Before children, I had loads of friends. I had work friends and community friends. There were college friends I saw regularly and even a few hometown friends that had withstood the test of time. We partied and played and shopped and talked on the phone for hours. It was basically like high school, but with more income.
But when I had my first daughter, everything changed. Granted, I got an early start. I was not too far out of college, newly married and not expecting a family quite so soon. When I started calling my inner circle to tell them the big news, they were shocked at how “responsible” I had become. Most of them couldn’t keep a house plant alive, much less a living, breathing human being. Little did they know, “being responsible” was not how I had ended up in this mess in the first place and I was staring at least 3 dead houseplants while making the phone call.
To their credit, these amazing friends of mine rose to the occasion. There were baby showers and luncheons and sweet little outfits that arrived in the mail. When my daughter was born, flowers, balloons, and ribbon-clad teddy bears showed up on a regular basis.
But then, the visits stopped coming quite as frequently. Unless they needed something at “Babies ‘R Us,” we didn’t shop together. For me, girls’ night out was near to impossible – and when I did make it out, as everyone else pulled a lipstick out of their bags, I pulled out a pacifier. Or a tiny sock. Possibly a diaper.
No longer did I answer the phone at 2am to listen to sob-filled break-up stories – the ringer was on silent by then. When I did answer the phone, there would most likely be a barking dog and a screaming baby in the background – the one setting the other off in a never-ending chicken vs. egg scenario.
For awhile, I felt lonely. I longed for friends who understood what I was going through. I needed someone I could call at 2am when the baby wouldn’t sleep who would say, “I know exactly how you feel,” instead of, “I can’t hear you! The music is too loud! I’ll call you tomorrow!”
But at the same time, these childless friends stuck it out. They didn’t take no for an answer. A friend was having a party and we didn’t have a sitter? No problem, they encouraged us to bring the pack-and-play and set it up in a back bedroom. People wanted to go out? We could host a dinner party at our house instead while the baby slept upstairs. They kept us involved in those early months when it would have been all too easy to fall asleep on the couch the minute the baby went down.
And for awhile, this worked. We were the only ones with a kid in tow and our childless friends were enamored and happy to help out. Our daughter was a like a puppy or basket of kittens. Fun to play with for a while but not something you would necessarily want to take home.
In the years that followed, our social lives consisted mainly of weddings…which as the grade school rhyme goes, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then…” Well, you know the rest. By the time I was pregnant with my second daughter, I had 3 other close friends pregnant at the same time. This was like a whole new world for me. Finally, there were people who I could talk to about swollen ankles. This may not seem like much. But yeah, it’s a big deal.
In time, we went from no friends with kids, to a few friends with kids, to eventually, almost no friends without kids. And that’s when I realized that you should be careful what you wish for.
Parties turned into play dates at the park. Get-togethers were planned from 1pm – 3pm to accommodate nap times. Dinner out was…who am I kidding. We didn’t go out.
Once, when heading home from a “party” at 5pm (instead of 5am), I realized that we had become boring. All of us. We didn’t talk about world events or politics or the latest fashions, we talked about preschools, nap routines and the best way to get a picky toddler to eat vegetables.
For a brief moment, I was sad. I grieved the loss of our former selves. Where were those fun-loving, free-wheeling souls that could – and would—hop in a car at moment’s notice and drive two hours for a concert? What had happened to the smart, witty people that could solve the world’s problems in a matter of hours over a few glasses of wine and good dinner?
But then it hit me. These were the people I needed. Just like I had needed them when I was young and carefree and trying to figure out what being an adult was supposed to look like. Just like I had needed them to get me out of the house when I was drowning in the aftermath of a newborn. Just like that, they had become the common ground I had longed for. We were still our same old selves, just wearing slightly less cool clothes and smelling a bit more like spit-up.
There are times I miss the frequency of wild and crazy nights out. There are times when, once again, I am lonely when no one is available to talk or join me for a rare dinner out because they have baseball practice or swim team or are housebound by a toddler who refuses to nap on a normal human schedule. But I have also come to value my time with friends in a way that can only come with time, understanding, perspective…and yes, kids.
Over the years, some of my friendships have dwindled. The stress of life and families and moves and jobs has proven too much. Or maybe we’ve just lost touch. And I’ve met new friends along the way, too – often because of our kids. But whether old or new, currently in my life or a fond memory, I am thankful for these people who have grown and experienced and evolved with me.
They are the ones who understand if I can’t make it to an event because a kid is sick, or more likely, I am just too tired. They are the ones who know that I used to have a name and it wasn’t “mom.” They are the people that I can call when I need to vent, because even if every other word is interrupted by me yelling things like, “STOP licking the dog!”; it’s ok. They are most likely doing the same thing.
None of my friends and I talk as much as I would like. We don’t get together as often as we should and we most certainly don’t have the physical ability to stay up as late as we once did. But to all of these beautiful people who have served with me in the trenches, as observers and active participants, both in recent years and for the long haul, I am grateful. It won’t be long before we’ll be at our kids’ weddings, toasting our survival and feeling all the richer for it.