That’s Me In The Corner

July 23, 2008

Two years ago, after BlogHer ’06, I wrote this:

“I left behind something that I think that I am going to miss… the me who was happy and fulfilled in the absence of the loves of my life. The me who could assimilate the quiet ache that is that absence, the pressing ache of those missing limbs, into another kind of energy and move, happily, despite that ache. The me who felt both quieted and stimulated alone (sans child, sans spouse) in the company of other women, other writers, other mothers who, for a moment, put the activity of motherhood or whateverhood aside and said, now, what about me? What about us?”

That experience? That was missing for me, this year. Because I did not and could not put those other parts of me aside. I did not attend BlogHer this year as the me who has a passion that extends beyond and away from her family, the writer, the friend, the woman who can compartmentalize her manifold selves and carry on, and flourish. I attended BlogHer as a mother, with babe-in-arms and lactating boobs and head fuzzy from lack of sleep and heart sore from guilt and anxiety and all that tremendous and challenging mother stuff that distracts one from the business of being anything other than a mother, full stop. And that was hard. Really hard.

And so I felt, for much of the conference, as though I was watching from the sidelines, from the other side of the curtain, from behind my locker door, my baby clutched like so many books – my vulnerability, my shield – to my chest. Which is to say that, yes, there were moments, some moments, when my experience reminded me a little bit of high school, albeit the kind of high school experience that you see in low-budget after-school specials about how having a baby at sixteen means that you’ll be left out of all the parties and your cute-girl clothes won’t fit and you will feel like an outsider and omg why did you not cross your legs like your mother told you?

But those were only moments, and they had nothing to do with anyone or anything other than me and my own issues and insecurities. It was hard for me to expose myself as a mother at BlogHer, because being a mother in real life is not the same thing as playing one on the Internet, and all of the vulnerabilities that roll onto the screen so easily don’t play so comfortably on a real life stage. No matter how exposed we are on that screen, no matter how bravely, fiercely naked we allow ourselves to be, we are still, end of day, behind the screen, sharing fragments of our whole selves, preserving whatever other parts need to be preserved as private in order to protect our self-regard. So while it was one thing for me to bare my breast and nurse my child in front of the audience attending my panel – because, of course, I knew that everyone would be glad to see it – it was quite another to attempt and fail to soothe my child in public spaces, or succumb to a panic attack in the presence of friends and strangers, or to admit to exhaustion and frustration and sadness when everyone else was trying to party. And so I kept, mostly, to the sidelines, and observed.

And what I saw was this: friendships being formed, friendships being renewed, friendships being celebrated and revelled in and enjoyed. I saw love and tenderness and warmth; I saw women cheering each other on, and men cheering the cheering. I saw all of the things that I’d seen that first year – “women who are, like me, trying to use found moments of lived fearlessness to navigate the murky waters, the frightening waters, of womanhood and motherhood and writerhood (here be monsters, here be monsters. We know this. Still we fly our sails). Among women who are willing to say, out loud, that they don’t know how to always be fearless. Among women who walk with fear, but who carry wit and intelligence and charm and strength as rods and staffs for comfort” – and more.

But I also saw insecurity and anxiety and nervousness and reserve. I saw another mom with babe-in-arms keep to the sidelines, like me. I wish that I’d done more to connect with her, beyond waggling my baby at her baby (an effort that made her baby scream, which, you know, can really make someone feel like a fuck-up), because I wanted to ask her, is this as hard for you as it is for me? I heard a woman crying in the bathroom, and another woman soothing her, and wanted to say something, but I didn’t, because I was embarrassed, having been soothed myself the night before, and still feeling awkward about it. I saw, many times, women sitting by themselves, and sometimes I approached them, and sometimes I didn’t, because I didn’t want anyone to think that I was working the room – don’t laugh, it happens – or demanding attention (oh mah gahd have you seen mah BAYBEE?!?!) or, sometimes, just because I felt stupid and awkward and who knew when the baby was going to start crying again or the front of my blouse go wet and what would I say then (oh, hai, I’m HBM, pleez to excuse the sloppy mammaries and squalling infant)?

I saw a wonderful woman, anxious and hurting, defending herself in front of a crowd of a thousand. I saw a crowd of a thousand wonder, some of them – wrongly, wrongly, so wrongly – whether it was all an act. Actually, I didn’t see this, because I was on the other side of the doors, tending to my baby, my heart, wondering what was up, what was going on, what was I missing now? only hearing the details after the fact, and watching the video, and wanting to wrap virtual arms around my hurt friend, too late to help her in the moment that mattered, because my attention was divided, and while one hurt woman stood up to another (because, yes, it all had to have come from a place of hurt, it just did, and that sucks for everybody, for real) and the conference fell into a hush I was outside the room, in the corner, ruminating on being on the outside, lost in myself.

