It was the "lazy morning at home" that by 8 a.m., I knew could no longer be the lazy morning at home. Restless toddlers, arguments over whose cup it was, and a pile of laundry that six little feet were simply not going to let me fold. The kids needed a change of scenery and a place to burn off some energy, and I couldn’t let those unfolded socks taunt me one more minute. We had to get out of the house.
I sent a text to my good friend Kelly on a whim, hoping to have someone join me in the chaos but staying realistic about the chances of a last minute meet up. “We are headed to Jump + Bounce at 10! Are you guys free this morning?”
A few minutes later my phone lit up. “We are! We will be there!”
Thank goodness! I thought in return. When you’ve simply had too much of your little people and the day is still so young, the prospect of the company of anyone but those little people is incredibly comforting. I quickly grabbed everyone socks, corralled the kids into the car, and promised to stop at Starbucks for apple juice on the way—my way of saying, "Mama needs a venti this morning."
Within 90 minutes, two moms and five kids descended on the local bounce house. We wrangled shoes off excited toddlers and reminded the easily distracted one not to hold in her potty until the last minute. For an hour, Kelly and I chatted in one minute increments, head on a swivel for our kids in the sea of sweaty little people.
“So how was work this week?”
“It was good. Had a big meeting with a potential new client, but I think he enjoyed the presentation and is likely to hire us, so … oh, hang on, ‘Micah! Wait for him, do not climb over him!’ What about you? Anything new?”
“Oh not really. Keeping busy with the usual but I did get … ‘Cannon! Are you stuck? I’m coming buddy.’ Anyway, what was I talking about?”
And so it went the remainder of our time. A sentence here, a bathroom break there, a moment of panic when the two-year-old is out of sight for too long and sweet relief when I see his bright yellow shirt come out from behind the climbing wall. A classic mom-date, catching up and bonding over the shared experience of constant interruption and unfinished sentences.
When it was time to go, my four-year-old, Harper, spotted the balloons. The pink one, to be specific. Once her eyes locked on it I knew exactly what she was thinking. With the adept negotiating skills that seem far too mature for a four-year-old, somehow she convinced her distracted mama to hand over two quarters for a little bit of pink glory. As the sweet bounce house worker handed her the prize, my girl beamed. So much joy for such a little face. With Harper’s balloon in hand, we guided the rest of the crew out the door and toward a sea of various color minivans.
Just after we stepped outside and turned to say goodbye to our friends, toddler-tragedy struck: a gust of wind seized the pink balloon and began to carry it off into the distance. Immediately Harper shrieked in horror and began crying, “My balloon! My balloon!” I didn’t even have a moment to get out any words of consolation to her before friendship showed up.
Without hesitation, Kelly dropped her purse and took off running—no, sprinting— toward the balloon. This was no light breeze, it was wind she was up against, and she gave it her best athletic efforts. We watched as she chased that balloon down the parking lot, onto a sidewalk, near the storefront, and eventually around the back of the building. For a few anxious seconds she was out of sight and we all wondered and hoped she would valiantly return with the prize in hand.
She didn’t. The wind was too much that day. When she came back she knelt down to a sobbing little girl and wrapped her arms around her. “I’m so sorry about your balloon, sweetheart. I tried so hard to catch it.” And she had. She did something in that moment that not even I did.
Harper was still distraught as we squinted our eyes to see a little bit of pink floating high behind the building in the distance, but my heart was full. My friend had just demonstrated the most important level of friendship two moms can ever attain: loving the other one’s kids.
In moments like these, we learn a beautiful truth: love me and I’ll be grateful for your friendship; love my babies, too, and I will do anything in the world for you. I’m not sure many things can do more for a mama’s heart than seeing other people truly love her children.
And not just when they are sweet and innocent, but when they are not.
Harper was very kind and grateful for the balloon that morning, but there have been plenty of times when she has not been so kind and grateful. Kelly would have taken off after that balloon anyway, because she has not reserved unconditional love for only her children, she’s offered it to mine, too. Seeing my friends truly care about my kids and their growing, learning, imperfect and precious hearts makes the world feel a bit safer, and it makes the long days of raising little ones feel a bit sweeter. A mama’s love cannot be replaced, but it can certainly be added to. And that’s the funny thing about math and love: addition feels a lot more like multiplication when we see our friend chase a balloon through a windy parking lot.
A few weeks after the upsetting loss of the pink balloon, Harper and I thought it would be fun to surprise Kelly with her own balloon, to thank her for her heroic efforts. We went to the party store and filled one blue balloon with helium and grabbed a few extra for her boys to blow up themselves. When we arrived at the door, they greeted us with smiles and we all laughed at the memory of a grown woman sprinting through a parking lot, dodging cars and watching for curbs. We handed over the blue balloon to the boys and in the excitement of the moment, someone’s little hands let go of the ribbon and we all jumped at the sound of exploding helium. The moms laughed, the kids cried; we had unintentionally recreated the trauma of that windy day and decided that perhaps balloons would be not be the gift of choice for our little crew.
Some things are meant to last, others aren’t. But friends who truly love your babies: don’t let those ones go.
This story was published on November 6, 2017. It originally appeared on Coffee + Crumbs. It has been updated.