I was roaming a consignment store last spring, stealing a rare moment for myself, when my friend Hannah called.
She was sobbing. “We’re moving,” she told me though her tears, “to the Island.”
My mind fogged over. I think I muttered something lame, possibly, “Oh.”
Hannah and her family had lived three doors down from us for five years; our oldest sons were like brothers, our youngest kiddos had arrived just two months apart. She was my closest friend, and we saw each other almost every day, even if just for a wave.
I pulled a black romper off the rack as she told me how sorry she was that she had known this for a little while, but hadn’t told me yet, because it just felt too sad to acknowledge that we wouldn’t be neighbours anymore. I tried to summon happiness for her. Hannah’s parents and brother lived on the Island, and we had often talked wistfully about living near our families (mine lives in the States). After all, raising kids takes a village, right?
Hannah had become the beating heart of my village. She, her partner, and her kids made life and parenthood ever so much more doable…and fun.
I should have left the store right then to cry with my friend. Instead, I went to try on the romper to avoid feeling anything at all.
Every parent knows the utter depletion that comes with responding to the needs and emotions of small people through bleary-eyed exhaustion. When I was a new parent, the loneliness of the whole endeavour blindsided me.
I felt desperate to connect with other adults when I found myself alone with the kid. I tried to play it cool at the playground (while secretly feeling as awkward as a middle schooler) as I scoped the crowd for someone, anyone, who might want to be friends with me. Against all my introvert instincts, I became the kind of person I had once loathed: someone who approached strangers and struck up conversations.
That’s how I met Hannah. I spotted her on our neighbourhood playground, effortlessly put together in a wide-brimmed felt hat, pastel shorts and brightly coloured tank top (I would soon learn that Hannah always looked fabulous.) Her little boy, climbing awfully high on some playground equipment, looked about the same size as mine.
I sidled up to her and used my usual mom pick-up line: So, how old is your kid?
It was friends-at-first-sight. A few days later we were eating tacos at her place, bonding over our shared university majors (English) and the fact that we had birthed our sons with the same midwives (what are the chances?!). Not long after that, we were both pregnant with our second and on mat leave together.
Hannah’s indomitable energy and optimism motivated me to get outside with her on the bitterest winter days and shrank problems that I had blown up in my head (the annoying way my husband loaded the dishwasher, for example) down to size.
At some point—between Friday night happy hours in the backyard while the kids ran wild, Wednesday night runs, mountain ski adventures, helping with each other’s kids, and neighbour camping trips—our lives became intertwined. We crossed the bridge from friendship to family.
I knew how good we had it. I knew it when our kids would meet in the street after school and run back and forth between our yards. I knew it when I needed an egg and Hannah always had one I could borrow. And when I had a pandemic cohort before pandemic cohorts were a thing. There’s magic in proximity: no planning involved, a pop by, the conversation you need about nothing or everything, and support out your door. I felt lucky and I was.
The truth is, I was so immersed in the my-best-friend-lives-down-the-street era that I never really considered that one day, it could end.
A few months after Hannah’s phone call, we watched her family pack their life away into a shipping container and pull away in their red Subaru, with Bonnie (their ’70s Boler camper) trailing behind as they headed west. We watched strangers move into the house they had painstakingly renovated. I tried not to cry when the new owners uprooted the gingko tree Hannah had planted out front.
Hannah and I still talk, of course. She’s still among my closest friends. But I sure do miss having her next door. Like most people, I go many days without seeing a friend. It makes me realize how important a moment of connection, however brief, can be. How, amidst all the chaos and demands of parenting and life, a friend can pull you out of the lonely stratosphere of your mind and back to Earth…and yourself.
Sometimes I still look to her front door when I walk by and half hope she might appear there with her kids and we’ll walk down the street to the playground together and talk about our days and laugh while the kids play. The street looks the same but feels so very different.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we can’t do life alone. Joy is tucked away in the small moments, shared with our people, when we can let go of all the crap and just be.
So I remind myself to gather our village. And to call my friend Hannah.