We all feel on the outside, all of us, sometimes; even the biggest and brightest of our stars feel their distance (let’s mix metaphors and wonder whether, if you prick them, stars bleed their brilliant light and burn holes in the sky. Is this what happened?) Whether we know a hundred people in the room, or one, or none, we feel, in certain moments, lonely. Misunderstood. Lost. Alone. We’re women, we’re human. We can be surrounded by love and still feel isolated. We can project love and still feel empty. We can be friends and make friends and still yearn for friendship. We can be inside and still feel completely outside. We’re internet geeks, girly ones, some with babies, some without, most with vaginas, all with hearts. We’re complicated.

I love us for that. I love this weekend for that. I love BlogHer, and BlogHers, for that. But there is still the ache. So please, can we be gentle with each other, forgiving of each other, this week, next week, and in all the weeks and months to come?

Thank you.

Grover knows. He did the whole conference with a hand up his ass. He gets us.

(THE LOVE. I do not do this exclude. I really, truly, do not. But I can’t and won’t censor my impulse to send warm hugs to the people who really took care of me this weekend, and/or who just added a special degree of awesomeness and oh god I am going to forget somebody really important I just know it but here goes: the spectacular lady who offered the loveliest, most welcome haven from the fray, the wonderful, baby-whispery heart-breakingly sweet man who snuggled J and cuddled J and crooned him to sleep with baseball stats, the lovely, lovely guy who stretched his arm to the breaking point swinging an infant-laden car seat on multiple occasions, the gorgeous young woman who snuggled the babe until his need for boob overwhelmed my entire session, the beautiful pregnant lady who stole my son’s heart – while he was still on the tit oh god – I may now have to call him Jasperalah – and who I was unable to rescue from partum faintage because I have no life skills – and who always makes me laugh even when my head is about to burst from anxiety, THIS beautiful woman whose very presence with her even-more-beautiful daughter made me cry, and the amazing, truly amazingly big-hearted woman who rescued me from my corner and insisted that it was okay for me to cry it out and OH GOD I cannot even refer to her in the third person without tearing up, and this super-smart chick who I wish I could spend way more time with in Canadaland and the amazing women that I hadn’t met before but now will be stalking relentlessly and her and her and her and her and her, oh lord, my girls, my bosom buddies, my heart-friends, my (oh sob) total BFF comrades-in-arms, my hearts… *collapses in tears and smiles*)

Let’s just all cling to the love, kay?

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    { 105 comments }

    Chicky Chicky Baby July 24, 2008 at 7:39 pm

    Now I know why I should have gone to SF. So you would have had someone to cry with.

    Lola Goetz July 24, 2008 at 7:45 pm

    Wow, Catherine. Thanks for writing this. I think you wrote this for women like me, too. While I didn’t have my son in the sessions with me, I did have to take him to the parties, and he was too big to carry around the entire time. That was me, along the wall, in the corner with a damn orange stroller. It was also me, in the back of the naked blogging session, with you, amy, and julie. and dana.

    I’ve been thinking about how hard this year was, how I didn’t get to connect in quite the same ways because I had to be mommy first and foremost. Maybe I will go ahead and write that post about how it went for me, too.

    I wish I’d gotten to talk to you a bit more, seeing how we were in similar situations. Instead of connecting with others, I gave up and went back to my room, frustrated and feeling guilty.

    Again, thank you for writing this.
    Becky (misspriss)

    Tootsie Farklepants July 24, 2008 at 7:48 pm

    Lady, you WENT with a baby and nursed on stage. I didn’t even get in my car and drive to SF from LA. You have moxie. I lurves me a girl with moxie.

    torrie July 24, 2008 at 8:06 pm

    This post can only be called fantastic.

    Loralee Choate July 24, 2008 at 8:15 pm

    This post is amazing. YOU are amazing.

    Izzy July 24, 2008 at 8:23 pm

    As you may or may not know, I didn’t make it to Blogher this year so I don’t even feel like I have any business commenting here (nothing personal…I feel that way everywhere in the bloglands this week) because what could I possibly have to say about something in which I was not even involved and didn’t witness? Not much I guess… So I’ll just say great post, as always (and I heard your baby was *completely* adorable).

    Her Bad Mother July 24, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    Izzy! How could I NOT know?! I MISSED YOU!

