Uwhen my daughter was 4 months old, during our first pandemic fall, I passed several neighbors on a walk who were crossing the street so none of us had to breathe close to each other. “How are you doing there?” a woman called, knowing I was walking to escape the four walls of my living room where I had spent so many hours since March 2020.
“I’d pay $1,000 to take her to story time at the library,” I said, pointing at my baby. This was the early childhood I imagined before COVID-19 changed the rules. Of course, I imagined him looking at people’s faces and hearing nursery rhymes in someone else’s voice. But mostly I imagined the other mothers, the more capable ones, who had crossed some threshold that I couldn’t yet see from my perspective. Until then, I was desperate for other parents to reassure me that I wasn’t ruining my daughter by sleep-training her while I empathized with how taking out the trash felt like a vacation. But the village everyone said I needed was also staying home, and as my community shrank, I found solace in my phone.
It sounds strange in the age of doomscrolling, but during the isolated days of 2020 and 2021, Twitter often brought me solace. Many of the writers I had connected with over the years seemed to follow a similar timeline in pandemic parenting, and as we moved through this new phase of life at a time when being around others felt more like a threat than a support, the mothers of Twitter became my community. We weren’t in music class together, but in some vital way we were in this together. We liked each other’s tweets about feeling scared because our babies were too small for masks, but we also just wanted to sleep at night.
Read more: The family time stolen by the pandemic
While I was nursing my baby at 4am, I was scrolling through the tweets of my fellow mom writers who somehow managed to say all the things I was thinking or could relate to. A friend on Twitter documented how hard it is to breastfeed, but even harder to stop. Another wrote a book in her car after driving every afternoon to get her baby to sleep. When other moms told me that working full time would be easier once we had childcareit felt possible to think about life beyond my baby’s face, her weight in my arms as I held her.
One day after losing my baby’s sock on a walk, I asked on Twitter if there were any socks that actually stay on babies’ feet. A mother I had never met mailed me a package from Texas to California with her children’s outgrown socks. At that time, another mother sent me a forehead thermometer when I mentioned that they were impossible to find, so that when illness was our greatest fear, I could make sure my baby was still healthy.
I got recommendations for podcast episodes and children’s music that won’t annoy me. I shared links to an article I wrote about the death of my favorite children’s book author and received responses thanking me for the introduction to her books. I’ve shared jokes with my fellow mom writers about how we can only write when the baby is writing. We complained about how many hours there are in a day without preschool, approx how long does the infant and toddler vaccine take to be approved. Two friends and I started a parenting podcast and interviewed our online parenting friends. I often forgot that I hadn’t met most of these people.
Then, last month, Elon Musk bought Twitter, and almost overnight I saw people say goodbye and delete their accounts – people I’d been in touch with for years suddenly disappeared from my timeline. Musk is in many ways the antithesis of the community many of us have formed online since the pandemic began. He seems to operate without seeing people as people, when our shared humanity was what connected so many moms on Twitter to begin with. He launched a wave of layoffs his first week as owner, promptly tweeted and then deleted political disinformationand threatened to remove the blue ticks from verified users who would not pay for them. Understandably, users, including parents like me who rely on Twitter for work and support, are now taking advantage of the opportunity to reflect on our online presence and communities.
I don’t know where we’ll go next. The future of Twitter itself is increasingly insecure, and the Twitter-style conversation at the water cooler is likely to become a relic if the platform does indeed become the nightmare that we fear may drive more users away. I’m staying for now. Some of my online friendships have turned into real ones and now we text each other more often than we tweet, but there are many other parents with whom my entire relationship relies on this particular social media company.
I hope the pandemic continues to abate and the online community continues to become a real community, but just as online interaction has never been a substitute for in-person, a return to in-person will not make what we’ve built online inevitable. Now I can safely meet up with a friend to play, but what happens when I’m awake at 2am when my daughter is sick? For the past two and a half years, I’ve written a quick tweet, and I knew that in the morning — sometimes earlier — I’d have tons of responses from moms who had been there. I’m not so sure now. Each message is, of course, only a few hundred characters, but those characters add up to something meaningful. I’m already starting to feel the loss.
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