When we were younger (and by ‘we’ I mean my small group of childhood girlfriends) — not yet driving, still celebrating birthdays with pool parties and sleepovers, passing multicolor notes in study hall — we would comment on the fact that someday we’d attend each other’s weddings. If we weren’t then distracted by another pressing topic, the conversation would continue:
“Just think about when we all have babies.”
“And when our babies hang out together.”
“Hopefully we all have babies at the same time.”
“Yeah, we should definitely plan it that way.”
“We have to.”
“You and (insert name of current love interest) will have super cute babies.”
I was thinking of this a few weeks ago as I sat cross-legged on jumbo puzzle pieces made out of multicolored foam, in a little nook created by three low bookcases and jewel-toned beanbag chairs. A two year old I knew went about the work of selecting the right book from the many eye-catching options on the shelves, while an eight-month old I had just met calmly palmed the sparkly beads hanging at the end of my long necklace. Their mothers, two women who I’ve known since we were all twelve and the two women with whom I’d had the aforementioned conversation many times, sat on kid-sized wooden chairs, their knees bent at steep angles. We had just finished lunch and were now on the second floor of the New York Public Library near St. Mark’s Place, in the children’s section.
Our collective imagining of ourselves and each other having babies had always been in the form of entertainment (anyone remember the game MASH? Now, apparently, you can play it online), accompanied by a bit of humor and having more to do with the girlish thrill of inventing one’s future self than anything else. And these future selves we created were not exactly us. We knew we would be other people when we had babies.
Now we were having that same childhood conversation about babies, but in reverse. As we caught up on baby- and non-baby-related life issues (we live in three different states and hadn’t all been together in two years), D. and N. paused to tend to small noises, lifted diapered bums to their noses, seemed both comfortable and also at a loss when one of the wee ones screamed. They were very much mothers, and also very much themselves as I had always known them.
“Did you ever think,” D. said, looking at the five of us rather incredulously, “that we’d get to this point in life, that we’d be getting together in the kids’ section of the public library?”
This was an interesting question. In the not-too-distant past, we would’ve gone dancing or grabbed cocktails at some swank spot downtown or eaten a late brunch in a crowded cafe. The fact that we were huddled together in a miniature, multicolored reading corner was certainly, in the long view, out of character.
N.’s response is something that I’ve tucked away in my own bucket of motherly pearls: “Well,” she said, “we are still in the East Village.”
Some continuity in life: that was the important thing.