    Phoebe's Phriends July 24, 2008 at 8:58 pm

    I love this post (really, I love all of your posts but it would be repetitive to leave the same comment every day) – this one, in particular, struck me when you write that “We all feel on the outside, all of us, sometimes…” A-fucking-men. I have to remind myself of that when I read these brilliant blogs and think “I bet she’s never lonely, she’s so smart and witty, she probably has a zillion friends just like her, she rocks…I’m such a doofus.”

    As I get older I find it can be hard to meet people with whom I really connect, to make friends, especially those Heart-Friends (don’t those H-Fs just make us feel FULL inside and make our hearts sing!). I always think it must be me – there’s something wrong with me. As a new and not totally committed blogger, though a very committed blog reader, part of me loves the idea of BlogHer – all these fabulous women in one place and the chance to meet and connect and laugh and play and nourish our inner selves. And part of me is scared to death of spending a weekend with all these fabulous women who will meet and connect and laugh and play and nourish their inner selves – and I won’t be able to match their fabulousness.

    Thank you for sharing this in your honest and funny and poignant way. Reading this has made me feel a little ache-y so let me remember to be gentle with myself and all of you.

    Fairly Odd Mother July 24, 2008 at 9:19 pm

    That feeling of being outside the group looking in? Yeah, I feel like that almost every time I’m in any group whatsoever. It’s just become much more pronounced now that I have kids. I often wonder if I ‘use’ my kids to put even more space between me and everyone else.

    You captured those feelings so perfectly in this post. It almost makes me feel brave enough to go to BlogHer next year. And, if I go and some random woman comes up to you and gives you a hug. . .well, that may just be me.

    Jessica McFadden July 24, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    Brava babes.

    laurie July 24, 2008 at 9:56 pm

    You really are a lovely person.

    flutter July 24, 2008 at 10:26 pm

    I wish we could have met. You are glorious.

    sam July 24, 2008 at 10:27 pm

    My God Catherine. What a STUNNING piece.

    I just wanna squeeze you!

    Trenches of Mommyhood July 24, 2008 at 10:38 pm

    This was the best recap I’ve read thus far. And I’m so pleased that you mentioned my friend Amanda (The Wink and Tumble Dry) because I can only imagine that it was the same experience for her.

    Truly great post.

    LetterB July 24, 2008 at 10:55 pm

    Again you are able to put into gorgeous prose what many who had kids with this year were feeling. Having my nursling there made me feel so split as well. I wanted so badly to be alone at the conference but at the same time loved having bonding time with my daughter away from her brother. I felt bad when I had her with me (totally weird feelings of people thinking I wanted attention) and bad when she wasn’t with me but off for the day with my husband. I felt so deeply for you and others with sling babies – having just been in that place myself – imagining how tough it would be to navigate with them and keep sane. You have my sincere respect and gratitude for this beautiful post.

    marymurtz July 24, 2008 at 11:00 pm

    You said it all so beautifully. I continue to be torn as to whether I want to go or not; mostly there are people I want to meet, but I don’t know if I could do that social/emotional part.

    Her Bad Mother July 24, 2008 at 11:03 pm

    If this post convinces any one of you ladies who are expressing reservation about going to BlogHer next year to JUST GO ALREADY DAMMIT, I will be at peace.

    ;)

    Kim/2 Kids July 25, 2008 at 12:20 am

    Isn’t what you mentioned the most likable part of being human. If we all pretended to be perfect and have it all together than what is the point. We are all human, we are all women, we are struggling regardless if life is fair or not. I heard a great quote yesterday “life isn’t about perfection but about the struggles”. Now I know this quote came from Oprah XM156 but I am not sure I want to admit it. Yes, I love Oprah. I have a husband with a terminal illness but I can say I am still “rejoicing might be a strong word” in what we all have in common. People often state “how awful for you, your husband will die in the next few years and you’ll be left alone” and my only statement is that we all have our own burdens. Mine might be greater than yours but we all deal with something and we all deal with it differently, is one way better than another..I don’t think so. We lean on each other.

    Kim/2 Kids July 25, 2008 at 12:21 am

    Just saying, how did I end up with two comments? Please erase one if you can. Thanks.

    Lara July 25, 2008 at 12:49 am

    i am saving up all your posts for when i become a mother. for when it’s hard as shit and i’m scared and lonely and wondering if i’m the only one who’s ever felt that way. and when that happens, your words will give me courage and hope. they already do, actually.

    To Think is to Create July 25, 2008 at 12:53 am

    The few times that I ran into you this past weekend (at the Kirtsy party, in the halls, etc.), you were so warm and friendly and acted like you already knew who I was. So much so, that I don’t think I even really introduced myself!

