For most of my kids’ grade school career, my relationship with my fellow school moms went no further than the half-grimace-half-smile of acknowledgement we’d exchange at drop-off and pickup. Truthfully, I had no desire to get chummy with other parents at school. I had enough friends, thank you very much, and harboured a belief that, besides shared teachers and homework assignments, we probably didn’t have much in common. I love my kids’ school, but as a major introvert, I’d rather attend a funeral than a PTA meeting. The thought of mingling with the crowd that decorates the cafeteria for Spring Sing and sets the rules for school lunch made me want to run for the hills.
So when I was invited to a ladies’ night out with five other school moms, my expectations were low. Arriving at the French restaurant that night, I made a deal with myself: Stay until 9:00, then beat a hasty retreat home and never do this again. The conversation around the table proved predictably tame, as we all stuck close to the classic mom fallback of kid talk: Little League, swim lessons, where to buy shoes that won’t fall apart in a month. When the clock struck 9:00, I picked up my purse prepared to jet—but was chagrined when the organizer exclaimed, “This was fun! Let’s do it again!” (“It was?” I thought. To me, it had seemed pretty tepid.)
Thus began the monthly tradition of the Franklin School Moms’ Night Out. The first few months, as we rotated who’d plan a dinner or movie, I’d complain to my husband without fail. “How did I get roped into this?” I’d whine. “I have nothing to talk to these women about. Maybe this will be my last meetup.” But as time went by—and the happy hour glasses of rosé loosened our tongues—the six of us slowly got to know each other beyond our roles as school moms. I discovered that one woman was the breadwinner for her family as a teacher. Another had a difficult childhood similar in some ways to my own. A third was the wild-child, bring-the-party goofball I never knew I needed in my life.
I slowly realized that I actually liked these women. Perhaps we wouldn’t be best friends, but we could certainly be more than acquaintances in passing.
Once school ended for the summer that year, we kept in touch. Here and there we’d meet up at a local bakery that offers free cupcakes on Wednesdays. We saw each other at our sons’ and daughters’ birthday parties. Since we all live in close proximity to our kids’ school, we occasionally hung out at the neighborhood community pool. I had never had a group of friends that all lived so close, and I grew to enjoy the convenience of having companions for both myself and my kids just a quick text and a three-minute drive away.
Back in school in the fall, the benefits of the moms’ group continued. Previously, if my son forgot to bring his list of spelling words home after school, an emotional meltdown would ensue. Now I could preempt the weeping and gnashing of teeth with a request for the words to a fellow mom. (This alone made getting to know other school parents worthwhile, if you ask me.) When my daughter mentioned her teacher made an off-color comment in class, I could ask my friends: “Did your kid hear that, too?” And if my car broke down and one of my kids needed picking up, I knew there were five women who’d have wheels on the road within minutes to help. I’d do the same for them.
The more we school moms have gotten together, the deeper our conversations have delved. Much to my surprise, I’ve found that topics that had always been taboo with even my closest friends became fair game in this group. Having been devoutly religious all my life, I’d never really talked with girlfriends openly about sex, female health, or that one really bad experience I had with drugs. Connecting with women who don’t come from the same straight-laced background as me has revealed how liberating and necessary it is to share these kinds of stories.
Four years have gone by since that first awkward dinner at the French restaurant. Since that time, the six women in our group have offered support and encouragement through job changes, the loss of parents, and even new marriages. The school moms have celebrated with me as I’ve achieved wins in my writing career. (In fact, they can’t wait to see this article in print.) We’ve even enjoyed the unforeseen boon of our husbands and kids growing closer to each other. Not long ago, the guys got together for a day of homemade sausage-making, and they’re planning an outing to a baseball game soon. Last summer, all 25 of us road tripped it to one family’s cabin for a weekend getaway. My kids now have a built-in community of friends at school who feel a little bit like family—a particular blessing for my one shy child.
Corny as it sounds, we even have a name. We call ourselves Moai, after a Japanese custom I read about awhile back. On the island of Okinawa, it’s traditional for neighboring women to form groups called Moai that provide social, financial, health, and spiritual support. When I sent an article about the concept to my mom friends, they all wrote back, “That’s us!” and the name stuck. (We might even get T-shirts.) Our Moai community is a far cry from the decorating of the school cafeteria or collaborating on teacher appreciation projects I’d envisioned from a group of grade school moms. It’s a network of encouragement, companionship, and fun I never would have looked for, but am so glad I’ve found.
This article was originally published online in May 2019.