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              Alyssa Shelasky

              It's Personal

              Messy Mom Seeking Same for Wholehearted, Imperfect Parenting Camaraderie

              Author of the upcoming This Might Be Too Personal and editor of the beloved NY Mag "Sex Diaries" column, Alyssa Shelasky, on finding those elusive mom friends.

              Written By
              Alyssa Shelasky

              My daughter is doing just fine at first grade, but I almost failed her Read-A-Thon.

              This endeavor entailed timing your kids’ at-home reading hours, logging in and tracking it online every night, then asking friends and family to donate money based on the cumulative hours read, with proceeds supporting the kid’s public school. The Read-a-thon lasts for several weeks, and it’s a great idea. I’m not knocking it. It’s highly-motivating for the students. And the money goes to a good cause!

              However.

              The Read-a-thon also transpired during a month where my partner was traveling nonstop, and I was recording the audiobook version of my new memoir, This Might Be Too Personal (which was a million times harder than I realized, and ideally required some practice the night before—as in, practice reading my stuff, not Mo Willems’s). Naturally, this was also the month my 2-year-old began a vicious sleep regression which meant I never slept more than 3-hours a night. Andddd I had a weird health scare, where my armpits basically exploded every time I put on deodorant (sexy!), which turned out okay, but ate up a lot of days with doctor’s appointments. We also closed on an overwhelming project of a house which drained every last penny of my savings account—prompting me to triple my workload out of extreme shock and fear. And I got a bad haircut. All this to say, yeah, I blew off the Read-a-thon.

              I assumed most everyone else would too. I mean, we all have shit going on, right?

              But no. The moms—both working moms and SAHM’s —were very involved. They were rooting for their kids. And my whole “Oh, whatever!” attitude? Poor judgment. Such easy-breeziness wasn’t cute when all the kids got “You did it!” pins halfway through, and my daughter didn’t get anything. That embarrassed her, and I was responsible for it.

              So we stepped it up, and she finished the Read-a-thon strong. Nevertheless, I walked around the neighborhood feeling crappy about the whole thing for days.

              Then, I ran into a mom friend who sends her kids to the same school. When I said, “How’d the kids do with the Read-a-thon?” she replied, “What Read-a-thon?”

              I almost kissed her on the lips.

              Finally, I felt less alone.

              The truth is, I’ve felt different from most moms since day one. And not just because I started as a Single Mom by Choice. When my daughter was born, I unsuccessfully joined a classic Mommy & Me group, where we all had to sit around a circle and unload our weekly highs and lows. As I wrote in my memoir, listening to all the seemingly perfect, married moms gave me the strangest feeling—that I was both better than everyone in the room and completely inferior to them.

              Six years later, now with a partner and a second child, I often experience the same contradictory sensation: that I’m both way more “chill” than everyone else ….and yet … utterly incompetent in comparison. Events like, say, the Read-A-Thon, only amplify that feeling. Like, maybe we aren’t supposed to be so chill. Maybe our chillness will one day make our children nervous. Maybe our chillness is just laziness dressed up in the right Anine Bing tee.

              As moms, we’re all in this post-pandemic-parenting together. And though we all mean well, and we all value our kids’ happiness over anything else, and we all care deeply about the world and the planet—I often feel that some of my fellow moms and I are simply not quite the same. And being different can be lonely, even when you’re a grown up.

              See, I am a messy mom.

              I don’t mean messy in the earthy, sticky, finger-painting sort of way—although, respect to the mom who hosted an art-themed birthday party that literally wrecked her apartment in front of our eyes, while she couldn’t help but laugh and pour more mimosas.

              And I don't mean messy as in “hot mess” either —though, to the mom who turned to me after Kindergarten drop-off and loudly whispered, “Guess what? I had the best sex of my life last night…” you are a legend.

              I mean messy in the exasperated yet exuberant, overly-caffeinated, often inappropriate, inherently rebellious, hanging on by a thread kind of way.

              We are not the Class Moms who send reminders that the kids should wear their school t-shirts for spirit day tomorrow. We don’t even know where the t-shirt is. (BTW: I love my kids’ Class Moms, plus, my sister is a Class Mom! But still.)

              We are the moms who never have diapers/water bottles/sunblock at the playground; the moms who never judge anybody, because we know we have no right to; the moms who flake on Parent-Teacher conferences, yet voraciously text with the same teacher about her shitty ex-husband all night long; the moms who force their kids get school lunch even when it’s fish stick day, though never have a shortage of Nutella on deck.

              We are good moms, messy moms, nanny-less, sleep-deprived, and occasionally tipsy moms, and I wish there were more of us.

              Let me just put this into writing: My kids are my everything. Having my daughter on my own was the best decision of my life. Though I wasn’t a single mom for too long—I met my partner when she was just seven months old—my love for her is the air I breathe. My partner and I now have a son together too, and somehow my heart made room to love him as abundantly and excessively as I do her. There are nights that I weep into my pillowcase because I love them both so much it is simply excruciating.

              That being said, I don’t always enjoy playing with them.

              Recently, I took the kids to a playground near the new house that is bankrupting us. I was even more tired than usual, with so many deadlines that I basically had to stop sleeping. And that might explain why, apropos of nothing, I turned to a random woman by the slides and confessed, “I’m an amazing mother, but sometimes I hate playing with my kids.”

              Without missing a beat, she quipped, “Wow. I’m a slightly-below-average mother, and I hate playing with my kids too.”

              With that, I worshiped her.

              While pushing our sons on the swings, we reminisced about weekends before kids—cat naps, and bottomless Blood Maries, and “afternoon delights,” and marathon TV binges. We laughed as our sons got dirty—rather, disgustingly filthy, which we took no issue with. I told her that when the school nurse called me recently, to let me know my daughter had a tummy ache, my first instinct was to say, “I’m not coming.” She told me that she’s instructed her son to blatantly lie about his Fruit Loop consumption to his Montessori staff. We confessed to never having read a single Parenting book, or a Dr. Becky post —though I suggested a funny motherhood article by the actress Amanda Peet, which is actually about Botox and online shopping.

              Another mother might have been horrified by all of this; but she was… my people.

              We didn’t exchange info—again, too cool for school, I assume — but I drove home beaming.

              “I made a friend!” I screamed to my partner, as he trudged through our overgrown backyard with a chainsaw. “... and she was just like me.

              Just. Like. Me. When you’re a mom, that sentiment feels nothing short of revelatory. I can only hope that all moms, with our own sets of quirks and sensitivities and egos and insecurities, experience that crucial feeling of connectivity, at least now and then.

              And if that’s not happening, I’m here for you! Just don’t ask me for a diaper.

              ALYSSA SHELASKY is the editor of New York Magazine's Sex Diaries, the author of Apron Anxiety, and the upcoming This Might be Too Personal. She has written for numerous publications including the New York TimesPeopleTown & CountryWomen’s Health, Refinery29, Cosmopolitan, and Glamour magazine. She lives with her family in Brooklyn Heights. Find her on Instagram @alyssashelasky