The Moms I Miss Now

by Laurie Ulster
Originally Published: 

I never wanted to be in a moms’ group. It seemed like too loose of an association. It didn’t imply any sort of real connection, and the whole idea of making motherhood our common denominator just didn’t appeal to me. Not my thing, I said.

And then it just sort of happened. I found my moms. And for a good year, weather permitting, we had a thing: We were a trio, and we used to meet on the playground every Sunday morning. Our kids were all about 3, and while they played and ran to us for snacks and water and hugs after falls and disputes, we talked, and talked, and talked.

We were all so different. Tracie was an attorney, type A, and the kind of person who could multitask with brilliance. She knew the right people and the right places, she was involved with the town and a member of the Junior League, she had a mother who drove her crazy with expectations and despite the fact that she seemed to juggle 10 times more than we did with incredible skill, she spent her days thinking she should be doing more, and better.

Daphne was a child psychologist with a specialty in trauma, working with kids who were still suffering from 9/11-related PTSD. Her husband Mark was a psychiatrist, and they were both soft-spoken, gentle and calm. Their house had a meditation loft in it and was filled with artwork and classic, old-school toys.

I was the oddball, a website director with a pop culture obsession, an eternally messy house and a nerdy side. They were both younger than I was, but seemed more adult, and yet, it didn’t matter. We were as one on that playground, sharing our snacks with our kids and any others who toddled up to us, doling out sunblock and toys for the sandbox, jumping up when anyone’s kid looked just a little too precarious on the jungle gym.

Despite our differences, we bonded that year. There were times when the two of them were the only people I knew who understood what it was like trying to navigate the new world of being a mom along with a career and a marriage. We were all established professionals adapting to our very new roles, sometimes stumbling as we went.

I think the highlight of those playground get-togethers was on Mother’s Day. Just as we were out there wondering why, even on Mother’s Day, we were still the ones spending the morning on the playground watching the kids, Daphne’s husband showed up with hot, homemade waffles, warm syrup, cocoa and a big smile for all of us. He poured and served, then cleaned it all up and disappeared.

But even on regular days, without waffles, we were happy to be there, together, as a trio. These were the women I could be sloppy with and scared with. I could tell them about the inadequacies that worried me and reassure them about their own. We could laugh at our mishaps and mistakes, the people we worked with who usurped us as we rushed home to our kids, and the exhaustion created by the new early risers in our lives. But it wasn’t just about the kids.

At one point, I had a miscarriage. I wasn’t very far along, but it was devastating nonetheless, and I found the strain of holding the emotions back all day at work left me wound up so tightly I could hardly breathe. I left the office one day, tensed up and frozen, and headed to the train station early, thinking I’d get a window seat and stare out the whole time so nobody could see my face.

The train doors were still shut, and crowds were gathered on the platform. Nowhere to sit, nowhere to hide, I just stood there and focused on holding myself together, every muscle tensed. And then, out of the crowd, Daphne emerged. She’d barely said hello when I exploded into tears on her shoulder, my body shaking with repressed grief. All she did was hold me while I cried, shielding me from the other people waiting on the platform.

The doors finally opened and she hustled me to a window seat. A few minutes later, Tracie appeared in our car, taking the empty seat next to Daphne. She gave us a cheerful hello, and when I turned to face her, the tears that had just stopped started spilling out all over again.

But I was with my friends, and I was safe.

I still miss those friends. Daphne moved to Hoboken, but because she and her husband, despite their amazing people skills, are equally inept at handling answering machines, voice mail or email, we don’t get to connect much. Tracie moved even farther away, to Singapore, and she finally returned about a year ago, but we’ve both moved on to new circles and new lives. When we run into each other, we hug and try to squeeze in a few minutes of conversation before one of our younger kids starts yanking on us to get going. Our oldest kids don’t recognize each other anymore, even though they’re both in the same middle school now.

I never wanted a moms’ group, and I never thought I needed to find mom friends to be with, but that year, it happened naturally, and I’ll never forget it. I see other people on that playground now, other moms with their toddlers, with their Ziploc bags of snacks and their water bottles, and I hope they’re sharing their sunscreen too. I hope someone brings them waffles on Mother’s Day and Kleenex when they need it, and I hope they are holding each other up, just like we did.

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