Thursday, May 8, 2014

Comrades in Mothering

Mother’s Day is coming up and I am missing my comadres.  I am talking about my three best friends who shared in the first eleven years of parenting with me.  The first one was Nicola.  She was a German girl who had come on vacation to Venezuela, met a Venezuelan doctor, married and stayed. I saw her first at my Lamaze class but kept running into her at different places around the small town where we both lived.  One day I went to pick up a friend who needed a ride to the grocery store.  She lived in a fourteen story high-rise where neither the elevator nor the call buttons worked regularly.  I honked my horn from the parking lot and when someone waved from the balcony of what seemed like the floor where my friend lived, I waved back.  But instead of my friend Helene, it was Nicola who came down.  Surprised, she asked how I knew where she lived.  I told her I didn’t.  It turned out that her apartment was one floor below Helene’s.  Soon we began taking our toddlers to swim lessons and spending time together as friends.

About the same time, the couple that owned the stationary store next to our computer business, who were expecting their first baby, started inviting us over for dinner.  When Margarita was born, our daughter Miranda became her first and best friend.  

For several years I maintained separate friendships with Nicola and Edi.  When Margarita was in preschool, she met a little girl whose family had just moved from Caracas.  Edi brought Estela over one day and we instantly connected with her.  She was funny and a free spirit.  The three girls loved playing together, although every once in a while one or the other would come crying that she was not given the right accessory in their dress-up game or was not allowed to be the right princess in the Disney story that was being acted out.  But all and all, they played well together and by now Edi had a little boy who became best friends with my son Safaa. 

Then came time to make that crucial, life-altering decision that every parent must face: Which school should I choose for my precious first born.  As the mother of the oldest child in the group the heavy responsibility was on my shoulders to find the best school in town and then recommend it to my friends.  A brand new, air-conditioned private school with a swimming pool opened right behind the building where I lived.  I enrolled Miranda in first grade.  The owner should have given me a commission.  Edi and Estela signed up their girls for kindergarten and Nicola, who by now had three boys, registered the older two as well.  And that’s how all four families became connected. 

We spent almost every weekend together.  We helped each other with transportation and baby-sitting. We were present at each birthday party and school performance.  The girls all did ballet. The boys learned to play instruments.  I became the official cake baker and costume sewer of the “family”.  

At some point we started celebrating Mother’s Day together.  Edi’s husband, Ziegler, took this picture of the four us. 

We all framed it and displayed it somewhere in our homes.  Visitors always asked if we were sisters.  And without any hesitation we would reply yes.  For me, who had always wanted a sister, they are the closest thing to one, even though I had to travel through two continents to find them.

Once a week us mothers would get together for coffee and bare our souls.  We would reassure one another that none of our children were permanently damaged by the mistakes we were making and that our husbands were perfectly human, despite their flaws. Estela and I became pregnant at the same time; third one for me, second for her.  Of all four of us, I was the only one who went on to have a fourth baby.  Edi and Estela stayed with two. 

Others would try to penetrate our little circle and we were a welcoming group, but there was something special about the four of us.  We were our true selves with each other.  Each one of us was unique in her own way.  We had different interests and different temperaments but like true sisters we loved each other despite these differences.  I think what united us was motherhood.  We were comrades in the trenches of child rearing.  We learned from each other, supported one another and comforted whoever was feeling doubt at the moment.  There is a kinship that is created among people who raise children together.  It transcends blood and familial relationships.  Young mothers need other young mothers to reassure them that really none of knows what she is doing.  We can’t really admit that to our mothers or mother in laws.  We walk this rocky path together and try to be as much help to each other as we can. 

The day I left Venezuela, everyone showed up at the airport.  As tearfully I said goodbye to Edi, Estela and Nicola I knew that my life would never be the same without them. 

And every Mother’s Day I am reminded of that. 

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