My family and I recently made our second cross-country move because of my husband’s job. It was scary to have to pick up and move so completely out of my comfort zone, and so far from home again. The move brought up so many questions for me: Where will the kids go to school? Where will we live? Is there a place that sells good donuts? How am I going to deal with all this traffic?
But the scariest, hardest question of all was: Who am I going to call when I fall apart?
Seven years ago, my best friend lost her first baby to SIDS. I didn’t know how I was going to show up and be there for her, but my mom advised me that the act of showing up was, on its own, enough. She was right. This small piece of advice allowed me to look my friend in the eye and let her know that, while I couldn’t possibly know her pain, I was there for her. I was going to hug her and sit in that pain with her for as long as it took.
Because that is what we do for our girlfriends. We show up and we sit in all the yuck. And the older I get, the more I understand how important this is… how important it is to have fiercely loyal girlfriends, and what this showing up really means.
The aforementioned bestie is among the women I met in college. These women helped shape who I am. They lived in crappy apartments with me. Together, we drank cheap beer and flirted with boys. Later on, these same women danced on tables at my bachelorette party and then stood next to me as I got married.
As the years passed, these women became moms with me and helped me pick out my breast pump before I even knew what one was. They showed me both the merits and the horrors of a hands-free pumping bra, even using those pumps and bras with me in a huddle at the mall, or in the back rooms at weddings.
These women are fierce and loyal and strong and funny. I hated moving away from them. But, because I know and understand them so well, I also know that no matter where in the country we live, we will always have each other’s backs. We may go for months without seeing each other, but when we do, it is as if no time at all has passed.
Now that we are in the throes of raising our young children, getting good, quality girlfriend time is harder. It’s so tough—between work and school functions, swim lessons and dance class—to fit it all in. There are days when our calls last 30 seconds, and they go like this:
“Agh, I can’t talk right now but I answered because I needed to hear your voice.
We got this.
Other times, we sit on the phone listening to each other’s children scream and fight over LEGOs and dolls, and we laugh at the fact that we can’t hear each other or concentrate enough to finish a single thought.
But this not talking feels okay, too. Just sitting in our crazy together helps us feel less lonely.
I know it won’t always be this crazy. I know that, although having and keeping friends was a lot easier in my 20s, it will get better again in my 40s and 50s, and even richer and more raw in my 60s. I know this because I was lucky enough to be raised by a mom who values and loves her girlfriends too. Her tribe has been through it all. Raising kids, becoming empty nesters, moving, losing parents, losing friends. For 30 years, these women have held each other up. For 30 years, these women have met for dinner, rain or shine, every third Thursday of each month.
My mom and her friends taught me that carving out girlfriend time is not only “nice.” It is critical. It really does take a village, and it’s OK to accept help.
When I was 6 years old, my mom found out she was pregnant with my youngest brother. This fourth baby was a big surprise for my parents. They weren’t expecting to have more kids, and had already given away all of their baby stuff. Sensing my mom was a bit overwhelmed, the neighbor women rallied around her. They threw her a baby shower, thinking she could really use some new supplies—but more than the bottles and pacis, they saw she could use some friends. That simple party was the catalyst for their lifelong friendship.
From that day forward, we were raised in somewhat of a neighborhood pack. We’d all ride our big wheels and roller blades in the cul-de-sac while the moms sat on the driveway waiting for our dads to get home from work. On Friday nights, we’d stay out way past dark eating pizza and play ghost in the graveyard while our parents’ laughter served as the soundtrack of our summers.
As my husband and I move around the country—chasing jobs and chasing promotions—I find myself chasing this type of community. With each corporate relocation comes the new challenge of finding and building a day-to-day tribe.
I was lucky enough to build one in Arkansas, our first relocation. The women I met there became family to me. They loved and cared for me and my kids. They introduced me to the healing benefits of pie. They showed me how a single slice and a couple of forks can change a whole day.
I can’t remember who called who first on the day that a slice of pie transformed my entire outlook. But I do remember that motherhood was kicking my butt. I remember being beat down, tired and in need of a shower when my girlfriend said she was coming over. I remember the feeling that washed over me as she pulled up in her larger-than-life Suburban, filled to the gills with kids and noise. And that feeling was total relief. I looked at her and thought: I’m going to be okay. And I was, because she brought all of her crazy and sat in the driveway with mine.
We cracked a couple of Boulevard Pale Ales and ate pie from our favorite pie shop while we shared each other’s insanity. Her simple act of showing up was so much bigger than that slice of pie she brought with her. It was a game changer, ending my day with laughter rather than the tears that were surely coming.
It was that way for the four years I called Arkansas home. Loyal women showing up on my doorstep uninvited, but so needed. Right up to my very last morning in Bentonville, these girlfriends showered me with love and tears and coffee and treats. Because of them, I left with a full and very broken heart.
How could I be so lucky as to have struck girlfriend gold twice? And now that I’ve made yet another move—this time to Dallas—can I do it all over again? Can I be vulnerable enough to build a sisterhood with women right here in my Texas community? Is there really enough of me to do it all over again?
Gosh, I hope so.
Finding friends is a bit like dating. You smile. You talk. You put yourself out there. You offer a piece of yourself in exchange for a piece of them. It takes time and vulnerability to build moments, and to build trust, and to find the right fit.
It’s tough to see a mom at the park or library that looks how you feel, and find the courage to say, “Hey I’m a mess, but you seem like you might get that. Do you want to be my friend?”
But, wow, when it clicks and you meet those women who share in your joy and sadness, who lift you up, hold on. Hold on really, really tight.
If you’re lucky enough, they’ll show up and keep showing up… and bring pie.