Growing up with social parents, it wasn't unusual to spend time around their friends. Whether it was the holidays, a dinner party, or my mom's turn to host the Bunco gals, having their friends at the house brought a different kind of energy. I saw my parents loosen up, telling stories and refilling wine glasses; they were people, not just parents.
And instead of a Von Trapp "so long, farewell" on the stairs, I don't recall us kids getting shooed away. I remember telling their friends about school, connecting with them over my old soul music taste, and asking how they'd like their post-dinner coffee.
I loved when my parents' friends paid attention to me. One of their friends in particular, a fun and funky divorcée with a wicked fashion sense, has always felt like my cool aunt. She never had children, so our conversations were more about Marilyn Monroe than Minnie Mouse. When she got a puppy, our family hosted a party and baptized her new arrival in the lake. My dad was the godfather.
Seeing alternatives to the typical, nuclear family path in this organic way was a wonderful life lesson. The paths we take in life might diverge at different points, but we're all still walking together.
Now that I have my own children, I realize how special it is for them to have similar adults in their lives—and how important it is to nurture those friendships with them.
Don't get me wrong: I don't know where I would be without my community of mom friends. Friends to commiserate, celebrate, and chat with over the cacophony of our children playing. There are things we just don't know until we join the mom club, and when we do it becomes years of texting memes in the middle of the night.
Still, it's rare to steal some quiet moments with a mom friend without interruptions from kids requesting snacks, new batteries for a toy, or help with going to the bathroom. Play dates with friends can sometimes feel like phone conversations with a bad connection—gaps and pauses abound. We understand though. We're used to it, the chaos. What is motherhood if not a zigzagging line?
We relate to our friends and their children through the lens of being moms ourselves. We trade stories from the trenches, loan each other baby equipment, and build each other up when we're feeling like we're failing. We become "___'s mom" to other kids.
As one of the first of my friends to get married and have kids, I tried to straddle the line between married mama and the person my friends once knew. Sometimes that meant having my daughter in tow at Sunday brunch, but my friends were always supportive and eager to hang out with me and my mini sidekick.
As new moms, we worry that our friends without kids might leave us out, or move on without us before we're ready. But on the flip side, friends who aren't married or have children can feel equally left out in social scenarios, particularly when there is a lot of mom chatter.
While my community of mom friends has expanded over the years, some of my closest friends aren't parents. All of these relationships fill my cup in their own ways, because they allow me to tap into the different parts of myself. I treasure my mom friends, but also the friends who relate to me in a way that doesn't involve my role as a mom.
What makes these friendships distinctive is their presence in my daughters' lives, much like the cool adults I admired as a kid. They have the space and bandwidth to embrace my kids as their own little people, too.
They are the ones who talk to my kids like adults with a comical, matter-of-fact tone, but also indulge in their make-believe games.
The ones who send my kids letters in the mail.
The ones who come over to my house for visits because they know it can be stressful to make sure my husband gets home in time, or find arrangements for the kids.
The ones who have never watched an episode of Paw Patrol, but know all of the characters by heart.
The ones who talk to my daughter and give her advice; those words of wisdom hit differently when they don't come from mom, especially when you're eight.
The ones who come to kids birthday parties with bells on.
The ones who don't get annoyed when my daughters interrupt our phone conversations, telling them stories in an unedited and stream-of-consciousness way.
The ones who teach my kids dance moves to "Blinding Lights" and phrases like "bye, Felicia."
The ones who invite us to buckle a booster seat into the back of their Jeep for a summer joy ride: roof open, sides off, wind whipping our hair.
I'm thankful to these friends for embracing me and my menagerie.
Here's to all of the cool adults, our chosen family, who help make an impression on our children.
That includes my parents' friend, whom my girls also love now. She most recently sent my girls large, feathered fascinators from the shop where she works part time in Florida. They can't wait to visit her again, maybe to float on the blue flamingo inflatable in her pool. "Miss Vicki is so fun," they say.