Are either of you home? I want to drop some things off for work!
Her text dings around 5:30 p.m., a group text to me and my husband. I was in the middle of cracking two eggs into a dish, pouring milk and a splash of vanilla, ready to grab the whisk when I see it. Quickly wiping my hand on my pants—I suppose this is why my clothes are always dirty—I respond to her.
Mike’s gone but I’m here! Come on by!
Thanks! Just picked up the kids. Be there soon.
She is a colleague of my husband’s; her boys are the same age as my two older children. When we first moved to town, she invited our family to visit her church. Our kids’ friendship formed quickly in the Sunday school classroom, around the snack table following worship, in the game of tag after choir practice. I admire the ease in which children make friends. Adult friendship, however, requires more time—time to nurture, to move past simple pleasantries, to feel comfortable like a worn slipper. Time wasn’t something either of us had in great supply.
As I return to the whisk, her words at the end of the text linger in my ears. Just picked up the kids, it read.
I listen to my three children in the other room, fighting over whose turn it was to jump off the couch onto the pile of pillows on the floor. I feel the tightness in my chest, the familiar sign of anxiety that settles in around this time. With three children exhausted from a day of learning and growing and feeling, someone is always bound to need me—to fix their tower, to wipe a tear, to feed them immediately before their stomach consumes their insides. My heart races with the hustle and anticipation of this neediness. I hide in the kitchen when it is quiet. As if staring at a ticking time bomb, I rush to prepare food. I cringe every time I hear someone’s whiny voice beckon “Mommy!” Parenting solo tonight only adds to the urgency.
I think about my friend, just picking up her children from childcare, making her way to my house knowing she will then have to turn around back to hers and go through this routine of being needed too. My heart aches for her. The guilt of a mother working outside the home is no secret. I imagine her evening to feel as exhausting as mine only layered with the conflicting pains of a mother who wants to connect with her children but also wants to hurry them to bed so she can pick up her computer again and finish the work she didn’t get to that day because she had to rush home to be needed. I can’t fix this for her. But maybe there is something I can do.
I put the whisk down again and text her quickly.
Do your kids want to stay for dinner? I’m making French toast.
YES! she pings back before I have a chance to set the phone down.
I grab a couple eggs, add a few more glugs of milk and another splash of vanilla. I send my children to the front door to wait for their friends. When they arrive I barely get to the door to greet them before their shoes are removed and they run past me to the play room. Her hands are full with the materials meant for my husband. I take them from her, set them down and then give her a big hug.
“Thank you,” she says.
“Absolutely. Make yourself at home! Want a glass of bourbon?” I say as I hand her a glass and the bottle, not giving her a chance to say no, because I know she wants to say yes. She stands in my kitchen, ice clinking in her glass, as she tells me about her busy week—a looming deadline, challenges with her children, her struggles with a friendship. She sets the table before I have to ask, helps cut up bites, refills glasses of milk. Little ones interrupt us a hundred different ways with their needs; I’m sure there were many conversations left unfinished. Yet, as the sun sets out the window behind us, I feel the tension of the day for both of us fading with it.
Setting darkness also signals impending bedtime. As quickly as they arrive, my friend rushes her children out the door and on with their night, offering one last heartfelt thank you for the meal and the conversation.
I smile and offer the general “oh, it was my pleasure” sentiments as we do with a friend. Hustling my own children through their bedtime routines, I reach the finish line gratefully, closing the door behind me. Quiet greets me in the rooms beyond, as well as a mess. Moving through the house, I repair the remains of an evening with friends, the table, the kitchen, the playroom—a task I might normally begrudge. But tonight, I only feel peace.
This feeling of contentment leads me to realize there was something I forgot to say to my friend as she hurried away.
I never got to tell her thank you.
We know how to be grateful when someone shares a meal. But there is another gift we forget about—the gift of a friend saying yes to our offering. My friend let me care for her, feed her, sit with her. She brought me into her community by saying yes to my gift.
They say it takes a village to raise a family. My own parenting thrives because of the mercy of so many working parents—teachers, caregivers, doctors, the blessed angels who bring me my groceries to my car. But I never recognized the part I could play in that village, too. When she invited me to her church, I felt welcomed. But when she invited me to serve her, as a stay at home mother with a little extra time to feed a hard working mother and her family, she welcomed my gifts. She showed me I have something to offer this village, I am a part of it too, alongside her.
I put the last plate in the dishwasher, close the door, and hear the familiar hum of the machine working its magic on messy dishes inside. We all have a role to play here; tonight, I’m grateful she said yes to mine.