    It was clear that you were working hard to be all things to all, but your mothering exuded peace even if that’s not what you felt on the inside. Your gentleness with J was something I really noticed, and I don’t know why I’m telling you that except to just tell you that. It was special for me to experience.

    I adore this post, and the feelings you were able to pull out of me with these words. It made me want to do a big group hug with you and all those people you listed, and so so many others.

    Hug.

    kittenpie July 25, 2008 at 6:18 am

    So write about the alone, but also about the love. Having seen you sob before, I can only picture you sitting, alone, sobbing, and wish I really was Elastigirl in real life so I could have reached all the way there and hugged you or even now, out to your new home too far from mine. I’m glad you had all those wonderful people to make it a tiny bit easier to bear what I wouldn’t even have attempted, going alone with a babe so new to a party so overwhelming.

    Sandra July 25, 2008 at 8:04 am

    (((hugs))) I only wish I’d been there by your side this year to offer my love in person.

    Thanks for writing these honest, poignant, stunning words.

    Jenny, the Bloggess July 25, 2008 at 8:20 am

    I don’t even have the words. You made me cry in such a needed way. You are a healing force in my life. I will never forget that. I hope you won’t either.

    Heather July 25, 2008 at 11:13 am

    Wow. I can’t even think of anything else.

    Anonymous July 25, 2008 at 11:16 am

    Okay, I guess I’m going to be the sole voice of doom here, hence the anonymity —– am I the ONLY one of your readers who did not attend BlogHer and so really have no idea what you are talking about?

    Let me ‘splain: what the hell happened that Jenny (who just posted above me, if I get all this down in time) had to defend herself? Your description is vague, hers is even more vague —–

    I’m trying to be “gentle” and “forgiving” but seriously – I can’t believe that I am the ONLY one of your mommy readers who didn’t go to BlogHer – you are alluding to events without actually describing them. Which unfortunately just makes this whole BlogHer and mommy blogging thing seem like more and more like high school. I’m not one of the cool kids cause I don’t know the code.

    Help.

    Schmutzie July 25, 2008 at 11:39 am
    SUEB0B July 25, 2008 at 12:38 pm

    I have nothing but respecful amazement regarding you and the bravery it took to bring a small baby to BlogHer. I was overwhelmed and all I had to do was think about my own needs. You…you managed to do it and look great and be everywhere and still write profound posts – I didn’t post ONCE while I was there.

    Hug to you and to your regions.

    mek July 25, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    Like many, I’ve been reading reports and reflections from BlogHer and yours is the one that made it sound the most welcoming.

    Another thing you mention – the trying and failing to soothe your upset child in public…this one is always my emotional undoing, as well.

    Thanks for your kind and generous posting.

    A Mom Two Boys July 25, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    Beautiful post, my lady. I accosted you at BlogHer and told you how much I loved your Sweetney post and once again, I’m telling you how much I love this one.

    lavandula July 25, 2008 at 6:32 pm

    catherine beautifully heart felt writing yet again.i myself would never attend blogher as i never ever fit in anywhere.not even as a child did i fit in i am odd and quirky and extemely uncomfortable with crowds and strangers.so i think you are incredibly brave and super awesome.

    jenB July 25, 2008 at 8:17 pm

    I*’m trying to.

    motherbumper July 25, 2008 at 10:08 pm

    Clinging to that love is really hard sometimes but oh my god I never want to let it go even when it tries to flip me off.

    Her Bad Mother July 25, 2008 at 10:29 pm

    Anon – I’m really sorry if my vagueness came off as insidery and exclusive – it wasn’t meant that way. I just didn’t want to engage in she said/she said. And the deets of what happened really weren’t central to my point. But I hear you.

    There’s a live-blog account here – http://gwendomama.blogspot.com/2008/07/live-blogging-closing-keynote-blogher.html

    Stefania/CityMama July 26, 2008 at 1:01 am

    If we could have voted on BlogHer heroes that very weekend, I would have chosen you. You and Nina of Charlie and Nina. To do what you (both) did–not just observing but participating in community-building while being so sleep deprived while having to scrape coherent thoughts together while focusing on someone else…I don’t know how you did it, but I am glad you did. We all benefit from the wise words you share on your blog and in person. I really mean that.

    Anonymous July 26, 2008 at 8:59 am

    Let’s just all move on from BlogHer, kay?

    Her Bad Mother July 26, 2008 at 10:31 am

    *blushing at Stefania’s words*

    Anonymous July 26, 2008 at 10:42 am

    Whuh?

