I stand at the door of the bathroom, brushing my teeth, looking out into the room at three abstract nudes hanging across from me. It’s the office, but there’s a black leather pull out couch against the wall, so the room is currently being used as a second bedroom.
After I’m finished in the bathroom, I pull on the shorts and old t-shirt I’ll wear as pajamas and walk over to the 12 foot floor-to-ceiling windows dressed in raw silk canary yellow drapes overlooking Georgetown and the river below.
I fold my arms and stare, silent in thought, at the glittering lights of a life I do not know.
I’m visiting my friend Steph. She’s a few years older than me, but we know each other from when we were young. She’s a teacher who, after a few years teaching in public school, wanted a change and decided to move away and sign a year long teaching contract for a small private school in the same city where her sister lived.
Steph’s older sister, Karen, left for college before I even started middle school and never moved back home. Karen worked hard to climb career ladders and got married in a country club founded for the city’s elite. Because Karen’s husband travels a lot, and because the high rent here would leave Steph with little extra income, Karen offered this office as an extended stay bedroom.
Taking a few days off from work, I drove down to visit Steph during her school’s spring break in the car my husband bought off his grandma while he was still in high school. It’s velvety maroon interior paled in comparison to the buttery tan leather seats of Karen’s BMW we drove to dinner in. She’d handed the keys over to a valet at the restaurant where the bill for the three of us to eat dinner was bigger than what my husband and I spend in a month for groceries.
Just after Steph finishes up in the bathroom, Karen pops her head in. She wears a long-sleeve cashmere crewneck nightgown and holds a glass of red wine.
“I’m heading to bed, do you two need anything?” she purrs.
“No, thank you,” I say.
“We’re good,” Steph says.
“Thank you, again, for dinner,” I add. “I was amazing.”
Karen smiles, “My pleasure.” And closes the door behind her.
Steph and I crawl under the covers in the couch-bed we’ll share for the next few days and I lay in silence. I’m comfortable with Steph; it’s Karen’s world in which I feel out of place.
A few weeks ago, my friend Anna, who was in the process of looking for a house with her husband, texted: Can I drop Rose off for an hour tonight? We’re seeing a house near you and we’ll keep the baby with us, but it’s just easier to go without a toddler.
I’m over a decade older than Anna. She started having kids a year after my youngest was born. We’ve had vastly different career and motherhood experiences—I worked in a professional capacity until just a couple of years ago, and she navigates life with a child who has special needs.
But we’re friends; our relationship is solid from proximity and familiarity … and kids.
Of course, I texted back. Drop her off anytime.
This past weekend, I picked my daughter up from my friend Jen’s, who invited some girls to hang out with her daughters for the afternoon.
“Nadia, your mom’s here.”
“Okay. Be down in a sec,” Nadia replied.
Knowing it would take a few minutes, I took my shoes off at the door, walked into the living room and melted into Jen’s couch after grabbing a magazine from the coffee table I had no intention of flipping through. Jen curled up on the leather chair nearby and pulled fuzzy blanket over her knees.
“How was the dance?” I asked.
“Oh my goodness, the pizza guy was late,” she laughed.
She asked about my weekend and then we fell into an easy banter with jokes about parents getting frazzled about pizza showing up late at father-daughter dances and recent wins for where to buy our pre-teen girls age-appropriate clothing.
Jen is seven years older than me, but our girls are the same ages and despite different life experiences, we’re friends. Really good friends.
More than 10 years after my visit with Steph and her sister, I live in the same metropolitan area as Karen and her young family. We’ve been in contact through the years, and she recently extended an invitation for me and the kids to visit their new house, a 45 minute drive outside of the city.
I pack my children into our 7-year-old minivan and drive to the neighborhood of impressive brick houses with immature trees and landscaping fresh alongside the rows of new builds.
We knock; Karen opens the door with a smile and invites us into her home. A pink orchid blooms on the hall console in the entryway, a shining baby grand stands in the room to the right, a circular glass dining table rests under an intricate crystal chandelier on my left. I take a deep breath. My entire house could fit into the front half of her home.
“Come in! Come in!” she says, leading the way down the hall towards the living room in the back of the house. “I was just finishing up a call when you arrived,” and shuts the door to her office. We walk into the expansive room with cathedral ceilings and I look into the adjacent kitchen—immaculate white granite countertops, not a fingerprint in sight.
Our kids mix together quickly, dump woven baskets of toys out onto the carpet and begin to play.
Karen perches her hip on the edge of a peacock-colored chair while I stand. She wears a tailored white shirt, patterned pants, and navy flats. I have on a black sundress I bought four years ago from Target and, because I left my shoes at the door out of habit, I’m barefoot.
We talk about the weather. The new house. Her job, mine. The kids.
Then someone cries—one of hers.
As if someone opened a door and a gentle warm wind blew out a chill, this woman drops to the floor and wraps her arms around her crying daughter. Without regard to me, Karen kisses and hugs, whispers in a tiny ear, tickles a rib. Both she and her daughter begin to giggle.
It’s like watching myself, or my friends, or any other mother I’ve ever met, do what makes us all the same at our core, what brings us all together, what levels the field: the love we have for our kids.
I don’t live near my family and the moms in my life are vast and varied. Of course I naturally gravitate to the ones who parent in a similar way and whose circles cross mine with ease and natural frequency.
But still: I have co-sleeping, breastfeeding-till-age-three friends. Happy to be back-to-work/baby-in-daycare-at-six-weeks friends. Homeschooling friends and public school friends; organic-food-only friends and Here’s-a-happy-meal friends. Grow-that-family friends and Thanks-we’re-good-with-two friends.
As moms, we’re all different.
But the truth is, we’re all same, too.
I look back into Karen’s kitchen and notice what I didn’t see before: preschool handprint flowers on yellow construction paper pinned to a cork board on the far wall, a pile of shoes next to the garage door, a empty pot of coffee on the counter.
I can focus on our differences—or see all that we have in common.
Motherhood is a great equalizer.
From the floor, Karen looks up at me and says, “After lunch, the kids can go downstairs -- it’s a mess down there … but that’s where most of the toys are.” Her daughter joins back in with the other kids and she starts asking me about our summer plans and my job.
I step toward the couch, but sit on the floor next to it. I ask Karen about summer camps and private school and how working from home is going. She stretches out her legs, getting comfortable, while we talk.
We spend the rest of the day on even ground, getting to know each other as mothers.