine my husband or the men I’ve worked with spending this much time questioning why people dress the way they do or act the way they do. While I understand the problems of patriarchy, I also marvel at the egalitarian nature of many men’s lives. They seem less baffled by how to bridge gaps.
    Do men struggle this much to fit in? Do they worry about it as much? Maybe it’s the isolation of motherhood–although when you think about it, we are dealing with people all day long as mothers, probably more then some working people–or maybe it’s something more.

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  16. No, its not just a womens’ thing, at least for me (a man). Certainly being a housemom is a big factor while you’re doing it (don’t worry, it doesn’t cause permanent mental damage!) But I suspect like a previous poster that after a certain age really close friends are hard to find. Beyond that, suburban life is structurally dysfunctional, particularly in terms of the housing-based aparteid system (economic as well as racial). I’m lucky enough to love my hubbie’s company (that’s a nice nongendered word another poster used!) so I feel less lonely than I might, but I do feel disconnected in my eastern, MA suburb (one hour outside Boston).
    Earlier, we lived in Western MA, in a much smaller and recently rural town, which was far better than the suburbia of the last ten years (job-marked-induced). There, lots of exubanites could be found, and (in W. MA anyway) a lot of non-mainstream types, so connections were more plentiful and satisfying, for me at any rate.
    High Suburbia is a truly bizarre social construct—and it and the growthing wealth gap it signifies have pretty much removed the Levittown, lower-middle working class suburbs like the one I grew up in, where stoop culture persisted even though everyone had a detached dwelling. Now these areas are more slum-like, and falling out of the support of the mortgage system.
    I know that I’m near the top of the heap, globally speaking, in our ~300K home, but I find I can’t take seriously people who have plunked down $750K for one of the monster homes in one of the swankier subdivisions springing up on the groaning ex-cow pastures. I know this is, technically speaking, narrow of me, but I have to question what is being established through that kind of living. Even though, from the perspective of 99%+ of the rest of the world, the same strictures might be applied to me. I guess I collaborate but still react to the more amplified symbols of that collaboration.
    You’re already thinking along the lines of the advice I’d give you—you have to network institutionally to find the other mental refuges in your area. Join a local orchestra if you play an instrument and you’ll find the musicians, hook up somehow with some kind of academic manifestation, etc.

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  17. Home Loans: Home Loans Catch Up To Consumers

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