The other night I was laying awake, turning over a thorny strategy problem for work when I should have been asleep, and suddenly out of nowhere I was hit with a memory from over a year ago – followed by another wave of sadness at everything the pandemic has taken from us.
Nugget’s best bud has an October birthday. He didn’t have a party this year – obviously – but in 2019 his mom (my friend Helena) threw him a farm birthday, complete with goat petting and a hayride. Nugget, who is here for anything involving vehicles, was one of the first onto the wagon; gotta secure that money spot with a good view of the tractor, right? I followed him up, and behind me came his pal A. A was as stoked as the other little guys until he saw his mom, my friend Meredith, waving from the grass. She was sitting out the hayride in order to feed A’s baby brother.
A’s lip started to tremble and I could see the tears welling up, so I patted my lap and motioned to him to come up. “Want to sit with me?” I asked him. A nodded tremulously and climbed onto my knee. Nugget immediately clambered onto my other knee. I put an arm around each of them, cuddled them close, and dropped a kiss on top of each blond mop head, and the tractor pulled out, towing us behind.
A and Nugget stayed planted in my lap for the entire hayride. When the tractor rolled back to the parking area, Meredith was waiting. A popped off my lap and rushed to his mom. Picking him up, she thanked me for holding him on the hayride.
“I enjoyed it,” I assured her. “He was very snuggly.”
She laughed. “He can be!” (I knew just what she meant. Those preschool boys are like puppies – running around wild, rolling on top of each other, roughhousing and jumping on the furniture and piling all over one another one moment, then cuddling up in your lap the next.)
I’m not sure why this memory came back so vividly the other night. But it drove home another thing that I am missing: my mom tribe. With a few exceptions, I never really connected with the other moms in Peanut’s class, especially after we moved home to Virginia. But Nugget ran in a herd with a gaggle of boys in his preschool class, and the moms ended up drawn to one another, too. We clustered together at back-to-school nights, birthday parties, Thanksgiving picnics and holiday concerts. We arranged play dates and openly shared frustrations and triumphs – and it fostered a bond of trust. I thought nothing of scooping Meredith’s little guy up and comforting him when I saw storm clouds starting to gather; she’d have done the same for me if I had to sit out a hayride and Nugget started to tear up.
There’s been so much talk about the connections we’re all missing during these long months of pandemic. The strong connections – grandparents not able to hug grandchildren, siblings missing out on family gatherings, dear friends unable to see each other for months. And the weak connections – that barista who knows just how to make your favorite morning drink, the favorite yoga instructor or peewee swim teacher, the supply room guy who always makes sure to stock your favorite snacks and pens at work. But there’s a middle level of connection, and I think I might miss that most.
I’ve had a few moments of those middle connections with the mom tribe during pandemic-times. Hiking in Rock Creek Park with my law school BFF Carly, her daughter, and Nugget. Peanut and her bestie stomping in a clear creek while my pal Rachel and I chatted as hard as we could through our face masks. Doling out marshmallows to Nugget and his best buddy as Helena and I stood around a backyard bonfire, catching up on school gossip and reminiscing about our college days (we were both at Cornell in the early 2000s and have a handful of friends in common, although we didn’t meet until our sons bonded at school). But those connections are few and far between lately, and I miss them more than I’d realized. Having those trusted friends who you can count on to pick up your baby, kiss an owie if you’re looking the other way when it happens, remember who has a nut allergy, make sure your kiddo has his goodie bag – that’s surprisingly huge. Not having that is a sort of bereavement.
Just another thing COVID has taken from us, hopefully not forever.
Do you miss those middle connections too?