Gabra and I have known each other since the playground in fifth grade. We reached best friend status in high school. Shared a locker, wore matching haircuts, named each other’s pimples. I adored Gabra and clapped gleefully when people mistook us for sisters. It was an assumption that we would always know each other’s bra size and cry each other’s tears.
After college, we settled in different cities (her in New York, me in Chicago). We got caught up in our careers and boyfriends and for a while, our phone calls got winnowed down to not much more than, “Miss you love you bye!” But when I moved back to New York in 2004 and my mother died that same week, Gabra was at my side. She took me to her favorite yoga studio and fed me soup. Two years later, she held my hand until the very last minute before I walked down the aisle to marry my husband, Jay. The only reason Gabra didn’t push with me is she was touring a show on October 5, 2008 when my daughter Sonya was born.
Three months later, I dressed Sonya in her Dolly Parton onesie and arranged us both casually on the living room floor. I’d written Gabra a graphic email about the actual birth and we checked in with voicemails every few days, but most often I had no words for the spectacular, gritty, orgasmic highs and lows of motherhood. Today was the first time the two most important (living) females in my life were to meet and I just wanted them to love each other.
Maybe it was Gabra’s hat. Or her stop-sign-red lipstick. It wasn’t that they didn’t like each other, exactly. Sonya was just inconsolable and Gabra wanted to make funny faces and talk really loudly. We decided Gabra should take off her hat and be less emotive. Then Sonya spit up on her and screamed until she shook. And for the first time in history, I couldn’t wait for my best friend to leave.
The Mom Boards
I went online to search for other mommies. A few days after I’d given birth I’d wandered into a maternity shop and signed up for a group of new mothers, but then missed all the meetings. There were emails everyday about gas grins and milk supply. Maybe one of these mommies and I would click. Or at least I could talk to someone who was moving as slowly as I was. The next Prospect Park meet-up was Wednesday at 2:30. We’ll be there! I wrote, then washed the Dolly Parton onesie as my social anxiety set in. I’d never been a great mingler, and since I quit drinking and joined parenthood I felt a little lightheaded when I had to speak in more than gurgles and coos.
Available on Etsy .
The first mommy walk I spent making small talk about cradle cap. One mommy admitted to asking for an epidural. Then a few of us chimed in that we did, too. I came home breathy and flushed. They weren’t BFFs but we spoke the same uncertain language. Even the mommies who’d slept a few nights in a row were still a little frayed. On the second walk a few days later, I hit a snag. Someone asked me what I did for work and I stammered about being in the theater in Chicago but then losing my mom and switching to writing a book and wanting to be present as a mother and an artist but not sure what comes next.
“That’s neat,” she said. I was just as confused as she was.
So I said, “Does your girl ever get fussy around five or so?”
I wanted it to sound unrehearsed. My husband worked nights so it was usually just Sonya and me for her recent onset of sunset wailings. I’d gotten so scared of the evening that I often packed her back up into the bjorn for a slushy twilight march. I didn’t want to say any of this out loud though. Not only did I feel totally ill equipped as a mom, but I also had just read something that said saying mean things about your newborn is a self-fulfilling prophecy for fussiness.
“Oh yeah,” said Lucy’s mom. “She screams, scratches, pounds on my chest like a savage beast. It’s the best.”
Bonding Made Easy
That’s when I made my first true mommy friend. Sarah was not just Lucy’s mom though. She was and still is someone I could trust and confide in. Someone I text regularly to say I think we have bedbugs. Or small pox. Can I give Sonya a fear of intimacy? Sarah worked as a social worker for ten years before reinventing herself as a photographer. Her pictures pull me into mountain ranges and faces I’d never notice on my own. She is incredibly talented and insightful and I know this because I’ve learned who she is–slowly. As our daughters have grown, so has our friendship. Maybe because we met at one of our most vulnerable moments. Maybe because whenever we get too obsessed with ourselves or our grand plans of success, somebody farts or asks for a lollipop. Which is a relief.
When I got pregnant again, Jay and I decided to look into some preschool options for Sonya so she could have a few mornings per week on her own.
Abby and Sonya
After her first full morning at Luria Academy, she announced, “Sam! Billy!”
“Really? Was anyone else there?”
“Yeah! Sam and Billy!”
“Did you do art?”
“Sam! Billy! Now please!”
Which I knew meant I had to make a play date. It was the first time I was meeting someone through my daughter. And since she had gained some independence, I knew I couldn’t rely on her to be the focus of every conversation.
“What if we have nothing to talk about except germs?” I asked Jay.
“Would that be so bad?” he countered. Sometimes that’s all he and I talked about, too, and it was okay.
Play Dates with Strangers
The first play date with Sam and Billy was a little awkward, I’ll admit. We chatted a lot about how to sneak vegetables into small mouths. Even though Sam and Billy are fraternal twins, I got them confused. But there was also the half hour where we made a fort from couch cushions while I breastfed our newborn. Jen, their mom, was kind enough to bring us dinner, which was a delicious couscous and salad, and the real gift was when she said she was never a good cook and her husband made most meals.
“Me too me too!” I chirped eagerly.
We got together with Sam and Billy a few more times. The dads even met and broke bread together. It was almost like a double date except we compared poopy diapers. And that was okay with me; having a girlfriend who could relate to my everyday. But Sonya pulled us into the next level of friendship.
She did it, simply, by throwing up.
We Were Puking!
Gabra’s one complaint about me is that I sometimes hold back. I won’t call her until a crisis is over or I’ve resolved some issue. She also thinks it’s hilarious how scared I am of vomit. So this time, when Sonya got sick, I called Gabra first.
“You’ll be happy to know that I just finished our eighth load of laundry. But I still can’t look my daughter in the eye. Why am I so scared of this natural process?”
Gabra was dutifully impressed. She also offered to come over and hold Sonya’s hair when and if it happened again. Emboldened by our talk, I texted Sarah.
“Hope all is well. We were puking! I am a terrible mom and hate puke so much!” Sarah wrote back right away, assuring me that she wasn’t much help when Lucy lost her cookies.
The note to Jen was maybe the easiest. Once I’d decided to let someone in, it felt almost natural. And Jen, too, was the variety of mom who hung back with the clean clothes while her husband disrobed the pukemonster.
I knew it wasn’t necessarily fair to expose my daughter’s innards to connect with friends, but hopefully one day I can explain to her how much she has helped me. To reach out and see the network of strong women I have around me. Moms, sisters, aunties, and confidantes. All at some point cleaning up vomit, and making cookies, and singing lullabies, and wondering what comes next?
And then smiling at how we’ll never know until we’re there.