Playgroup: Not for kids only

I was pregnant with our first child when one evening after dinner with friends and their four-year-old, they solemnly sat us down. They said the strangest thing: “We’ll be here for you both—even after you have the baby. You know, we’ll still be your friends,” they promised. “Friends can change after a baby.” Surely, they’re crazy, I thought. Sweet, but crazy.

They were right. Some friends changed. Some we lost; others grew closer. In all fairness, we obviously changed. We added a pink peg, diaper bag, and car seat to the back of our little plastic car in this game of life.

Those cute little bundles of poopy joy change our lives in so many ways. We often downplay or miss how they can subtly shift our social structure and even isolate us, but they may bring big changes for a mom’s career and personal life.

Do you remember starting Kindergarten? high school? a new job? Wasn’t it better when you had a friend? It’s the same with motherhood.

In November, I read Elizabeth’s piece about her quest to find a mom BFF. It’s been two decades now, but I still remember feeling alone. Sis was two. Freshly relocated from Philadelphia, we lived on Lackland AFB in temporary housing. Our extended families were in Pennsylvania and Illinois. Once in Texas, I called the La Leche League (LLL) hotline and found a meeting. I didn’t need breastfeeding help; I needed friends, preferably mamas with similar parenting styles. Don’t we all want friends with whom we have a few things in common?

My first LLL meeting, I exchanged numbers with a mom who also had a nursing toddler. I was quickly swept into their 10:00 A.M. Tuesday morning playgroup. Every Tuesday. Playgroup. This was a godsend.

playgroup, moms, friendships, toddlers, relationships, birthdays

Tuesday morning playgroup becomes friends who shared holidays and celebrations.

You see, I struggle with depression. A new place and a husband working what should’ve been illegal hours made fertile ground for depression to take root. On Tuesday mornings, I was forced to get out and do something with other moms. It was disguised as time for our toddlers to play, but it was sooooo much more than that.

We took turns choosing activities. When it was my turn, I’d try to cancel and stay home, claiming possible rain or a headache. (This is how a depressed introvert speaks… We’re no good at planning or getting out.) The other women didn’t let me off so easily. Cloudy? Rainy? No problem. The indoor playground at McDonald’s would work. (Pump It Up, Thin Air, and other indoor playgrounds didn’t exist, so we sought refuge in fast food playplaces—perfect venues for moms and toddlers alike).

We often visited the just-getting-started Magik Theatre, sitting on the floor while Charlotte spun her web. Our hearts and the toddlers’ attention were captured. Afterward, we’d stop somewhere to play and eat—maybe an Orsinger Park picnic or Burger King on Vance Jackson. When some of the girls (we all had girls) fell asleep, we carried them—in our arms or in slings. Hanging with friends was way more important than a toddler napping in her own bed.

Tuesday morning playgroup became late-night conversations when a husband traveled, dinner when I was sick, a safe place to drop my kid(s) as the knot at the end of my rope frayed, and a ready-made group of friends for parties and holidays. We swapped recipes and babysitting. We shared love, support, hand-me-downs and meltdowns.

We didn’t have Facebook. Emails weren’t popular, and cell phones were just out of the bag and getting smaller. No chat rooms, messaging, texting, or LinkedIn. We had phones with curly-tailed cords. Over the phone, we heard each other’s feelings—spoken or unspoken—and we responded to their tone. We heard each of us breathe, sigh, or talk through tears. It was personal.

Don’t get me wrong: I love my laptop, Facebook, and texting. Yet, there’s something to be said for conversation with a friend who can read your voice. It feeds you and fills those empty quiet spaces.

Playgroup extended our circle of friends. We met each others’ friends and gathered new ones into our circles. Today, one of my besties is an extension of the original playgroup. Our second girls were born a month apart. Life threw us some curveballs over the years—divorce, another baby, different schools, new jobs, a move—but we still randomly talk late at night, though now it’s often over Facebook messaging and texting with a weekly call thrown in. Doesn’t matter. Each and every conversation is a connection making my world an easier place to be.

Playgroup lasted a few years. Those women saved my life. I still keep up with some. Others have fallen away. Friendships do that. On Facebook, I see the faces of those little girls as they graduate, fall in love, find careers, and chase dreams and passions. Thank you, Mr. Zuckerberg. One of the original playgroup toddlers has an older sister. A year ago, I helped that older sister with nursing her baby. (Cue The Lion King‘s “Circle of Life.”)

If you’re looking for friends, sometimes you’ve gotta take the first step. Maybe it’s via church, La Leche League, MOPS, or even Facebook. Chances are, someone else needs a friend too. There are neighborhood groups where you may post asking for other moms in your neighborhood. Maybe you can start a group page to meet and schedule get-togethers. My heart smiled as I recently witnessed this happen on Facebook. Splintering from a larger LLL group, some moms set up a page to meet each other. It’s amazing to watch the connections and plans being made.

Use social media to set up a meeting in a public place for coffee or tea. Maybe the library for storytime, which entertains little ones while helping moms to build friendships. San Antonio offers other story times, too. Motherhood is a road more easily traveled with good friends.

I have friends from all walks of life. Diverse and unique. Those playgroup moms? Well, nothing fills my heart and makes time fall away like the voice of one of them on the phone. Nothing. Such an important part of an important time of my life. I wish all moms had a playgroup.

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2 Responses to Playgroup: Not for kids only

  1. Janet Best January 13, 2015 at 11:18 pm #

    Very well written! I am one of the original play group members, it too was my saving grace, those were the best times of our lives! It was so simple back then, I would have never made it through, having our 3 girls, a horrible car accident, and the arrival of our son 10 years later at the age of 40! We were so blessed when you came to the rescue, helping our oldest daughter successfully breast feed our Grandson! LLL & our play group changed all of lives, for the better! Love & miss all of you!

    • Denise
      Denise January 13, 2015 at 11:36 pm #

      Janet!! I’m so glad you got to see it! you said it very well – it was a saving grace. i hope moms still have those groups. sometimes i worry social media makes that less likely to happen. then, when i witnessed other moms meeting and making plans to get together this very week (on another page) it made me so happy. nothing beats those friends. it was an honor to be there and help J. with nursing! I’m so thankful for fb to stay in touch with such great friends like you! love and miss y’all too! <3