Happy Yellow

I painted our front door a bright, lively, welcoming shade of yellow shortly after we moved in. The old door was blue but I wanted a color that appeared friendlier. A color that beckoned, “Come in!” all the way from the street. A color that our new neighbors and acquaintances would see and feel confident that we weren’t weird or serial killers or anything. Because, look! A happy yellow door! A totally normal family lives here (sort of)! Approach with abandon! Be our friends! We’re nice!

It’s tough when you move someplace new. It’s tough to meet new people and make new friends. It’s particularly difficult to make new mom friends. Especially when you’ve moved to a very different part of town like we did when we moved from the suburbs to our more rural locale. Many of the moms around here have deep roots, friendships are established, school alliances are in place.

But, here we are, a year later and I HAVE made some wonderful new friends. I’m part of an amazing circle of supportive, kind, incredibly compassionate mothers. And, because I’ve met so many of these lovely women since I painted our threshold, I can only assume that my happy yellow front door has something to do with it. See, I’ve tried to open our front door to everyone this past year. And, that act has encouraged friendship in remarkable ways.

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At some point, apparently when two of my three children became elementary school-age, playdates stopped being a group event. Without my even noticing, it seemed we had aged out of library story times and big playground meet-ups. Our toddlers had become kids and play dates were of the drop off, singular, variety. It was one of those things I didn’t realize was even happening until it happened. It usually would begin with an email of introduction from a mom with a request for one of my kids to come to their house after school and would that be all right?

“But what about me,” I said to myself, as I drove Henry to the home of a new school friend. Play dates used to be for me, too. The camaraderie and friendship of us mothers would sustain me through the long afternoon hours. Talking, commiserating, and complaining about the demands of parenthood served as a necessary release and lifted my spirits during the most tedious of days.

Now, it seemed that entire era had ended. I guess there would be no more sipping wine and devouring cheese plates with my mom friends while we pretended not to hear that crashing noise in the other room. How would I unburden my woes and release the stress of mothering? Would I have to start exercising instead? I felt a little panicky. And, isolated.

So, I tried something new. The next time I received an email request for a play date for one of my children, I replied, “Yes, of course! But, please, come over to my house. All of you. Bring your other kids. Everyone is welcome. I have snacks.”

“Just look for the yellow door.”

I didn’t know these other mothers well. Some, I had only briefly met at the occasionally attended PTA meeting or random classroom party. Some were from the next town over and were new to our school, just like me. Some were from my mother’s group. Some from our church. Some worked, some stayed at home. Every one of them accepted my invitation.

And, they all exclaimed, “I love your yellow door,” as I ushered them inside.

It takes work to forge friendships. It is always a little intimidating to meet other mothers for the first time. I’m self-conscious over the dirty dishes in the sink or the crumpled pile of clean laundry on the sofa. It’s scary to open yourself up to others and talk about big things. Especially, when the only commonality you appear to have is that you are both mothers.

Magically and without fail, not one of these new friends ever seems to notice the sticky floors or the dusty furniture. We’re too busy talking. We’re too busy empathizing. We’re too busy connecting. We’re too busy with the really important stuff to notice the insignificant stuff.

Sometimes, at these mom play dates, the conversation flows and we speak in run-on sentences and we talk over each other and we run out of time because we have so much to say. We’ve found so much in common. Sometimes, these play dates stretch well into dinner prep and I find myself going about my kitchen duties but with the pleasant accompaniment of friendly chitchat. No one ever feels like they’ve overstayed their welcome. Occasionally, us mothers talk about very serious things. You know, the Big Stuff. We hide watery eyes as we reach for more snacks or take a sip of tea.

Many times, on their way out the door, my new friends will lean over and say, “I really needed this.”

Or, “I’m sorry if I talked too much.”

And, “Thank you for listening.”

Most importantly, they say, “Let’s get together again.”

Mothers need one another. We need other women to discuss and dissect our days with. We need all of the support and friendship we can muster during the years we spend raising our children. It is inevitable that, as our children age, our discussions age, too. We switch from talking about bottle brands and potty training to discussions about our marriages, our families, tricky school social situations, our transition back to a non-toddler existence.

There is always, still, so much to talk about. Life may change but the fundamental need for friendship and connection between mothers remains.

That’s why my door will always be open. It’s my new life policy.

I Never Read the Book

If the first rule of Fight Club is you do not ever talk about Fight Club, then, the first rule of Book Club is you do not ever talk about books at Book Club. Never. At least that’s how the book club I belong to operates.

Many years ago, when we lived in Alexandria, my neighbor invited me to join a new book club that her friend and co-worker was starting up. Her co-worker wanted a book club that actually read books. And, then talked about the books with critical thinking and big words and everything. The book club her co-worker was leaving had devolved into just wine drinking and discussions about kids (Attention! Foreshadowing!) and she was kind of in it for the books.

This all sounded like fun to me. Henry was just a baby at the time so I was game to join anything that would get me out of the house on a regular basis, even if the only person I knew in the group was my neighbor. The first few times we gathered, I can recall we definitely discussed that month’s literary selection. There was, of course, small talk and excellent wine and food but the main focus of our get togethers was always to chat about the book.

I think this lasted for about a year or less. Then, one by one, as members started having children, our monthly literary roundtable became more about eating and drinking and discussing babies and careers and husbands and daycares. Book club became more of a night out and a brief escape from our regular responsibilities. We still picked a book each month to read but it was mostly a ceremonial selection since no one was really expected to read it. One of us would inevitably ask casually, “Did anyone read the book this month?” which was almost always quickly followed by “Hey, please pass that dish with the things covered in prosciutto.”

Our focus shifted from book discussions to life discussions. The hours we spent together each month offered an opportunity to catch up with one another; to chat, to laugh, to decompress.

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Don’t read the first book in this stack. It’s… not good.

Approximately seven years and countless titles procured but never read later, the women I met through book club remain some of my dearest friends. Our membership has certainly ebbed and flowed over time but there has always been about eight or nine of us that have met regularly since the beginning (or close to the beginning) of the club. Even during the two years I lived in Richmond, I would still drive up for the occasional book club meeting in the summer or holiday party each December.

One of the treats of moving back to the area was getting to participate in book club regularly again. Except now, we all say “book club” with accompanying air quotes. (Especially Bob.) We no longer meet at each other’s homes. These days, we pick a new restaurant each month and anyone that can join us does. We are all a little bit older now and a bit more weary and our conversations have switched from sharing hilarious tales of labor and delivery and life with nursing newborns to discussions that revolve more around work situations, school choices and how awful homework is. We’ve talked about just renaming our monthly get together, “Dinner Club,” but the name hasn’t stuck.

I’m so pleased our little club keeps chugging along. Even though, for many of us, work responsibilities are bigger, family life is more hectic and having dinner reservations for 7:30 at night means less time spent in pajama pants in front of the TV. But, I absolutely cherish the time I get with these ladies and I hope to be drinking wine by their side for many, many more years to come.

Even if we never discuss another book again.