Before I was a Connected Educator... I was a Connected Mom.
I think I've written before about my October Moms, but a visit with my friend Rabecca earlier this week has reminded me of just how important this group has been to my understanding of connectedness and frankly, to maintaining my sanity as a parent!
In early 1999, I stumbled upon a section of America Online called Parent Soup and found message boards devoted to the parenting of babies. I joined the October 1998 Moms board as I was staying at home with my then newborn daughter, Julia. This incredibly active board was comprised of 50-75 mothers from all walks of life who had had children during that particular month. Many of these moms had been members of the board while pregnant with their children, too.
If only I had known about this support earlier! I found our message board to be a complete lifesaver. I had no clue about parenting a newborn and little support from family, particularly since my own mother was fairly troubled and unable to teach me much. This Parent Soup message board, though, allowed me to ask questions and read the dilemmas of other moms and this opened up my world. We discussed (and sometimes fought passionately) about everything from diaper cream to co-sleeping to breastfeeding. We shared recipes, coupons and book titles as we sought to find the best resources for our families. Two October moms made me beautiful baby blankets when my second child, Henry, was born. This wonderful synergy went on for several years until, I think, Parent Soup was acquired by iVillage, the boards changed, and we sort of dispersed.
There was a gap of a few years, from what I recall, but I stayed in touch with four moms in particular... Kim from Cleveland, Suzie from St. Louis, Rabecca from Seattle, and Sarah from New York. More October moms have popped up on Facebook, so I'm still in touch with others as well. I've had the opportunity to meet all of my core October mom friends at least once, sometimes with our children in tow and sometimes not. (I wonder if our kids really know the extent of our friendships.) Suzie, most notably, surprised me in my office at the University of Chicago a few years ago as she happened to be on campus while taking her oldest son on a college tour! Suzie, by the way, is also now an educator and it's been really fun to trade stories and resources with her.
On Tuesday night this week, I had a four hour layover in Seattle and put it out there on Facebook. I hadn't planned ahead obviously and didn't expect Rabecca to come entertain me during my down time at the airport, but she immediately jumped in her car and joined me for a glass of wine (or maybe it should be "whine" :) ) As I looked at her and listened to her discuss our latest parenting conundrums, I was amazed at how we could pick up in person just like that, and that we had been conversing in one forum or another for about 14 years. Some may dispute the value of online friendships, but I think this new form of friendship is very real and to me, very important. Just as we educators advocate for "highly connected and qualified teachers", we should also be advocating for "highly connected parents". Parents who know how to leverage data, resources and relationships at their fingertips to be the best possible advocates for their children. I've also learned from my October mom friends to be more tolerant, empathetic and less judgemental. None of us are probably leading perfect lives with perfect children, marriages, and the like, but we are leading better lives, I'm convinced, because we have each other for support. If only other moms in the world had the opportunities that we've had.
So, this is a shout out to all my October Mom friends, and to Suzie, Rabecca, Kim, and Sarah in particular... thanks for all that you do and please always know that you've meant a great deal to me. To my fellow educators in celebration of Connected Educator Month, if you're not convinced that connecting on a professional level will make you a better educator, think about connecting to a community based on your personal interests and needs and then perhaps you'll see the value professionally as well. October Moms started it all for me.