It’s lunchtime on a Monday. Our kids have the day off school and he the day off work. We spent the morning hiking in the country, about an hour away from home, and are now grabbing lunch. There are women everywhere.
“Woah,” my husband says, taking in our surroundings. “What’d we do? Walk into some mommy-and-me playdate?”
I noticed the diaper bags and ponytails the second we walked in, like how you suddenly see the car you just bought on the road every few miles. Or how pregnant women are everywhere the second after your own test is positive. Like sees like. Self recognizes same.
The air smells of grilled chicken and baby shampoo; voices babble and tiny fists smack freshly wiped tables. My family of six is an oasis of calm in the middle of a bustling dining area full of highchairs and sippy cups. All four of my kids sit on chairs, drink with straws, and feed themselves. I do not worry, not for one second, if anyone will choke.
I raise my eyebrows with a quick head nod and a wistful smile in answer to my husband. I take a bite of my sandwich and chew.
He looks at me, then pauses, like he’s seeing me for the first time. “This was you.” My heart grabs itself by the edges and squeezes tight.
“Yes, this was me.”
My first child is three months old. All the help, the out of town family, have gone back to their own homes hundreds of miles away. By this point in my maternity leave, I know I’ll meet with my boss and tell her I’ve chosen to stay home with my daughter.
But I’m lonely, even in this life I want, this life I’m choosing.
I stand at the windows of our third story condo swaying, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. We live in a planned community and share walls with our neighbors. The building across the street mirrors ours exactly and retail shops line the first floors. I hold the baby I still don’t know how to get to sleep in the room I painted asparagus green.
From my perch, I watch dads in suits parallel park and dash into the daycare for a drop-off. A woman in a blouse grabs a sandwich from the store on the corner. An older couple cradles an overpriced bouquet from the florist.
I’m an eagle, my eyes on the coffee shop
I know they exist: other moms. I’ve seen them at the park, in the grocery store, walking the sidewalks in pairs. I don’t know any of them personally, but I know they drink coffee.
I kiss my daughter’s velvet forehead, stare at her fluff of hair and smile. She is my everything. She fills me to full. But our days feel like they are almost-nothing and never-ending. They empty me completely.
I return to my window.
Strollers! One big—an expensive two-kid jogger. The other is smaller, known for its maneuverability in the city. They’re parked outside, to the right of the coffee shop door.
I wait and watch and later when I lay my daughter down for the nap she won’t take and devise a plan.
The next day, I pack up a stroller with wipes and diapers and a nursing cover and walk the 100 feet across the street to order a small half-caff. I sit on a brown velvet couch and wait. If a mom walks in, I will awkwardly try to make eye-contact. I will pray she asks me how old my daughter is and if I’d like to be her best friend.
In the next few weeks, I have mild success. Wow! Look how much hair she has! and Oh! She’s so cute! But no one seems to need me as much as I need them.
On my way back home one day, a small woman with brown curly hair stands by the bulletin board at the entrance. She works with military precision and efficiency. A messenger bag lays at her feet, a cup of coffee waits for her at the counter, and a little boy with matching hair circles her legs.
“Excuse me,” I smile, trying to get past her and not run over her son. My eyes dart to the flier she just posted. In bold letters across the front I read: MOMS Club. “Excuse me,” I say again, but in a different tone, “can I ask … what’s your flier about?”
She stops and turns to me. “Oh yeah. I’m actually the president of our chapter. There’s a moms club in the area.” She goes on to tell me about age-specific playgroups and planned outings into the city. They host a monthly meeting with local speakers on topics central to moms.
Structure without obligation. Support without responsibility. Most importantly, it’s a way to meet other mothers without pressure.
Up until this point, I’d always had connection and friendship built into my life—whether it be through the structure of school, or church, or work. But everything was different now. “Community” didn’t just appear the moment I had a baby and quit my job.
She ends our interaction by saying, “Come to one of our meetings. Or a playgroup. See if you like it.”
A week later, I pull on the brown maternity pants I’m still wearing and a cream shirt I don’t like, but it fits. I drive to a coffee shop I’d never been to before and am welcomed with smiles and a seat. We talk about our kids, mainly as introductions and points of connection, but then one mom brings up a show she recently watched and wants to recommend. The kids crawl, bounce in our arms, rest on our chests. The remainder of the conversation centers around us, the mothers, and I leave refreshed.
I join the club and my blank calendar soon fills with weekly playdates and coffee shop meet-ups. We go to the pumpkin patch in the fall. DC landmarks and museums in the winter. Community sponsored parks in the spring. My daughter, and later my son, will remember absolutely none of these outings, save the pictures I took.
I go anyway.
Because I’m not doing it for them, I see that now.
Being with this group changes me.
I go from utterly unsure, to still unsure but at least someone else is around if I need help. I go from scared, to still scared but knowing there is always another mom with an extra diaper/wipe/onesie/snack/hand if I run out. I no longer feel lonely—the kind where you are actually alone but also the kind where you feel like the only one. My days are no longer full of the nothingness everyone is telling me to savor.
It’s probably dramatic to say those moms saved my life.
But if life is composed of a million tiny moments and an accumulation of days, if what I needed, longed for, survived on with babies and toddlers was relationship and acceptance and encouragement and You-can-do-this-ness; if what makes me me is connection and authenticity and the confidence and motivation to leave my house, maybe it isn’t that dramatic to say.
In fact, it’s the whole of the truth.
I walk into a coffee shop, a vibrant, buzzing, urban, and oddly inspiring setting. In the far corner, a group of moms and a barricade of strollers corral a herd of toddlers whose shrieks pierce through the humming space in unpredictable intervals. I see my friends, ones I’ve known since those early Moms Club days, sitting a small table—as far away from the kids as possible.
I’d left my house earlier in the day weighed down with thoughts of what I should be doing with my kid-free time, reluctant to show up, despite saying I would. We say hi, order coffee. Decide to split food. We catch up with each other. Laugh. Then we update, and wipe away tears.
I’m not the only one; I’m not alone. I’m so glad I came. I’m so glad you’re here.
We finish our coffee while it’s still hot. We talk and do not rush. We notice the flavors in the sandwich and we do not create, ignore, or over-tip a mess of crumbs on the floor.
Afterward, I walk back to my car and soak in the sunshine. I notice how full my heart feels. I’m anchored down, but floating.
I don’t struggle in the same way with the same things as I did when I was a young mom. And even though my days look much different than they did a decade ago, my needs haven’t changed. I still crave friendship and community. And this plan, to spend just a little time together today, brought capital L life into what could have been another busy and draining week—taking care of everything at home, driving to practices, and sitting in front of a computer working.
I’ll forever be grateful to the moms in that club who made those early years of motherhood not only tolerable but enjoyable.
And I’m still grateful.
Because there are moms who—even now—continue to save my life.
Photo by Lottie Caiella