The first time I received an invitation to playgroup, I packed everything but the kitchen sink for the occasion: snacks, backup snacks, sippy cup, diapers, wipes, change of clothes, backup change of clothes, butt cream, sunscreen, teething ice packs for him, a granola bar for me. I was a first time mom—you know how we do. I rarely left the house without a full diaper bag prepared for everything short of a zombie apocalypse.
My new friend Christina opened the door and whisked me in to meet her tribe. That’s Lee! And that’s Caelin! And this is Sarah! A group of smiling moms sat on the carpet surrounded by adorable babies and drool-covered toys. I took a seat on the floor and introduced myself with a nervous giggle.
They told me I should join them the following week, and so I did, and then I showed up the week after that. Before I knew it, I had unofficially become a member in their club. Once a week we took turns meeting in each other’s homes—the hostess provided scones and coffee for the moms, goldfish crackers and juice boxes for the kids. Some days we’d sprawl out on the carpet, swapping stories and secrets over the noise of half a dozen babbling children. Other days we’d sit outside in the sunshine, monitoring babies in swim diapers splashing in a blow-up pool.
Playgroup became a sweet refuge for us on Thursday mornings. Between the haven of kiddos to play with and a group of moms who made me feel less crazy in whatever motherhood-related struggle I was walking through, I’m not sure who loved playgroup more: me, or my son. Also, did I mention there were pastries?
Eventually the toddlers turned into preschoolers, and with time we’ve added half a dozen more babies to the posse. Oddly enough, as my children and friendships continued to grow, a funny thing happened to my diaper bag.
This, of course, is bound to happen once your kids get bigger and your parenting experience expands. But I also realized through time and practice that I didn’t need to show up to playgroup fully stocked with sunscreen and five diapers and emergency bandaids, because the hostess had all that stuff.
Someone else would cover me if I needed something.
We’re friends—that’s what friends do.
Eventually, I stopped bringing a diaper bag altogether.
“I got an extra pork chop for you!”
The text message from my friend Lee made me smile. I was solo parenting for the night and thankful for friends who were willing to a) feed me, and b) help entertain my kids during the often-stressful pre-bedtime hours. We were late getting out the door because we’re always late getting out the door, and in the fury of helping two kids put on shoes and explaining to my four year-old, again, why we do not need to bring 17 toy cars with us, I stopped for a minute and wondered if I should pack a dinner for them. I didn’t want to impose on Lee, or make her feel obligated to feed my kids.
I caught myself, mid-thought, and shook that idea from my head.
Impose? Feel obligated?
We are friends.
Friends don’t “impose.” Friends don’t feel “obligated” to feed each other’s children.
I showed up thirty minutes later with nothing but chapstick and my cell phone. When the kids asked if they could put water in the blow-up pool, I said yes even though we weren’t prepared. Over the course of the afternoon we borrowed sunscreen, a swimsuit, a swim diaper (okay, that was taking, not borrowing), two sippy cups, and towels.
We left with full bellies and full hearts.
One of the first sentences my oldest son mastered was, “I do it.”
My youngest is almost two and has already mastered the word “self.” As in, he can climb into his booster seat at the kitchen table without my help. He can climb into the rocking chair by his “self” and climb down without assistance. If I dare attempt to help him do either of those things, he practically swats my hand away.
Are we just…..born with this? Is this part of being human, the inherent desire to rely on ourselves and only ourselves?
I often roll my eyes when I hear my kids say these words, but how many times have I said, “I do it” as a mom? How many times have I relied on myself and my diaper bag and my things and my food? How many times have I only relied on my heart and my arms to care for these children?
How many people were waiting in the wings with their snacks and their bandaids and their pork chops and their love?
How many times have I relied on myself to keep my children safe and healthy and protected? How many times have I stubbornly and pridefully relied on my own strength, my own skills, my own knowledge?
How many times has God waited for me to seek Him, to run to Him, to pray for all of these things? How many times have I forgotten to ask for His guidance and grace to persevere in this all-consuming motherhood gig?
The answer: more than I’d like to admit.
Anytime I get invited to a party or shower, I ask the same question, “What can I bring?”
Sometimes I’m asked to bring an appetizer, or a bag of ice, or a bottle of wine, and I happily pick those things up on my way.
But every so often, I’ll get this magical response: “Just bring yourself.”
I start to type back suspiciously, “Are you sure…?” and then delete the keys.
Just. Bring. Yourself.
I can do that. I think.
Bringing myself and only myself is scary sometimes. I’d rather show up armed with supplies and gifts and wisdom and insight. Look how useful I am!
But I’m learning that when I show up empty-handed—when I stop relying on only my resources and only my heart and only my arms—I create room for other people to love me well.
I’m learning that the less I bring, the more I open myself up to depending on others who are already prepared to have my back. And maybe that’s what this whole “it takes a village” thing is all about. It starts with us taking stuff out of our diaper bags. It starts with admitting that we cannot be fully prepared for all circumstances all of the time. It starts with admitting that we cannot do motherhood alone and that we were never, ever meant to.
I believe this is contagious. I believe the more you show up empty-handed, the more you encourage others to do the same.
Pretty soon you’ll all be texting:
Come on over, there’s banana bread in the oven and water in the blow-up pool.
Just bring yourselves.