Friends to feed the soul

May 19,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

This past weekend was a little out of the ordinary for us in two ways: 1) we did a lot socially and 2) we slept in. The sleeping-in part is a little unusual, although one of the perks of having older children is that they do sleep more as they get older – even difficult, hands-on sleepers like ours. So don't despair, if you do have early-risers like we once had; even a year ago, I never thought I'd see the day when I'd wake, peer at the clock, and find it reading "8:15" and, better yet, discover that although L. had been up for two hours, he spent it all finishing up A Wrinkle in Time from beneath the cozy pile of blankets on his bed.

Usually our weekends are strictly family affairs; if we don't have out-of-town family visiting us – which we love, actually, if anyone reading this is worried we find visitors burdensome – then we do family stuff, like yard work (Scott got us a massive mountain of mulch for free from craigslist last week. Do you need some? Bring your own shovel), and walks and Farmer's Market outings sprinkled in here and there, if the weather cooperates.

But this past weekend my colleague/friend/office-mate invited us over to her house for an authentic Surinamese dinner. I had to look up Suriname on L.'s LeapFrog globe and, if you're wondering, it's situated between French Guiana to the east and Guyana to the west, and Dutch is the official language. My friend and her husband served in the Peace Corps in Suriname, and brought back with them not only lots of yummy recipes, but also lots of authentic cast iron cooking implements.

We were joined on Friday by another colleague/friend and his family. They have two kids, four and three, and our hosts have two kids, nine and seven. We love getting together with these friends because it's a truly magic combination: Not only do we adults all get along great – wives and husbands alike – but the kids also get on wonderfully, and this is something really rare in parenting friendships, I've found. When you're a parent, there are two types of friendships out there for you: the type where you become friends just because you have kids whose interests overlap (school, activities, etc.) and the kind you have because you have all clicked deeply on a level transcending the messy boundaries of parenting. And having friends is so vital, really, in this tricky business of parenting because it can be so very isolating, and it can be so tempting to just enmesh yourself in the other types of friendships, at the expense of the deeper ones.

Later that evening, the adults ate dinner on the screened-in porch, and the kids were in the kitchen (L. was in the dining room – he prefers a more solitary dining experience), but everyone stayed where they were and ate. And at one point when I went into the kitchen for a refill of my friend's incredibly delicious pumpkin and tomato stew, I overheard the kids cracking nonsensical kid jokes with each other – jokes like this one: "What does an octopus have in common with a bird? Nothing!" Ha, ha, ha – riotous giggles followed. It was, hands-down, after this crazy, stressful spring, one of the best evenings with friends we've had in a long while. It's such a glorious thing, really, to sit with friends on a warm May evening, sipping wine and tasting food so completely out of the ordinary, all the while knowing that your kids are having an equally wonderful time playing with their own small friends: making paper airplanes, or lost among a pile of Legos in someone else's family room. Friendships feed the soul, whether you are small or pushing 40. And there, in our friends' cozy, love-filled house, surrounded by the spicy, garlicky smells of a small country so very far from our own, we felt richer than we've ever felt in a long while.