The kids and I just got back from another little road trip, this time to Northern Virginia to spend a night with Elizabeth‘s clan. While we were there we got to sneak in a visit with Amalah and her so-cute-I-think-I-need-to-keep-him baby Noah. I got home to find super-nice (WAY too nice!)* posts about both visits, and it was funny to read them because all the way home yesterday I was composing my own post in my head.
*(Example of way-too-niceness: Amy kindly omitted to mention that when we saw the small piece of poop lying on the floor of Barnes & Noble, I was terrified that it had come out of Wonderboy’s diaper. He was running up and down the aisles, and since a little trip-packing snafu had resulted in his having to wear one of Rilla’s diapers, it was not beyond the bounds of possibility that there might have been, um, a containment problem. But I chased him down and (oh so glamorously) sniffed his bottom and WHEW, there was only the sweet plastic aroma of Huggie.)
(Of course, when I recounted this story to Scott later that night, he said, "Well sure, all the poop had fallen out." Thanks for the reassurance, honey. But I swear it WAS NOT OUR SON’S POOP. There was no evidence of fallout in the diaper, if you know what I mean.)
Anyway. I loved meeting Amy, who is smart and funny and down-to-earth and tolerant of small children wading in public fountains. Noah is completely delicious, so much so that Beanie almost killed him with love. I had to threaten her with NO ICE CREAM if she didn’t stop squeezing the poor little guy, and for a minute there she was actually torn. Baby? or Ben & Jerry’s?—really quite a tough choice.
It was awfully sweet of Amy to drive out to Virginia for the rendezvous. Beth the Playgroup Dropout was supposed to meet us too, but I fear it seemed too much like a playgroup and she dropped out. No, no, I’m kidding. Actually her poor little Mia had a fever the night before and Beth had to beg off, which was a bummer because I was really looking forward to meeting them both. I hope Mia’s better now, Beth?
After the Ben & Jerry’s/Barnes & Noble gathering (pretty much my only criterion for choosing a meeting place was that it have an ampersand in the name), we hopped back on Route Sixty-Slow, as it will forevermore be known by my children, to head for Elizabeth’s house. The whole way there I was thinking about how much the internet has brought to our lives. Elizabeth herself was an internet friend first, many years ago. Almost a decade, I think. I first met her through the Catholic Charlotte Mason yahoogroup that she and Michele Quigley founded. We quickly moved from e-list acquaintances to email friends to telephone friends to the kind of close friends you pack your five kids in the car and drive hours to go see.
(Perhaps even more to the point: the kind of friend who COOKS FOR YOU, really incredibly delicious meals, even though she is mere weeks away from giving birth to her eighth baby, and who, when you ask what you can do to help, airily waves you into a big comfy armchair and says, "Just keep me company." I, on the other hand, am the kind of friend who, when you visit me, says "Let’s order a pizza.")
It’s funny how well you can get to know someone online. Sure, you have to be cautious about revealing too much to potentially creepy strangers. Internet friendships take time and discernment; you don’t necessarily click with someone as immediately as you might if you met her at, say, a neighborhood bakery where you bonded over scones and nursing toddlers, just to throw out a random example. But over the years, online friends can become every bit as real as your "real-life" ones.
This is what I was thinking about on the trip home yesterday. About Elizabeth, and how her book came along to invigorate and inspire me at just the right time. About Karen, who emerged from a sea of voices on CCM to become someone whose name in my inbox means a lift for my whole day. About so many other CCM and 4Real friends, far too many to name, whose children are as real and dear to me as members of the family. There’s the CCM friend who heard I was moving to Southern California and sent me a book about fun things to do there, just because she is nice. Or the amazing 4Real friend who leapt into action and found places for Scott to stay during his first couple of months out there, while we’re waiting for this house to sell. I mean, that’s pretty huge. These people are letting a total stranger into their homes, feeding him pizza, offering up their washing machines. Washing machines! These are large families we are talking about—washer time can be as precious as bathroom time, believe me.
And really that’s just the beginning. There’s a tree in my yard that’s a baby gift for Wonderboy from a group of longtime AOL friends. (How I hate to leave this tree, a beautiful river birch.) We’ve all known each other for eleven+ years, since the days we wandered onto the "Baby’s Here, Now What?" message board on AOL when we were all pregnant. I’ve known them as long as I’ve known Jane. Eventually we ditched the message boards in favor of a private list, which we dubbed Technologically Advanced Mommies because, you know, we were all such techno-gurus with our fancy 14.4 modems on dialup. I drifted away for a short while after a big list blowup, but when Jane got sick in 1997, the other TAMs were right there with care packages and hospital visits, arms and ears wide open.
Rilla is upstairs right now sleeping on a blanket handmade by one of these friends, Holly, whose trip to meet her recently adopted son I pointed you toward not long ago. My house is full of gifts like this: the box of paints from Jacki, the handknit baby cap and booties from Sue; the tattered, cherished copy of More More More Said the Baby that Jenny sent when Rose was born. But even more precious to me are the relationships we have built: the journeying together through little trials and big ones, sharing the funny moments, the hilarious ones, the I’m-sure-it’ll-be- funny-someday ones and the really-not-funny-at-all ones. We’ve traveled some rough roads together; nearly everyone in the group has weathered some kind of major life crisis with the help of all the others. I can’t imagine life without them.
This morning when I woke up—with this post already percolating in my head—there was an IM on my screen that had come in late last night, after I went to bed. It was from one of the moms who had been part of the TAMs group ten years ago but we’d lost contact with her after that. She still had my name on her AIM buddy list; I hadn’t used AIM in a million years but now that Scott’s on the opposite coast we’re IMing each other like mad. Sarah saw my name pop up and sent me a note. I’ve thought of her often and was actually talking to some of the other TAMs not long ago about trying to track her down. And now here she is, back on my screen. Which you have to know, means in my heart. That sounds hopelessly sappy; I keep deleting it and then saying what the heck. I mean it.
My whole educational philosophy is about making connections, building relationships. I guess that’s my internet philosophy too. The internet is about connections and intersections. It’s about seeing Amy’s Noah and feeling like I knew him already because I’ve applauded so many of his milestones; it’s about looking eagerly each day for a new Elias or Ramona story. (I really wish my sisters and Scott’s siblings had blogs so I could read daily niece and nephew stories too. Ahem.) It’s about my friend Joann bringing a bunch of her kids to stay the night and all of us hugging like it was a family reunion, when really it was our first time seeing each other in person. It’s about a whole new crop of west coast friends already rolling out the welcome mat for us, and friends here saying "At least I can keep up with you through the blog." It’s about holding my breath when the Bookworm went into labor, and counting down the days until Elizabeth’s newest daughter arrives. Sitting in her beautiful learning room with a passel of kids playing games on the floor, surrounded by shelves full of all the same books I love best, I had to laugh at how little I could have anticipated the treasures that pokey old 14.4 dial-up connection had in store for me.
Elizabeth’s boys saying a tender farewell.