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How friends come and go through the parenting years

August 1, 2012

Her name was Katie. I think, maybe.

And she had a son named Ty, and a cute blonde daughter who liked baby dolls just as much as my cute blonde daughter, and every day for two weeks we sat side by side. We talked about our kids, and our jobs, and how hard it was to balance multiple children, and whether or not we’d have any more, and about the values and skills and dreams we wanted to pass on to our kids. We took turns watching the younger siblings when an older child needed a bathroom trip. One day her husband was the one who brought the kids to swimming lessons, and I already knew his name and his job and how they met.

We talked every single day for two weeks, and then swimming lessons were over, and I never saw her again.

Motherhood, I’m finding, is full of friends like this. We moms are a chatty bunch, and motherhood is so universal–the problems I’m having with potty-training are likely to be the very same ones you went through last year–that when you see another woman parenting by your side, it’s natural to offer those little nods of understanding and words of encouragement that are the gateway to conversation.

Suddenly, you find yourself in the big squishy chairs of the library children’s section, talking to a complete stranger about your uterus. Or your daughter’s medical condition. Or some other really personal item, that somehow in the context of the moment seemed completely appropriate to share. Because you’re both moms, and children become the instant common denominator, the thread that holds the fabric of conversation together. And once you’ve discussed boogers and vomit, how could love stories and career plans be far behind?

And then, the clock hits the half-hour and story-time is over. The calendar turns and it’s no longer soccer season. You both gather up your kids and say goodbye, and suddenly that person is out of your life. You sat next to each other for the entire length of a gymnastics term, or you chatted in the hallway twice a week for that one year of preschool, but then it’s over.

Of course, now I’ve been doing this mommy thing long enough in the same town that people are starting to come back around. At this year’s swimming lessons, there was a woman who looked so familiar. I couldn’t stop staring at her. Later in locker room, while we both shucked wet swimming suits off our cold, wiggly daughters, she smiled and asked if we were still doing ballet. And I remembered–the dance studio, a year and a half ago. Our daughters wore matching tutus and danced hand in hand. I couldn’t remember her name, but that was okay–she couldn’t remember mine, either.

Like Blanche DuBois, sometimes we all depend upon the kindness of strangers. These little kindnesses–the scraps of conversation, the bits of commiseration, the hurried words that are sometimes the only adult interaction we get all day–they bind us together so quickly. We’re all a part of the wide, weary, joyful tribe of parenthood. We may pass in and out of each others’ lives, but we matter while we’re there. Even if it is only for a week.

  
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Katie St. Johns August 1, 2012

Those moments are rare but precious. I find it easier to be open and honest with stranegrs than with friends. I open up and say what I have been holding back. I do knowing that these strangers will go on their way never to see again, but leaving me a chance to air my thoughts and fears.

Just Me August 2, 2012

Some of my best advice has come from the short-term friends.

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