I submitted the following wannabe "My Turn" essay to Newsweek magazine about two years ago. They declined to publish it (boo hoo), so I may as well publish it here. Especially since I've got nothing else tonight, and I'll be out of commission for the next couple of days (more on that later). Here goes:
Ode to the Mothers Lounge: As a new mom, I found an ideal haven in the most unlikely of places.
My husband makes fun of how much time I’ve been spending in public restrooms lately. What he doesn’t realize is that since becoming a new mom, I have discovered that some restrooms in our hometown offer the perfect place to take care of our baby – the mothers lounge.
Snook and me at the Carlsbad Outlet Mall Mothers Lounge, circa early 2007
For anyone who has not been in a mothers lounge, they really are something to behold. When done properly, the mothers lounge is a separate alcove of the women’s restroom that is appointed with large, comfortable armchairs, and, of course, changing tables, sinks, paper towels, diaper disposal bins, and every other baby-friendly amenity you could think of. In some cases, there is even muted lighting and soft music playing. Simply put, the mothers lounge is the ultimate mom-and-baby-friendly place in a world that can often be anything but.
But it is not the lighting or the furniture that have me so enthralled with my new discovery. It is the fact I have found an oasis where I can comfortably nurse my baby in public (gasp!), change her diaper, and temporarily remove her from the over-stimulation of the outside world, while still allowing myself the sanity-preserving luxury of getting out of the house. And even more wonderful than all of that, it is the chance to meet other moms and babies.
I experience an indescribable thrill when the restroom door opens and I hear the unmistakable squeak of a stroller. At that moment, I know another mommy chorus is about to begin. The oohs, the aahs. He’s so big! She’s so alert! What a cutie! Indeed, I can hardly wait to engage in the inevitable small talk that will tell me if this new little one is a boy or a girl, the baby’s name, age, and so on. And there’s always the shower of compliments over each other’s strollers, diaper bags, etc.
The other beautiful thing about the mothers lounge is that the tasks I perform at home alone with my baby, which can sometimes have me wondering, “Is this what my life has come to?” become an enjoyable opportunity to showcase my new talents when performed in the mothers lounge. Look how thoroughly I wipe my baby’s bottom. See how lovingly I apply her diaper cream. Watch how calmly she nurses. I guess if we’ve learned nothing else from the glut of reality programming these days, it’s that real life is way more exciting with an audience. And the mothers lounge provides just that.
The mothers lounge is also a place where you can come and automatically fit in if you have a baby or even if you know a baby. I’ve especially noticed that older ladies can’t help but steal a peek at the new moms caring for their babies. Many smile and go on their way, but others wander in with wallets full of baby pictures, bragging about the newest additions to their families.
I recently came to appreciate mothers lounges even more after a bad experience. On a trip to New York City, my husband and I stopped into a brand new, state of the art shopping center. Of course, a feeding and diaper change were in order for my 3-month-old so I searched out the nearest women’s restroom. I didn’t dare expect a mothers lounge, but imagine my horror when in the midst of the gleaming stalls and automatic sinks, not a single chair or changing table could be found. I ended up having to change my baby on the sink counter, but stopped short of nursing her on a toilet.
So kudos to those developers who have had the foresight to reserve a few precious square feet for a mothers lounge. Perhaps they realized there was something in it for them, since moms like me are more apt to frequent places equipped with such lounges.
I only have two complaints about mothers lounges. The first is that “lounge” is something of a misnomer since we lounge moms are hard at the work of mothering – the toughest job there is. Although I suppose “lounge” is more appealing than “trench.” The other is the sense of melancholy I feel when it comes time for one of my new mom friends to leave. I almost wish we could pass out business cards to keep in touch: Profession – Mom and Baby. Skills – Nursing, Diapering. Specialty Areas – Parks, Beaches, Restrooms.
But then again, perhaps the beauty of the mothers lounge is the very fact that this makeshift community only shares fleeting moments with one another. Unlike more organized playgroups, which are sometimes plagued by unhealthy competition and comparisons over who will crawl, walk, talk first, mothers lounge relationships offer just a brief snapshot of our parenting existence. In that half hour or so, we get the chance to see and be seen as the mothers we’ve always imagined – prepared for anything, tending to our baby’s every need, perfect. It’s a fantasy, but what sleep-deprived mother couldn’t use a little fantasy.
So I don’t think I’ll get over the thrill of spending time in the mothers lounge any time soon. And when my husband winks at me and asks if I’ll be spending another day in a public restroom, I’ll answer, “With any luck, yes!”