by Brooke Berman
I was forty-one years old when I had my son, and I had no idea how to be a mother. During those first weeks, I felt like I was on an Outward Bound expedition, dropped into the wilderness without food or water, left to fend for myself. I had never even changed a diaper. Registering for the shower felt like learning a second language: Moby? Boppy? Ergo? Bjorn? And we hadn’t even gotten to the strollers, which have names like Revolution and Triumph.
On the advice of a friend, I joined the local chapter of the MOMS Club. One night, desperate and sleep-deprived, I posted a 2AM call for help on the listserv: How do you do this?
I was delighted and relieved when another new mom wrote back, assuring me that it would get easier. “I know how overwhelming it is” she said. “I had my baby eleven weeks ago and am still trying to find my balance.” We made a date to meet. I suppose I was expecting another version of myself, someone who’d pursued a career and a nontraditional path, who’d found herself in L.A. with a child late in the game.
I was not prepared for Rhiannon, who showed up at my door a few days later wearing a strappy black tank-top. She was gorgeous and young — 26 to my 41. When she went to get her stroller, my husband and I exchanged looks. “She’s twelve,” he said. “What will you talk about?”
But we found a lot to talk about, not the least of which was how hard it was to be ridiculously tired all the time. We swapped birth stories (something new moms do incessantly). She asked about my work. And then, innocently, she mentioned she’d gone to college at Eugene Lang in New York. When I did the math I realized, she’d been a student the same year I was an adjunct at that school, teaching playwriting. Had we met in New York eight years earlier, I mused, we’d never have become friends. Motherhood was the great equalizer.
On our second walk, after I complained about the time it took to use my one-sided pump, she ordered me, “Girl. Go online and get the double-sided pump immediately.” And then we moved on to the more relevant topic of how and when to resume having sex with our husbands. (“He better get me really drunk first,” she said.)
Soon, I started referring to her as my Mommy Yoda. Her son, eight weeks older than mine, would do everything first – sleeping through the night, starting solids, moving to finger foods, crawling, walking, and so on. Mine, like his parents, is the early talker, so Rhiannon had a lot to teach me. She read the sleep-training books before I did, struggling with whether or not to cry it out. We cracked up when she admitted telling her husband, “If you go in that room, I’m divorcing you on the spot.”
She initiated me into the joys of making my own baby food (and she talked me down when my underage nanny got arrested for a DUI (“Do we think she’s an alcoholic, or just a girl who made a bad judgment call?”). And she held my hand when my husband and I finally agreed to sleep-train. (“It’s not for everyone, but it worked for us.”)
We talked on the phone, met for walks, sent crazy 4AM emails (“Oh my God, will we ever sleep again!?”) and celebrated when we finally felt secure enough to leave the now-sleeping babies with their dads and go drink wine and get our nails done. Soon, we added a third mommy to our group. And it was with Jenny, a sweet but very dry food and wine expert, with whom we attempted our first “Mommy and Me” movie (Bridesmaids. Of course. We nursed through most of the movie.)
Then, just as I feeling comfortable in my own skin again, Rhiannon announced her family’s plan to move away. They had an opportunity to save some cash before her husband started law school. It was a fine plan. But one that left me devastated. “I’m pretending you’re not going,” I said. “I’m pretending the same,” she answered.
I left L.A. for a two-week job out of town, family in tow. When I returned, she was gone. But while I miss Rhiannon like crazy – I still call when I’m awake too early, walking that stroller up and down Echo Park Avenue — she was right, it got easier. I found my footing. I know how to be my boy’s mom.Tags: Brooke Berman, Having a child later in life, Hollywood, Motherhood, Parenthood, Playwright, Work-life balance, Writer