Everything’s Coming Up Razor Blades: Tribal Mommies

Boobaby and I were digging up millipedes up in the jungle section of our playground the other day. Bug Search is a favorite pastime, especially now that Boobaby doesn’t crush every bug she finds.

An unfamiliar three-year old tottered up, interested. She started climbing up the wall that leads to the overgrown section when her mom hurried over and said,

“Don’t go up there, honey. It’s dirty, and you’ll get sick!

As I was already sitting up there with Boo, I found the phrasing a tad harsh. (Then again, she might have heard from all the other parents how I like to get my daughter sick. Darn that grapevine!)

Despite the rough start, the mom and I got to chatting. It turned out she was there only to meet a friend. She wasn’t a big fan of our playground, you see, since she’d read on a mothers’ Web site that it was FILLED WITH SYRINGES AND RAZOR BLADES.

Now, I’ve dug through the dirt at this playground for over a year, and I’ve found nothing more disturbing than a cigarette butt. So I told the new mom that I was pretty sure the whole thing was a rumor. She countered me with a pronouncement that convinced me that it was a rumor:

“But I had a friend who was there!

The ultimate urban legend line, no?

Determined to right the wrong, or at least register my opinion, I went over to the Golden Gate Mother’s Group site and discovered to my chagrin that the group’s name isn’t just quaintly historical, like the NAACP or something: they really don’t let in dads. Not stay-at-home dads, gay dads, single dads — no dads allowed.

I recognized, in that moment, an entire class of mommies that I’ve been dancing around all year: The Tribal Mommies. Many of these moms are nice enough to chat with, but they really don’t want to interact with the daddies in any real way, and they certainly don’t want to discuss parenting with us. A lot of people are tribal apart from mommies: there are lawyers who only want to hang with lawyers and wine drinkers who prefer other wine drinkers.

The sad truth is, though, that these mommies — and lawyers and wine drinkers and anyone else who feels an overarching affinity to their “tribe” — cut themselves off from people who might be pretty interesting, or even enrich their lives. Even worse, I think, is that mommies who exclude everyone but other mommies from their inner circle are teaching their kids that parenting is the exclusive domain of the woman, and no one is served by that.

The implication is pretty clear: dads don’t play a real role in “providing balance in the lives of our growing families” (from their mission statement). To be clear: this isn’t a feminist group about empowerment: it’s mostly a source of practical parenting information, like babysitters and stuff. So — why no dads?

Mommy and Me and The Mother of Invention are also “no dads allowed.” I’m completely behind cute, catchy names, but there comes a point at which empowerment of a group leads to ostracizing of everyone not in that group.

I know: mom’s role is really special in a child’s life, and it’s different from dad’s, and it’s amazing and worthy of every honor. I’m sure that there are certain things that women or moms can and should discuss with other women or moms only. BlogHer comes to mind — that sounds magnificent and empowering. But to cut us dads off from diaper discussions, from playgroups, from any reasonable role we can play in our children’s lives — that’s just shallow and ignorant.

And — as you can probably tell — a little bit hurtful, too.