In the beginning, it was lucky chance I ran into you, Older Mom. I didn’t pick you on purpose, I’m embarrassed to admit. I was expecting our first baby less than a year into expat life in Germany. You were the only friend I could find, an older Irish woman with two preschool-aged sons. Pregnant and in a foreign land, I obviously needed a mom-friend and you were it. Hand on ballooning belly, I complained I wasn’t ready.
“No one is throwing me baby showers!”
“What’s that?” You listened incredulously and then wagged your finger at the local drugstore a few doors down from where we were having ice-cream with your kids. “Everything you need is a quick stop. It’s not complicated.” By everything you meant diapers, what else was there to need? End of discussion.
I sucked in my breath and had a private palm-to-forehead moment.
Even taking into account different cultural practices, your reaction coming from one a few clicks ahead of me resonated deeply. I trusted you because you had already done this new mom thing plus one. I’m glad I stumbled across you Older Mom because since then, I’ve intentionally sought you out. As a younger mom, I felt you had my back.
I sensed your veteran Older Mom hand gently pulling along my green one, helping me find my way through the blinding storms of motherhood. In our times together, we traded stories. You dished out counsel, encouragement and general pep-talk.
“What do you wish you would have known when you were my age?” Out of this simple question I hoped for answers to better navigate common parenting pitfalls.
Faithful friend, you never let me down.
Remember that moment, Older Mom, when two-days before a major move, my son appeared at breakfast with a puffy, irritated eye? My mind ran wildly, conjuring up visions of the entire family infected with full-blown cases of conjunctivitis, rolling suitcases down the airport concourse –ta-dum, ta-dum, ta-dum, ta-dum. Teeth clenched, I made peace with a doctor’s visit or a race to the ER, if necessary. You challenged my assumptions, Older Mom of three adult boys, trotting me down to the drugstore for an antihistamine. The swelling vanished. More than the medication, you deserve my thanks.
Later, you made homemade chocolate chip cookies with my kids. They destroyed your kitchen and you didn’t mind, you laughed. Your kids had been out of the house for so long that you loved the madness. I observed, eyes glowing, because my two didn’t have grandparents around to do anything of the kind. Thanks for filling in, Older Mom. They haven’t forgotten that day and neither have I. My cookies never turn out so well.
You balked when I vowed to charge my tween son $1 each time he refused veggies. Your 70-something retired doctor-husband had never learned to eat his greens. “Your young man needs to know that you’ll love him even if he doesn’t eat his.” I dodged a bullet that day, Older Mom. I’m eternally grateful!
“Teen acne. What a bummer part of the rumble-tumble of adolescence.” I sighed and sipped my coffee across from you. But your eyes flared because my comment triggered a memory of past wrong. Your failure to react swiftly in getting help for your teen intensified his low self-esteem. My teen wasn’t asking to be rescued, but I made a dermatology appointment and off we went.
In a few years, our nest will be empty. You whisper secrets about being a twosome again and how to get there as smoothly as possible. Yet, your kids have taken you with them through the vicissitudes of falling in, then out, of love. Of adding sons and daughters-in-laws to your family. Of the anxieties of infertility and miscarriage and finally, grandkids. I listen to you describe the joyful thrill of grandparenting.
“Do you want to see pictures?” You whip out your phone.
And then in a flash, it happened: I am that Older Mom. I’m stunned, but as a mother of teens, it’s my turn to give back, to offer my Older Mom hand to the next generation of moms.
I meet my young friend and her toddler at a park. I watch her, swollen with an 8-month basketball belly, talk about her pending delivery as she swings her giggling son.
“What do you say?”
“Please! Underdog! Now do it! Now!”
We walk, pointing to the ducks by the lake and her little guy throws his whole bag of Cheerios and raisins at them with one grand flourish, shrieking.
I was enjoying myself—it all seemed so pure and simple, this young life I remember of strollers, swings and playgrounds, squealing and feeding ducks. And yet, I know it’s not. Motherhood is a long road. From the start, I know what’s needed most is the stuff of relationships, not lavish baby showers.
One hand reaching to another, this is how we make it, moms. The circle of Older Moms hand-in-hand with young moms, pulling along, cheering, hugging and advising.
We’ve got your back, young moms.
Writer, mother, wife, Kathryn Streeter’s writing has appeared in publications including The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy and Brain, Child Magazine. Highly mobile, she's moved 22 times in 25 years of marriage. Find her at www.kathrynstreeter.com, on Facebook and Twitter @streeterkathryn.
Photo rights: Kathryn Streeter