I hadn’t talked to Jennifer in weeks. Oh, I’d seen her at the playground one Saturday, and we’d said a few words to each other as her daughter ran toward the slide while my mine went for the swings. But it was half a sentence here, another half there, and often, the two halves did not make a whole. Our conversations were puzzles with missing pieces. Complete thoughts got buried in the sandbox with the Star Wars action figures.
Why couldn’t we get it together for a night out? I have mom-friends who go away for tropical weekends together and come back with souvenir bottle openers and pictures of themselves wearing matching T-shirts: Girls Weekend 2011! Girls Weekend 2014! My bottle opener came from a yard sale. Nothing in my wardrobe matched anybody else’s.
Jen and I agreed that we deserved, at the very least, a night free of kids and husbands – free of the demands of everything except for our 30-year-old friendship. So why was it so hard to make that happen? But I had a deadline. Jen had a late-night board meeting. There were a million stupid chores that were still undone. And we both seemed to think that if we weren’t there to kiss our kids goodnight, we would, almost certainly, go straight to hell.
But we had mounting documentation that elevated our deserving a night out to genuinely needing one. Countless studies herald the values of a close friendships. They say that a happier woman makes a happier mother, that women who spend quality time with close friends have lower stress levels than women who don’t. I had a number of close friends; I just wasn’t seeing them. And my stress level was higher than anyone on our family growth chart.
Then, one Thursday night as the kids were getting into bed, I gave Jen a call. “I’m going to the grocery store,” I said. “Wanna come?”
Minutes later, we were strolling through a mostly empty Harris Teeter, which had aisles wide enough for two carts, side by side. By the time we hit the produce section (not exactly the tropics, though the store did sell coconuts) we felt like we’d caught up a bit. Plus we had milk and cereal.
I’m not saying it’s healthy, to multi-task a friendship, or that a grocery store is the best setting for a heart-to-heart. But sometimes, we have to sneak in time where ever we can find it. So yes, if I’m calling Wendy, she can probably hear the rush of water and the dishes clanking in the sink. If I’m talking to Rachael, we’re walking down the bike path, solving our career problems at a rate of 3.8 miles an hour. It’s time together. And it’s a start.
My friend Mary and I got in some genuine quality time over the past two years by coauthoring a book, which we now refer to as the world’s most elaborate game of Words with Friends. Because really, isn’t that what we’re all looking for? Time to exchange meaningful words?
Each time I scan the book’s pale pages, I read between the lines. Her son started crawling around page 87. My son had strep throat on 123.
“Okay,” Mary said, after one of our late-night phone conversations, during which I had divulged one of my most disturbing nightmares – something that included a mop, severed body parts and a Fudgesicle. “Now I officially know way too much about you.” But the truth is, we didn’t know too much about each other. Finally — finally — we knew enough.
Recently, my cousin posted on her Facebook page that she was on a date with her husband at the ER. Totally counts, she wrote, because the kids weren’t with them and it was only a minor injury. Totally counts, I agreed, Bonus points if you stop in the cafeteria for a cup of tea.
We take our moments where we find them. We make our moments when we don’t. Today the grocery store; tomorrow, Fiji.
Meanwhile, the kids are in bed and my latest writing deadlines have been (mostly) met. It’s been way too long since I’ve had a good chat with Jen. Lucky for me, I just happen to be out of eggs.