Online communities will never take the place of real ones. But when face-to-face fellowship is impossible, such groups can come in handy.
"I like looking at other people's babies," admits Heather Johnson, who had a child of her own, Taryn, last January. So in the fall Johnson created January 98 Moms, a Web ring that links together 19 sites of mothers who want to show-off their offspring and share the trials and triumphs of parenthood.
By day Johnson, 22, juggles the phones at a Memphis computer hardware support company. By night she is mother and ringmaster. She hooked up with the other members of the ring at the commercially funded Stork Site.
"We share our baby stories," Johnson says. The mothers compare notes and, by the looks of the sites, even get a little competitive now and then. Go to Taryn's New Beginnings and you'll see what happens when a loving mother gets ahold of Web designing software. Johnson takes note of the first time little Taryn: smiles, laughs, reaches for objects, crawls and walks. We get a rundown of when her teeth came in. And apparently Taryn could write before she could do anything else. Against a pink background, we are treated to a first-person account of Taryn's first Valentine's Day, "which I spent in St. Louis!"
Other sites on the ring include Kaitlyn's Room with a "toy box" full of games and a page dedicated to Brandon Tyler, "the sweetest little bundle his daddy and mom-ma could have hoped for."
This is digital baby worship at its best, or worst.
But before you pooh pooh all the babytalk, you must admit that life even when it's celebrated in a soupy, sappy fashion is preferable to death. With its own, strange inherent logic, the Internet also brings together parents in mourning.
The Gone But Not Forgotten ring, designed for folks who've lost very young children, will break your heart. Here you can learn of Ethan Edwards, a 9-month-old baby who died in his bed. His grandmother created the memorial page. "Ethan," she writes, "like most babies, was active. He pulled his crib sheet off his bed, and somehow rolled around, got it around his neck and strangled (or suffocated) to death." The site links to a Good Housekeeping article on other babies who may have been killed by loose-fitting crib sheets.
The ring is full of such sad sites. One is dedicated to Alexis Kimberly Kull, a victim of bacterial meningitis when she was less than 3 months old. Her mother tells her sorrowful story and passes along cautionary information gleaned from the Pediatric Database.
For some reason, I paused for a moment when reading about Alexis and realized that, but for a tragic twist of fate, her site could have belonged to another ring. The pretty little girl was born in January, 1998.
Linton Weeks can be reached at email@example.com
TOOT, TOOT, TOOTSIE'S MUD PIE ...
"Here are my silver Gucci's when they were still new," posts "Serena," whose shoe page links up to photographs of shoes galore. "And here they are after I wore them through the beach and through the mud."
Posts about how great it feels to get your shoes covered with rain and sleet somehow manage to slide into fantasy, and surfers are advised not to check out this Web site at the office. The "Wet and Messy High Heel Stories" include such riveting tales as: Muddy Pumps Dream, Heels in the Pool, and Muddy Stiletto Sandals. DANA HULL
THE ULTIMATE PENALTY
Found something intriguing, improbable, insane or especially useful on the Net? Write it up and send it to Joel Garreau or Robert Thomason.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company
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