For the past nine years, I have been a work-at-home mom. This has allowed me to be home with my kids when they were babies, save on daycare, work through sick days, volunteer in the classroom, and it has become lucrative enough that we can live a quite comfortable life. However, there are pieces of the work at home life that aren’t quite as shiny and amazing.
I’m not talking about the challenge of working around the kids, though that can be a struggle. (Summer vacation is the bane of my existence, sometimes.) I’m talking about the lack of human interaction on a daily basis.
I am one of those weird introvert/extrovert combination people. I think the official term is ambivert. I don’t go out of my way to be the center of attention. Speaking to a large group makes me want to throw up a little. I don’t need everyone to notice me, but I need someone to notice me.
In the earliest days of working from home, I was lonely. I had an infant and was pregnant with my youngest and hadn’t made many online connections, so my only form of interaction was jumping on freelance forums and chatting with a couple friends via Yahoo messenger in between writing freelance articles and changing diapers. While that helped fill the gap, when Twitter hit the scene, everything changed. It was there that I found my people.
I have always been a little different, personality-wise. I’m a little geeky, a little bad-girl, a little liberal, a little conservative, a little country, a little hard core hip-hop. When you have so many conflicting personality traits, it’s tough to find the place where you belong. You sometimes feel a little lost and unsure that who you are is who you really should be.
Yes, I have “IRL” friends, some of whom are lifelong besties who can and will never be replaced. These ladies have a piece of my heart and no matter time and distance, they always will be. But it was through Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of social media that I was able to feel like I had community of people with whom I belonged and who understood my not-quite-typical life.
In the early days, when social media was really just a water cooler for me, I met people like our own Amy, Kelby, and Amanda. People who would become the core of my personal community. They all fight the same battles and work in the same space. We know each other’s struggles, share many of the same interests, and I cannot imagine surviving work-at-home life without them.
This circle has grown over the years to include Andrea, Amy, Ashley, Emily, Jamie, Kelly, Deb, Jenn, Melanie, and so very many more. I can’t name them all or this post will go on for hours. All you need to do is take a look at conference pictures and you can see the faces that complete me. Each of these women brings something unique to the table and enriches my life immensely.
We know each other’s quirks and accept each other’s flaws and can agree to disagree when religion and political issues place us at opposite ends of the spectrum. We grieve together when there is a loss and celebrate together when there is a victory. Even from afar, we love each other’s children like they are our own and will go to battle for each other, if the need arises. These friendships are what life should be like.
These relationships, while based in our chosen profession, aren’t just professional. They are deep and meaningful friendships. These strong, smart women have allowed me to give myself permission to be who I really am – to embrace my inner geek, let my inner bad girl out to play sometimes (generally on the conference party dance floor), and to share pieces of myself that I always kept hidden because I was afraid of people thinking me “weird.”
While it is hard sometimes knowing that I can’t just jump in the car and head out for a glass of wine and some girl talk with them, we have found ways to cement these friendships with only occasional physical interaction. Our yearly trek to the Type-A Parent Conference is one of the things that keeps me going. Knowing that I will see at least some of their faces and get some authentic, meaningful hugs (and time on the dance floor with some of the best dance partners in the world) makes me want to get up and keep going.
These online friendships are as real as they get and have quite literally kept me grounded and sane for the last nine years of my life. And to those who think that people on the internet aren’t really real? I can assure you that they are. You’re just not looking in the right place.
To the social media mamas who are my besties and to those who are just acquaintances who I snag a hug from as we pass in the conference corridors, thank you. Thank you for loving me for who I am. Thank you for accepting my faults and embracing my weirdness. Thank you for giving me the strength to keep going in this weird work-at-home world that has engulfed us. I love you all.