    Mandy July 26, 2008 at 11:06 am

    I am one of those incredibly shy, shy people who feels strangled and swallowed up at big events like these. But I’m glad I had enough courage to come say hi to you twice and some of the other bloggers that I love to read. I loved this post too, like so many above have commented.

    andi July 26, 2008 at 11:32 am

    Beautifully done, HBM. I’m sorry I didn’t get to speak to you more at BlogHer – although we did briefly bond over our love of Grover.

    For what it’s worth, every time I saw you, you looked like a confident, wonderful mother. And you needn’t worry about how your mothering in public looks – you were surrounded by other mothers who know what it’s like to be in that situation. We support you. I thought you were so brave to even bring Jasper- I didn’t attend last year because I had a wee baby.

    Your kindness radiates from this post. I really enjoyed myself and it’s upsetting to me that some people have been so hateful after the conference. Thanks for being so sweet. :)

    Meagan Francis July 26, 2008 at 5:06 pm

    Okay, perception is such a funny thing. SEVERAL times, I wanted to walk up to you, HBM, and introduce myself and coo over your baby’s ridiculous level of cuteness, but I felt like bringing a baby had made you super-conspicuous (kinda like how when you’re pregnant everybody wants to rub your belly and after a while, the attention gets old) and that you were probably being approached by a zillion of other fans of your blog or your baby and I just didn’t want to…overwhelm you. FWIW, every time I did see you, you seemed incredibly poised to me. :)

    Her Bad Mother July 26, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    Meagan – I so wish that you had.

    mothergoosemouse July 26, 2008 at 9:25 pm

    Hey you, I love you. I’m so glad you and Jasper bit the bullet and made the trip.

    michelle lamar July 27, 2008 at 12:28 am

    Amazing post. Thank you for the reminder to be a lover not a hater. I wanted to come over and talk to you more at Blogher but you were taking care of the baby or you had a crowd of adoring people around you—-if I saw you alone or relaxing, I honestly did not want to ruin the moment for you. You are a rockstar in my book, page 204. Thanks for reminding all of us to play nice.

    Lawyer Mama July 27, 2008 at 12:36 am

    Every time I saw you with your little Jasper I thought about this. How hard it would be for me to be in your situation. It made me think of times I’ve brought my children to office picnics, etc… But then I thought “But HBM looks so calm and collected.” Now I am kicking myself for not plopping down beside you and spilling my guts.

    xoxo

    Marilyn July 27, 2008 at 1:23 am

    I could have written huge portions of this post (well, who am I kidding, I would have done so far less eloquently!). I felt THE SAME. Exact same. Except I missed so much more. I was actually in AWE of you for being there, for pushing through and going to all the sessions and parties and not letting the “having a baby” keep you from it, like I did. Still, I walked away from BlogHer feeling the same, like I was on the outside looking in. But yet, also loving everyone in the community and my buds best of all.

    BlogHer rocks.

    (WHY didn’t I say hi?? I’m still kicking myself.)

    JCK July 27, 2008 at 3:43 am

    This was just an exquisite post.

    I wish that I had stopped to speak with you during the conference. I remember you so well with your baby boy draped across your shoulder. I kept wanting to say BRAVO for you coming with your child – albeit a very different experience from your last BlogHer conference.

    excavator July 27, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    Great post. How do you write with such power? (“Being a mother in real life is not the same thing as playing one one the internet” and “all of the vulnerabilities that roll onto the screen so easily don’t play so comfortably on a real life stage.”

    Your voice is so true, and dead-on-target.

    I think going to Blogher really is an act of courage in a way, for just the reasons you mentioned. And going with a newborn, after traveling with one, well that makes me quail just to think of it.

    Thank you for being willing to be vulnerable, and then to write the truth about it.

    Blogversary July 27, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    I feel like for the next few weeks, I have to qualify my comments for blogHer-relate posts, by saying I was not there. :)

    Nonetheless, I have been in the same situation at a conference for my career-field, which is all women (Deaconesses). And, I felt most if not all the emotions you did. You words ring true.

    I appreciate your candor and your son is blessed to have you as his mommy.

    Deb July 28, 2008 at 1:54 am

    I found your blog because of the NYT photo (Maria from Immoral Matriarch posted it the other day). I gasped when I saw it, because I have vowed not to miss BlogHer next year, even though I will be swinging a 7-month-old from my boob in many public places.

    Thanks for capturing the magical and less-than-perfect moments of BlogHer. They remind me a lot of the magical and less-than-perfect aspects of blogging, motherhood and life, in general.

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