If you don't know, IRL means In Real Life. Yesterday I got to meet an online friend IRL. We've "known" each other for ten years through a Christian parenting email list which we each joined when our first child was a baby. Back then many of us on the list were NAK (Nursing At Keyboard - this is the abbreviation you use to explain that you are typing one-handed and that is why your punctuation and capitalization is a bit iffy).
Staying home with a baby can feel isolated. When I was home with my first, my husband was working constantly to make that possible. Later I started working part-time and we did a tag team act with taking care of our daughter. We were happy to do it - and I look back at that time with happy memories - but there was limited grown-up time. To help meet that need, I had a local moms' group that I attended faithfully, but I also had my online mothering buddies. We encouraged each other, prayed for each other, gave and received BTDT advice on breastfeeding and sleep and other mom topics (BTDT = Been There, Done That). We also frequently had occasion to LOL (Laugh Out Loud).
Through the years everyone had crises large and small. This year I had a large one. (I think I may have mentioned it - I was in an earthquake?) The ladies on the email list jumped into action. Specifically, they decided that they would make my birthday something special. And they did. I got stacks of packages, cards, and online birthday wishes. Remember, most of these women I had never seen - and still haven't. (Occasionally there's a dad on the list, but for the most part this is very much a female group.)
One of the group members, A., is a doctor who quit practicing to stay home with her children. She would often answer medical questions for us. Right now she and her husband (also a doctor) are in Haiti doing volunteer work at a mission hospital. Although they are outside the city, we were able to work it out to spend the day together. She came to school and we had lunch together. (She was happy to get Haitian food because the volunteers are being served American food.) I gave her the grand tour. And we talked non-stop on the trip back and forth. She also brought me a gift from another list member, who happens to live in Eastern Europe!
The internet gets blamed for many of the ills of our society, but back when I first got online what impressed me most about the experience was that I could be connected with people whom I wouldn't be likely to meet IRL. That has continued to amaze me. For example, for years I was on a list with missionary kids (MKs) from around the world. When I got involved in a public health project a few years ago, I was able to get help with my research from some of the foremost names in the field. And I've already written about how my online connections helped with fund-raising and encouragement after the earthquake.
These days the traffic on the email list is much lighter than it used to be. Some of us are finding different ways to connect online and some have moved on to a different stage of their lives. But that list was and continues to be a place where mothers can be encouraged. And that's a good thing. It's also a good thing to meet in person. I'm glad A. came to Haiti and that I could spend the day with her.
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