By Wendy Rhein
These are the women I knew when I was carefree, though I may not have known it at the time. Pre-mortgages, pre-spouses, pre-children, we lived lives as single, career-minded, and curious young women in New York where almost anything felt possible if we wanted it badly enough. We went to the theater in the middle of the week. We saw concerts at the foot of the World Trade Center and watched the July 4th fireworks from Roosevelt Island. We edged our way to the front of the rope line at Christmas concerts at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, shoulder to shoulder with the nuns, our heads held high. These were the women who called each other at 1am after bad dates and good dates, fights with boyfriends and bosses, the best days and the lonely days.
These are the women.
And now, 15 years later, as many of us that can meet up for a week’s vacation, sharing a 3-bedroom condo in a little village, meals, walks, and many bottles of wine. And ice cream. There is always ice cream. Not everyone can come every year but we try. Spouses may join for a few days but generally, it is the women who come and stay. We women, and our children. This year that meant five kids under the age of 7. They range from 16 months to 7, four boys and one brave girl. We break them down into groups: small for the under 2s, medium for ages 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 and then the large child at age 7. We love to plan and we plan for weeks (months) in advance for meals and nap schedules and respect each other’s need to alter the schedules as children’s needs and our own shift. We balance who wants to do what during the day and gift each other the precious maternal commodity of alone time. This year I did the big grocery run about 320 miles into my 329 mile journey, kids in tow. We insist on treating ourselves to wonderful homemade tapas and farm fresh foods, balanced now with a lot of yogurt cups and honey-nut cheerios. We help each other unload, not always by carrying bags and strollers but by corralling children who have sat for too long to contain their excitement any longer. We laugh. A lot. We sometimes cry. We reveal our fears to one another in a way that honors our trust and friendship because we don’t do that easily.
These are the women.
After more than a decade of moves, marriages, children, crises, career sidesteps and leaps, these are the women who now talk about our aging parents, our parenting challenges, our own health, and our own longing for an elusive balance between fulfilling careers and fulfilled families. Maintaining friendships across miles in difficult. Making friends, new friends, good friends, after a certain age seems almost as difficult. I have found that many of the friendships are compartmentalized – because our kids know each other, because we work together – and they don’t always feel lasting and grounding. But holding on to old friends, and allowing space and acceptance for the changes in our lives and all the new little people that come with us like ducklings in a row, is the real test of friendship in your sandwich years. It takes time and commitment and effort. It takes forgiving unanswered emails and knowing that the painful honesties shared are meant in love. It takes some Herculian efforts to talk on the phone when little people are tugging at your clothes, your hair, your breasts. It takes saying “I’ll call you back” and doing it, even if that call comes at 7am from a taxi on the way to the airport. It takes. But what these friendships give, after years and years, is so much more.