Moms finally connect offline

Web: Mothers who met via a message board when all were expecting get together in person.

July 28, 1999|By Melody Holmes | Melody Holmes,SUN STAFF

With her husband away in the Navy and no one at home to keep her company, a mother of five is driven into the arms -- the keyboards, rather -- of several others. But there's no infidelity involved in this scenario.

Jill Jenkins, 31, of Hanover uses her computer mouse to double-click her way out of loneliness.

When Jenkins was pregnant with her twins, Kaleb and Cody, now 2, she used the Internet to find information about having twins. Jenkins discovered an America Online site called "Moms Online." Through this site, she found an e-mail message board exclusively for mothers-to-be due in August -- the month of Jenkins' due date. After joining the e-mail loop, Jenkins discovered a number of women -- representing states from Florida to Pennsylvania to Washington state -- and began e-mail correspondence.

By sending and receiving messages from the "Moms Online" message board, Jenkins became well acquainted with several of the women. They sent one another regular updates on their pregnancies, messages of encouragement and, according to Jenkins, "occasional tidbits of gossip."

Jenkins said that with her husband Troy, 33, in the U.S. Navy and frequently away, the women she met through the e-mail loop became essentially her only source of companionship and adult conversation. Two of the women in the e-mail loop were military wives as well and understood Jenkins' need for companions who didn't require diaper changes.

By the time Jenkins became pregnant with her daughter, Samantha, now 10 months, she had been e-mailing her computer pals for nearly a year.

Jenkins said that via the Internet, she and the other mothers she met "went through our pregnancies together." The women exchanged gifts at an Internet baby shower, frequently telephoned one another and even gave a "party" online.

"We shared more information with each other than we probably shared with our families," said Melissa Schneck, a member of the e-mail loop who lives in Pennsylvania. Schneck, 28, found the "Moms-to-be in August" message board while pregnant with her son Jacob, now 11 months old. Schneck said that she and the other women became very close, having shared the ups and downs of their pregnancies via the Internet. Although the women have only known each other for roughly two years, Schneck said, "It's like talking to a sister."

Michele Bobinski, 31, of Loxahatchee, Fla., said, "It was nice during the day if you had a hard day, and your husband's not around. Who better to talk to than another mom?"

Bobinski added, "People are more themselves through their writing. When you've got a bunch of moms, you tend to be really honest with each other. ... These women are fantastic, very supportive."

Jackie Troit, 29, from Rochester, Wash., agreed. She said about the women from the e-mail loop, "I had talked to five or six of them [on the phone] for hours." Troit joined the e-mail loop while pregnant with her son, Hunter, now 11 months.

When Jenkins' husband left for duty earlier this month, some of the women from the e-mail loop decided to come to Baltimore to keep her company. The word had spread among the women, and before Jenkins knew it, there were 13 women coming to join her the first weekend after her husband left.

"Someone said, `I wanna go visit her.' Then someone else said, `I wanna go.' And then someone else said, `I wanna go too,' and that's how it got started," Bobinski said.

The idea to meet in person raised the question of safety for many of the women's family members.

"My father asked me, `How do you know you're not gonna meet a bunch of ax murderers?' " said Bobinski.

"I was nervous at first," Schneck said. "Toward the end, when it was getting close to time to come, we'd joke about who was bringing the chainsaw."

Troit said that she was nervous, but, "I just had this feeling."

On the weekend of July 9, the task of trying to imagine the face belonging to each of the now familiar online personalities was alleviated when they met at the Best Western Hotel near Jenkins' home.

Members of the loop, along with their babies, now 10 and 11 months old, came from all over to see Jenkins. The women decided to give a small party for the babies in the hotel's small reception room, which Jenkins reserved.

The first order of business, Jenkins said, was to "get used to talking to each other without keyboards."

"You would have thought everybody had done this a million times before. We were so comfortable," said Patricia Keller, 30, of Pittsburgh.

Jenkins said said that although the reception was supposed to begin at 6 p.m., all 13 of the women didn't arrive until about 9 p.m. because some of the women had difficulty with their travel arrangements.

Troit said that an accident on the highway near the airport in Washington state caused her to miss her plane, making her arrival in Baltimore five hours later than scheduled. "I came the farthest. I was really tired," she said.

Because of Troit's fatigue, she wasn't able to join some of the women, who took a trip to Washington, D.C., the first day. "We didn't get to spend time all together," she said. Troit added, "I'd hoped it [the weekend] would be more group oriented."

Aside from the mishaps in travel plans and a few conflicting schedules, the weekend of companionship without computers proved enjoyable for all 13 women and their babies.

The babies got cake all over the floor and all over each other in the hotel's reception hall as they crawled around during the festivities, while their moms were, according to Jenkins, "pigging out."

All the women agree that the meeting of moms and babies is something that they would like to do again soon. In future gatherings, however, the women will meet in a variety of locations, so Jenkins hasn't gotten out of having to travel.

The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for next summer, but Bobinski said, "If we had our way, we'd do this every six months!"

Pub Date: 7/28/99

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