Life

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To The Mom Friends Who Cry With Me After Bedtime

I feel like a teenager, sneaking out after dark, except it’s only 8:30 p.m. and everyone knows where I’m going — it’s on the family Google calendar.

by Taylor Harris

I feel like a teenager, sneaking out after dark, except it’s only 8:30 p.m. and everyone knows where I’m going — it’s on the family Google calendar. I’m wearing stretchy pants and sneakers, nothing too sexy, but I smell like a showered woman. The kids are in bed, I’ve got keys to the Honda, and if getting turnt is still a thing, then that’s basically what I’m about to do.

Street parking comes easy in the suburbs, and I pull up behind a Subaru and grab a mask from my purse. I walk the path of stones to the gate that Naomi left unlatched for me and into the backyard. Jess, who is low-key Martha Stewart with a Ph.D., has strung white lights along the deck’s stairs — just the sort of chic and cozy touch I’ve come to expect from her.

Tonight, Jess and Naomi are bundled in coats, sitting below the deck on plush patio furniture, and suddenly I realize the animal noise I hear is me, squealing. Then I’m waving way too hard. What is this giddiness overtaking my introverted, cave-dwelling, book-writing self? All of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has been distilled into these two ladies, who squeal and smile back at me.

“Hey! Are we doing masks? We can do masks,” Naomi calls out. They know, even though we’ve all recently been vaccinated, my anxiety requires a personal call from Fauci before I’ll burn my KN95s.

“Let me just finish my wine,” says Jess, holding a rose-colored tumbler that matches Naomi’s and pointing to the cans of LaCroix for me. With The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill playing softly through speakers behind us, we can begin.

“You guys know I do not want another baby,” I start, Naomi and Jess nodding like church mothers in hats, “but I saw one, like 6 or 7 months old, and I almost got the fever. She was just so beautiful.”

We talk about vasectomies and our favorite baby stages, but within minutes, our conversation goes where all good conversations lead — to vaginal tearing.

“Oh, I didn’t tear,” says Naomi.

“Wait. What?” Jess asks. Naomi’s firstborn was over 9 pounds.

“I’m kind of a hippie. I was really into those perineal massages. You know, I worked as doula…”

We discuss everything from the ring of fire to the red-light district, from elementary education to the legalization of marijuana, from Jewish burial customs to Christians with Hebrew tattoos at Starbucks. “No wonder that guy looked at me funny when I asked if he was Jewish, too!” Naomi says, and I feel at home, somewhere between giggles and tears, for three hours.

I’ve stopped trying to figure out how women who are acquaintances, or fellow school moms, become dear friends, the kind who remind one another that life holds a certain richness, even as it holds trauma.

I can’t tell you why, exactly, the three of us click, why we’ve mattered to each other. We’ve met on nights like this throughout the pandemic, as Jess worried about her husband working in the ER; as Naomi balanced virtual schooling for her girls and taking classes; as I underwent surgery and fought for my husband to get tenure after an all-white committee denied him. All one of us had to do was send up the flare, a simple text: Can we meet up soon? Always: Yes. Followed by: Do we want snacks? Duh.

I’ve stopped trying to figure out how women who are acquaintances, or fellow school moms, become dear friends, the kind who remind one another that life holds a certain richness, even as it holds trauma. We might not have all the mojo we once possessed as young moms chasing toddlers, but we’ve learned how to pay close attention to one another, to offer what we can even when we’re all struggling. Over the past year, Jess has ordered me a cake decorated with a triumphant, raised fist when I needed it, and quietly left flowers and a card at my door. Naomi has brought meals when I couldn’t cook and Christmas gifts of tea and honey. And they both understood when, days before a major medical appointment in January, I backed out of our scheduled ladies’ night.

No guilt, no shame. They’d be there when I was ready to talk.

That appointment was four months ago. Since then, we’ve gathered on Jess’ deck for hot cider and pie and around Naomi’s fire pit with gorgeous cupcakes from a local bakery. Tonight’s meetup is our last, though, at least as neighbors. My family is moving from Charlottesville for various reasons, though it’d be silly to pretend that my husband’s drawn-out tenure battle, which we eventually won, hasn’t affected us. One system’s racist structure burdens entire families and communities.

Jess promises not to break down when she asks for our official moving date. “Your face is so stoic,” she keeps saying, but feeling emotions 10 days late is my spiritual gift. I know the sadness will hit like a rock after we leave Charlottesville, the place that, for all its beauty and betrayal, has been home.

“I was just telling a friend I’ve found the people I can cry with here,” says Jess. These words from her, the way Naomi’s eyes brim with tears and empathy when you’re sharing a story. I’ve come to understand in my late 30s, as a mom, how much I need this — to be my whole self, not unwilling to change, but fully me, alongside a few good friends.

We give air hugs before midnight, thank Jess for hosting, and walk back out through the gate. At the end of the driveway, before I get into my car, Naomi says, “I think it’s gonna be good, this move. We’ll miss you, but I think it’s gonna be good for you.”

I want to tell her it’s no big deal, that we’ll probably be back before she can miss us. But as she turns to walk home in the dark, I know it’s best to stick close to truth, to soak in this night we’ve shared, and all the ones that came before — when we tucked in our kids, said goodnight to our spouses, and gathered around the fire or cupcakes to tell our own stories.