By Gina Duwe The Janesville Gazette, Wis.
The Facebook posts run the gamut on a daily basis.
One mother has a set of eight "first words" books for $5 while another looks for a place to buy onesies in bulk. One post offers a discount code for sales at a kids' clothing store.
Another woman wants to become a stay-at-home mom and is looking for a few kids to watch. One mom posts a picture of her daughter's rash, seeking input on what it might be.
After getting back into an exercise routine, a nursing mother seeks tips on increasing her milk supply. Other moms look for tips on doing their taxes or how to organize thousands of baby pictures on their computers.
With the Internet at peoples' fingertips nearly 24/7, area moms have turned to local Facebook groups for year-round rummage sale shopping and for sharing parenting tips from pregnancy to breastfeeding, meal planning, exercise plans and entertainment activities. The community they've created has offered deals, income, support, advice, encouragement and friendships for thousands of moms.
Moms know best
Janesville teacher Ashley Ranum had questions about being a new mom after having her first daughter, Ariana, in March 2011.
That led her to create her "Mom to Mom" advice group.
"I wanted to be able to ask people questions without blowing up their news feed," she said.
She also didn't want to become "that mom" who was over-sharing the excitement of parenthood.
"Nobody else wants to know if my daughter is having green poop," she said.
Ranum remembers the first question she posted: "Where do I find socks that won't fall off my baby's feet?"
Pregnancy, breastfeeding and illness questions often dominate the conversation.
"I swear there's a new picture of a rash every other day," she said.
The group gives Ranum a place to share in the fun of being a mom, along with collecting everyday tips such as dinner ideas through NAMQs, which stands for "Not A Mom Question."
"I used to go to Google for everything. Everything," she said. "Now I don't even go to Google. I just go to 'Mom to Mom.'" The closed group started with people Ranum knew, but it now boasts nearly 2,000 members. She also has more than 1,500 requests from other moms wanting to join.
Ranum said the backlog is due to the fact she wants to make sure moms live in or are natives of the Rock County area.
"I trust these people because they're local," she said.
Year-round rummaging When selling posts started taking over Ranum's group, Jennalyn Eden started "M2M List-Jville" to sell baby and kids clothes, toys and other items. It branched into women's clothing, housewares, furniture and whatever else moms wanted to sell.
"I'm a big clearance shopper. This is even better," said Eden, a Milton teacher and mother of three.
The women started meeting in person on Friday nights as one big group in parking lots and at parks, but turnouts quickly became unmanageable. The closed group now has more than 3,400 members.
Sales are arranged online and members meet in public places and homes. Some leave items and cash on doorsteps.
Heather Jelinek-Hopp and Tirzah Casper met through the group and started their own "M2M-revamped" group where they "run a really tight ship."
"If they've (members) burned a few people, we come down a little harder," Jelinek-Hopp said.
The women laugh when asked how much stuff they buy on the sites. Jelinek-Hopp guessed it was 40 to 50 percent of the items in her house, ranging from furniture to dishes to a TV.
Administrators of the groups often spend about two hours--sometimes more than four--each day managing online walls.
They get tagged in controversies and questions, which for Eden can result in upward of 2,000 emails a day, she said.
Deleting old posts and completed sale postings also is a time-consuming task.
Jelinek-Hopp checks the site before bed, and checking again in the morning is one of the first things she does when she gets out of bed.
It's crazy fun, Eden said, but "it's so nice to be able to find things for a good price and to be able to help other people out is just the greatest thing."
Both groups plan to resume their group-wide meet-ups in larger locations this summer.
It goes without saying that if you get 3,000 women together, you will have drama.
"It's a lot of teenage behavior. I can't believe they act like that as an adult," Casper said, shaking her head. "It's a lot of complaints about no-shows."
Each group has its own rules, and administrators run their groups as strict as they see fit. Administrators talk about "good eggs" and "bad eggs"--the women who play nice compared to those who get removed from the groups for not showing up for meets or creating problems for other moms.
"Every mom wants to believe that what they're doing is the best way," Ranum said, "so when someone challenges you, you take offense to it automatically."
"Especially when vaccines come up, I say, 'Oh crap, where is this going to go,'" she said. "It's definitely a hot topic."
Moms often tag Laurie Valley in posts or comments when there's a question about the legality of an issue or a sale. Valley, a Janesville police officer and car seat tech, works hard to share her knowledge with others in the group. She also stays in touch with group administrators about "bad eggs."
"I'm on this as a mom, not a cop. I had to say, 'This is my time, I'm at home,'" she said.
Valley used to caution people about selling used car seats, but she later realized, "I can't be the enforcer on everything."
Valley said some people have been cheated in sales, such as the mom who paid $80 for an electronic item only to find out it didn't work.
Private transactions are civil issues, not criminal, so be careful, Valley warned.
"It's not a crime, like child custody," she said. "If you do something on the side, there's nothing I can do. That's the negative part of the site--knowing who to trust."
The moms decided to keep the selling sites limited to women-only to make things more comfortable, they said. Some husbands get involved if a mom can't make it to a meet, but those instances always are preapproved.
"We always try to meet in public places," Valley said.
Moms exchange phone numbers and vehicle descriptions beforehand so they know whom to expect.
Valley advises moms of some basic safety rules, including:
--When meeting at a home, exchange items at the door.
--Don't get into someone's car.
--Only meet at places originally designated.
Jelinek-Hopp admits she's more comfortable meeting a mom who is holding a child.
"I think what makes this so popular is it's not craigslist," she said. "You can Facebook-stalk them (the person you'll be meeting), for lack of a better term."
The groups have connected strangers who now call each other friends.
While Casper's group now includes more than 900 moms, she's surprised by how many she's actually gotten to know.
"I think women need the support of other women," Jelinek-Hopp said. "Not only for advice, but they know who they're buying and selling to."