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04/30/2010

Motherhood in the age of Twitter

298114_3715 In my earliest days as a parent, as I gawked at my son like an alien miracle, it didn’t take long to realize how isolating motherhood can be.

Several of my longtime friends didn’t have children, or if they did, they were well past the days of diapers and colic. They came over and did all of the requisite oohing and ahhing, then quickly returned to their worldly concerns, which involved choosing between high-decibel concerts, work dramas and — basically — nothing close to my worldly concerns.

Meanwhile, I Googled every sideways burp and funny-colored poop and cognitive milestone. I reached out to online parenting communities and sometimes got an answer, but didn’t really connect with anyone in them. I started blogging quietly, and (I thought) in the dark, until I got an unexpected comment or two. Then, slowly but surely, I had new friendships with moms begin to grow out of blogging, as well as a few guru-student moments in which some other blogging mother wrote exactly what I needed to hear that day. Then I would join the commenting chorus of “amens.”

When Twitter came along, I installed it pretty directly. The first people I followed were the moms and other bloggers that I liked reading or knowing from all over the world, but only a few local people. Nowadays, the number of local people commands its own column on my Tweetdeck application, and is brimming with people I know, wish I knew better and even some I knew better in past phases of my career.

Twitter has its surges in drama and other time-sucking pitfalls, but its handiness and its power are undeniable.

Last year, I was about to head out the door to meet a friend and her son the zoo on an early spring day, until I saw someone that I only know in digital life Tweet that it was just bizarrely crowded. Cars were gridlocked waiting to get in. I called my friend, who wasn’t all that technical, and she was skeptical and her kid was sold on the idea.

“It’s not that I don’t trust Twitter,” she said. But, well… duh. She didn’t. She didn’t use it or particularly understand how to use it. Why would she trust that? So she called to see. And the person on the phone at the zoo concurred with my Twitter friend, suggesting that we not bother coming out unless we wanted to sit in traffic on a far-flung side of town and miss most or all wildlife-viewing opportunities.

Last week, on Earth Day, I saw one tweet after another from local moms declaring that they were headed for Columbus’ citywide event. Several of us collected there before the larger crowds arrived, some more familiar with each other’s real-life faces than others. As our kids ran around making toys out of recycled stuff, or sat in rapt attention as the storyteller spun a few yarns, we chatted about many of the same kinds of things we do online – politics, ordinary concerns, harder stuff that some of us are facing, sometimes freely, sometime awkwardly.

Motherhood is often drawn as something that connects women in some abstract, spiritual and polymorphic way. Give us a tool like Twitter (or Facebook, which has similar functions), that puts those alleged connections through wires, airwaves, cell phones and computers. Suddenly, we’re able to walk out into the world on impulse, find each other and poke that notion with a stick.

This is an original Ohio Moms Blog post. Tracy Zollinger Turner blogs about life and things at tinymantras.com, and journalism-related things at writearm.com.

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