No mom is an island
Moms Club reaching out to at-home mothers
by Meg Ferrante
photos by Angelina Bellebuono
Heather Mathews was having a really crummy day. Her whiney 3-year-old had taken more than 20 minutes to agree on which dress to wear and was now refusing shoes entirely. Her newborn, who was born with a cleft lip and palate and faced enough trouble feeding on a good day, had a hideously stuffy nose and was choking on her milk. She was tired. And she could have easily fallen all apart. Instead, she grabbed a bag of chips, pushed her barefoot daughter out the door and hauled out of Rutledge toward Madison for a MOMS Club pool party. In no time, she was sitting with her legs in cool chlorination and was laughing about it all, comparing notes with other moms on whose day had been worse.
That camaraderie, and the camaraderie the kids get to enjoy too, is really what the MOMS Club is all about.
The MOMS Club of the Madison Area is one of over 2,000 chapters of the Moms Offering Moms Support Club, an international group for stay-at-home mothers. Formed here in 2005 by South Carolina transplant Julie Harrington, the club has grown to 49 members with more than 100 kids.
“The MOMS Club has to be one of the best ‘mommy tools’ ever invented,” said Harrington. “We all need help, ideas, support and friends… for the moms and the kids.” Harrington had no family locally and therefore no support when she moved to Madison, so she decided to build her own. She said the group serves mothers and kids of all ages and offers a wide variety of fun, educational and supportive activities like play dates, meals for new mothers or mothers in need, field trips and carpooling, charity events, and sharing toys, clothes and babysitting favors. “The best part is just having another mom to ask for thoughts, resources and assistance in child-rearing, the most important job in the world.”
MOMS Club Model Mom
As a 14-year resident of Madison, Allison Waldrip is practically a native. But when it comes to being a stay-at-home mom to her three boys, she’s shiny and new.
Waldrip quit her job of 10 years as a paralegal at Winkler & DuBose last spring, just before the birth of her third son. When she heard about the MOMS Club over the summer, she was eager to join.
“I was hoping to find kids for my 4-year-old to play with as well as new friends for me. I thought the women in the MOMS club would be in a similar situation of wanting to have playdates while staying on a budget,” Waldrip said. “The group provides an outlet of non-judgmental women. Many, like me, were working moms who stopped to raise their children, which is so helpful because sometimes you question your decision and feel a little selfish. Especially when you reduce your income.”
She also enjoys the opportunity for her children to work on their social skills. Her 9-year-old, Cade, is autistic and she said she can’t wait for summer activities to give him an opportunity to have more exposure to other kids in the club to give him a chance to model appropriate behavior and learn new things.
Kids in the MOMS Club stand to learn a lot from Cade as well.
Not Just Fun and Games
“Not only do we help each other, we are constantly looking for ways to help others and our community,” said Angie Ludlow, outgoing Vice President of the club and organizer of the past year’s charities. “Our contributions spread worldwide, from donations of school supplies for Morgan County, to disadvantaged women’s interview clothing in Atlanta, to wheelchairs and education in Africa.”
The club has participated in the March of Dimes March for Babies, volunteered time at Camp Twin Lakes for kids with chronic illness and disabilities, sponsored and staffed the diaper-changing and nursing station at the Sunflower Festival and given donations to the Ferst Foundation, World Vision, the USO and the Cleft Lip and Palate Foundation in memory of Eli Marrett.
“Our hearts are always open and seeking new ways to help others,” Ludlow said.
The bulk of this year’s charity money—nearly $8,000 raised from consignment sale profits and the sale of the club cookbook—was just handed over with great pride to the Morgan County Parks and Recreation Department to pay for a new toddler playground at Heritage Park and swings for Hill Park. The new equipment should be in place by mid-summer.
The MOMS Club Melting Pot
Young and old, near and as far away as Putnam and Greene counties, the club represents a cross-section of personalities, education-levels, careers and backgrounds. Most members are home full time with their children, but some members are self-employed, have a home-based business, work part time or just like to enjoy activities with their kids in their off-time. “And our children encompass a wonderful variety of uniqueness, including ages, personalities, special needs and abilities, and love,” Harrington said.
Carla Colquett, a member and mother of five, agrees. “This group is very diverse, but cohesive and inclusive—there are no economic or social barriers evident.”
With all of that knowledge and experience in one place, Colquett was happy to find a new perspective to an old situation. Having five kids, she said she’s not facing many challenges for the first time. But she recently made a connection with another mother of a Kindergartener. “To find out that we both shared a very common and similar challenge and that we weren't doing anything wrong in rendering a very high-spirited, dirty-faced little boy, who at times thinks he is king of the world and probably making his teacher’s life a huge challenge... It’s great to know in the end you will be treated with respect and dignity and find a heartfelt job well-done.”
Mary Kay Blalock said that without the suggestions and ideas of other members, she never would have exposed her son, Will, to so many different things at such a young age. “I never would have gone to all the wonderful places we go together or done all the things we do together had I been alone with him. It’s just more fun with a group. And I couldn't have come up with such neat ideas either. Someone always has somewhere new and exciting to visit.”
Blalock and her son’s favorite outings have been to the Georgia Aquarium, Bear Hollow Wildlife Trail in Athens, Halloween and Easter parties at the Morgan County Senior Center and picnics in different county parks. And every once in awhile, she likes to join in the monthly night of reprieve from mothering duties when girls-only meet up for a bite to eat and maybe a movie or wine and cheese party.
Moms helping moms
The “S” portion of MOMS club has been especially important for many of the members. For Heather Mathews, it has been support following the in-utero diagnosis of daughter Hannah’s cleft lip and palate; assistance watching her older child Mary-Katherine during her baby’s surgeries; and unconditional acceptance of both her children. For Lili Dowd, it’s been prayers when her father died and love and attention during her second pregnancy. Mathews and Dowd have grown close as fellow club members and residents of Rutledge. Mathews was pleased and honored to get a 2 a.m. phone call a few weeks ago—Dowd’s oldest son, Parker, got to have a sleep over with the Mathews family while Dowd hustled off to the hospital to give birth to baby brother, Evan.
Incoming club president, Kelly Whitlock, felt the full force of what MOMS Club meant to her recently when she experienced a minor emergency. She and her 2-year-old and newborn were rear-ended and her car received extensive damage. Fellow club member and outgoing president, Ashley Brown, happened to pass by and stopped to see how she could help. “I was really shaken up; but Ashley was just as upset to make sure that we were alright,” Whitlock said. “She even took my oldest son to her house so that he could play while I handled the details with the police. I didn't have to worry that he would be alright.”
Whitlock said that for a lot of mothers, it is difficult to branch outside of the house when you have small children. “It's easy to feel alone, scared and uncertain of yourself and abilities,” Whitlock said. “MOMS not only provides socialization for both the mother and child, but it allows us to feel safe, secure, and important. It’s a constant reminder that our job as a mother is the most important thing in the world to our families and to our future.”