I’ve just returned from an absolutely fantastic evening with 12 other women.
I’d never laid eyes on any of them, but one, before tonight.
This is a group of women brought together by the fact we are moms of older teens, most of whom are in college, or about to go. As we talked (sometimes participating in two or more conversations at once), we found some of the most amazing coincidences, people and places in common, and all-around interesting women in each other.
At the dinner table, we each took turns telling a little bit about ourselves: our names, ages of our children, their school, college or university, what we do during the days… and sometimes, why we were there at dinner with a table full of virtual strangers.
Commiseration is a big part of why we were there. Sharing out loud is important so that we know we’re not alone. At one point, G sitting next to me, brought up her frustration with her younger daughter who is a free spirit, willing to just “see what happens”; whereas G is much more organized and wants to have a PLAN (“My oldest is very organized — how can two children from the same parents be so different?” she mused.
Many, many nods of understanding around the table). H is wondering how she will cope next year when her one-and-only leaves for college. Those of us with ones-and-onlies nod and try to pre-console her. C, on my right, talks about deciding to come to dinner after just finding the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group online that week. Many agree we found the group at “the right moment.” But none of us are really looking for a group…. we are hoping for community.
Sharing our pride is another reason we talked for hours and could have talked longer into the night. Some of us talked about our kids’ struggles to find their way, feeling so proud in that moment when they do, and how we were privileged to witness it. At one end of the table, A told the story of her son who found theater, and thus found his way, and we clapped. Many of us had similar stories. We clapped for all the stories because we understand.
Some of us came with a friend (thank you, K, for being my anchor), some by ourselves; some have been involved with the group for a while, some since just the moment they RSVPed “yes” for tonight. But we all braved the first fierce Illinois spring thunderstorm complete with sideways rain, thunder, and wild lightening because we all really wanted to be a part of this. Everyone understood that. And being good moms, at the end of the evening we all told each other to “drive safely” as we hugged our new friends goodnight.
There’s a quaint story that makes the rounds every now and again about a mother talking to her just-married daughter. Mom tells daughter “You have a marriage now, but keep your girlfriends, those are important relationships.”
Yes, they are. But how many friends have we all lost touch with, simply because Life Happens? We move, they move; we are at different points in Life (with partners, without; without kids, with; career-minded/family-minded/lost and looking for our minds…). Despite the amount of time and energy we expend trying to nurture some of these relationships, sometimes they just need more than we can give, or need something we don’t have to give anymore.
Sometimes those relationships shift and we find ourselves so far apart; and sometimes we change, but the changes move us in the same direction and we are able to keep each other. Either way, change happens. We all change. We all understand.
As we get older and suddenly find ourselves parents of Life-bound children, whether they are going to college or an apprenticeship or a job, the understanding of how — and why — relationships change becomes a little clearer. And dinners, like tonight’s, become so much more than dinner… they become a community.
We understand that worrying about our teens and college students takes on a whole new dimension of parental worry, and it’s exhausting. We all know talking with, and over, and to, a young adult can be exhausting. We understand that navigating these next steps is challenging for everyone — even ourselves, because it’s all changed since we were that young! We understand letting go is hard. We understand that friendships are important. We understand we need each other. Finding each other is sometimes the hardest part.
But not tonight.
Tonight we laughed, talked, drank, ate, kept talking; we took pictures (thank you, J — you win the “Herding Cats” award), we kept talking. We exchanged business cards and phone numbers; we’ll look for each other now online, able to put a face to the name. Tonight we made new friends — we created a new community. Tonight we were not just heard; we were understood.
We may have been brought together tonight by our parenthood, but it’s the understanding that will bring us back together next time.
Thank you, ladies.
Until next time ~ Cheers!
Dana McKenna is a playwright, essayist, editor, and interviewer. Her essays have appeared on Huffpost.com and the website “I Feel Like I’ve Forgotten Something” at reminddana.com; her interviews, in regional magazines and local newspapers. Two books and a play are in the works. She lives in the NW Chicago suburbs with her partner, Tim, and her son Zach — a proud University of Iowa Hawkeye, their dog and two cats.