There were only four and they were all less than that in years the first summer I pulled my girls up that hill in their wagon and stopped in her front yard. They were playing in a plastic pool in the front yard and next thing I knew, my girls in all their clothes, were in it too. We sat on a towel in the grass and talked about babies and jazzercise and how she stayed home because she couldn’t bear the thought of someone else raising her kids, but I went to work because I still wasn’t sure I was the best person to be raising mine.
She offered us egg salad or pb&j for lunch, and somehow in that mystery way of motherhood we fused a friendship that day even though we could not have been more different. Together, we watched our children move out of preschool years and into the tumult and delight of elementary school. She had another baby boy, and a year later, I had another baby girl. We talked about how three was enough for both us, and that it was definitely harder than going from one to two.
We walked the half-mile hill between our two houses so many times I’m surprised there’s not a path in the pavement. There came a day when her middle son taught my middle girl to ride a bike and my oldest talked me into letting her coast her bike down the hill. She stood beside me at the mailbox with their name handpainted and talked my heart down out of my throat when my big girl left behind a streak of pink and white.
Somewhere along the way, our kids began to believe we all belonged to each other. The oldest ones made plans to be President together or at least build a bridge between our two houses. The middles ratted each other and everyone else out at any chance available. The littles just tried to keep up. And I began to think that maybe she was right and I could find my joy in just raising these rambunctious girls.
She never made me feel I had to fake my way through, even when life handed me a plan that was more than I thought I wanted. I could be real and I could be honest, and I hope I still managed to show her, even at my darkest moments, that I knew there was Light at the end of the tunnel. She walked that journey toward grace with me, and I hope now she knows I’ve found my joy. Even when they’re all screaming in the car and there’s cereal all over my floor and I’m walking up that hill now just to escape for a few minutes.
She held my baby boy when he was just hours old and reassured me that I could do this. She built confidence in me with one simple tactic: she never says something she doesn’t really mean, so when she compliments my writing or my hair or my kids, I know it’s true. She trusted me with her kids, which for her is the ultimate sign of confidence.
Then one week after she went to my daughter’s honors day in my place because I was in the hospital with my husband, I helped her pack boxes and empty closets and drink a bottle of wine before the truck came.
Isn’t amazing that you can pack seven years of life into one moving truck? But where do you put the memories, the laughter, the friendship? I know some friends come into our lives for a season, but the friend who loved my children like her own, who helped me find my way back to where I belong, who made summers shorter and girls nights richer, is more than just someone I’ll remember fondly one day.
She’s someone I’ll cherish for a lifetime.