When my daughter was 4 months old, during our first pandemic fall, I passed some neighbors on a walk who crossed the street so none of us had to breathe near each other. “How are you hanging in there?” one 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 would pay $1,000 to bring her to library story time,” I said, pointing to my baby. That had been the infancy I’d imagined before COVID-19 changed the rules. Sure, I pictured her looking at people’s faces and hearing sing-songy nursery rhymes in someone else’s voice. But mostly I pictured the other moms, more capable ones who had made it over some threshold I couldn’t yet see from my vantage point. By then, I was desperate for other parents to reassure me that I was not ruining my daughter by sleep training her, while commiserating about how taking the garbage out felt like vacation. But the village everyone had said I needed was staying home too, and as my community shrank, I found solace in my phone.
It sounds odd in the era of doomscrolling, but during the isolated days of 2020 and 2021, it was often Twitter that brought me comfort. Many of the writers I had connected with over the years seemed to follow a similar timeline into pandemic parenthood, and as we muddled through this new phase of life at a time when being around others felt more like a threat than support, the moms of Twitter became my community. We weren’t at music class together, but in some vital way, we were still in this together. We liked each other’s tweets about feeling scared because our babies were too young for masks, but we also just wanted to sleep through the night.
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As I nursed my baby at 4 a.m., I would scroll through the tweets of my fellow mom writers, who somehow managed to say all the things I was thinking or could relate to. One Twitter friend documented how hard it was to breastfeed, but how it was even harder to stop. Another wrote a book in her car after driving around every afternoon to get her baby to sleep. When the other moms told me working full-time would be easier once we had childcare, it felt possible to think about life beyond my baby’s face, the weight of her 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 stayed on babies’ feet. A mom I’d never met sent me a package in the mail, all the way from Texas to California, of her children’s outgrown socks. Around that time, another mom sent me a forehead thermometer when I mentioned they were impossible to find, so that when illness was our greatest fear, I could reassure myself that my baby was still healthy.
I got recommendations for podcast episodes and children’s music that wouldn’t annoy me. I shared links to a piece I wrote about the death of my favorite children’s-book author and received replies thanking me for the introduction to her books. I shared jokes with my fellow mom writers about how we could write only when the baby wrote. We complained about how many hours there were in a day without preschool, about how long it was taking for a vaccine for infants and toddlers to be approved. Two friends and I started a parenting podcast and interviewed our online parent friends. I often forgot I hadn’t met most of these people.
Then, last month, Elon Musk bought Twitter, and almost overnight I saw people saying goodbye and deleting their accounts—people I had interacted with for years, suddenly vanished from my timeline. Musk is, in many ways, antithetical to the community many of us have formed online since the pandemic began. He seems to operate without seeing people as humans when our shared humanity was what connected so many of the moms on Twitter to begin with. He launched a wave of layoffs his first week as owner, immediately tweeted and then deleted political misinformation, and threatened to strip blue checkmarks from verified users who wouldn’t pay for them. Understandably, users, including parents like me who rely on Twitter for work and support, are now taking 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 uncertain, and the Twitter-style of watercooler conversation is probably going to become a relic if the platform does become the nightmare we fear it might and more users leave. For now, I’m staying. Some of my online friendships have turned real and now we text 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 wane and online community continues to become real community, but just as online interaction was never a replacement for in-person and a return to in-person will not make what we’ve built online dispensable. I can safely meet a friend for a playdate now, but what happens when I’m up at 2 a.m. when my daughter is sick? For the past two and a half years, I would write a quick tweet and know that in the morning–sometimes sooner–I’d have multiple responses from moms who had been there. Now I’m not so sure. Each message, of course, is just a few hundred characters, but those characters have added up to something meaningful. I’m already starting to feel the loss.
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