I meet you in a birthing class. At a new moms circle. At a postpartum depression group. At my son’s preschool, as we watch our kids play alongside each other. I meet you through mutual friends, on the internet.
We start off slowly, like a shy first date. Except that if we’re breastfeeding, we see each other’s boobs. New motherhood eclipses us, and we talk about poop and sleep and food like they’re hot gossip. We both quietly wonder if we are doing it all wrong. If we’re cut out for this.
It takes months before I find out you’re an attorney or an artist or a social worker. We both wear jeans and have creamy spit up stains on our shoulders. For the first time since adulthood, what do you do is not the conversation starter. The question is, how old is your son? How was your birth? Are you sleeping at all? The epicenter is our children; everything else trickles from there.
Maybe we both turned 40 this year, or maybe a sinewy decade spans between us. Instead of our age, we focus on our children’s milestones. We trade notes as they begin to smile, roll over, drop naps. We obsess over their details like we once deconstructed interactions with a crush.
As we become friends, we don’t ask much of each other. Because at first? There’s not much to give. We are treading water. We are learning to float. We’ve shapeshifted into mothers, and it is breathtaking and relentless and we are changed.
Over time, we realize the playdates we arrange aren’t for our kids. They’re for us.
It takes years to learn where you went to college, if you ever kissed a girl (or a boy), whether like me, you once dyed your hair purple. Getting to know each other is a slow song, unwinding over time. We might’ve been friends Before Children. If I squint, I can see us: The ghosts of ourselves, smooth skinned, smoking clove cigarettes, taking long, winding road trips, music blasting, windows down.
But instead of reliving our lost, unencumbered youth, we will someday, in a few years, when the kids are finally sleeping, go out to dinner together. We will join the people of the night, stunned by the lively world of strangers roaming freely in the dark. People not facing bedtime battles, people not singing off-key renditions of You are my Sunshine every night, willing their toddler to close her eyes. It will feel illicit, just the two of us in the night. We will eat our dinner slowly, free of interruptions, not having to pop up to wipe a goopy chin. We will chat about our partners or our ex-partners, and we will talk about our jobs, but we’ll always circle back to our children, our conversation orbiting around them, a loose leash.
Sometimes we make different choices in parenting, but we want the same things. For our kids to feel loved. To come to us with anything, with everything. To feel safe and okay in their own skins. To have backbones and compassion, smarts and heart.
With time, our kids stretch out, wandering off to play in other rooms. They say each other’s names now. They are familiars, tossed together like siblings, and sometimes they giggle and sometimes they fight. For a few moments as they play, we sip coffee while you tell me about your daughter’s epic meltdown. I tell you about my son’s naked musical performances.
We complain about our kids. We say, she was being such an asshole today and we don’t have to apologize or preface it with our love for our children, because we already know. I know because I watch you hug your kids and offer thoughtful explanations.
We confess. I tell you about the time I yelled “Shut up!” to my kids in the car, and how I felt shame. But also relief because I didn’t yell what I was thinking, which was oh my god, shut the holy fuck up. I tell you about how dinner was toast and yogurt and carrots again, except without the carrots. We confess, and in trading stories, we are absolved.
You are not alone, we say without saying it. We say it with our presence. By the way we gather together almost every week, like a family—a tired, but mostly contented family.
Everyone says it takes a village to raise a kid. And it does. At the end of a visit one time, my son says, let’s do a family hug, and we all huddle and wrap our arms around each other and we are so villagey.
But really? It takes a village to raise a mother. To carry us from the sleepless, milk-crusted days to the school years, from the tantrums to the tweens. And beyond.
Thank you for being my village.