For the last two years, almost every Thursday night, I get together with the same two families. We rotate houses each week, meaning every 3rd week, the gang comes to our place. The other weeks, we go to one of their houses.
And we are a motherfucking gang. Six adults and 9 kids between us, aged: 14, 10, 5, 5, 5, 3, 2, 18 months and 6 months.
My friend Kristi suggested this. I would never be that smart. When she suggested it, I thought “Well that kinda sounds like alotta work” but answered “Yeah totally” because I’ve grown to not trust my judgment when it comes to things like this. I’ve found that life hands you some pretty interesting shit if you say “yes” as often as you can, even if your gut is all “No thanks I’m fine right here in Land That I Know.”
I’ve also learned that something “sounding like a lot of work” is a crap reason to avoid it.
And so, we eat together on Thursday nights.
We eat together through death and grief and illness big and small. Through depression and joy and arguments and just another boring old Thursday night. We eat together in the dead heat of summer and the rainy chill of winter and we eat through tantrums and squeals of delight.
The kids blend into one another, a giant ball of love and limbs that kind of rolls through the house in an air of noise, the tiniest ones following behind devotedly.
I’ll hold the baby. Mac will hold the baby. Somebody will hold the baby and somebody will cut the kids’ meat and somebody will deal with the finger that maybe just got smashed in the door. Also, they should stop doing that.
We kiss, hold, hug, redirect and discipline as if all the kids were ours. They are, I suppose, all ours.
When screams come from a bedroom we look around and ask “Which kid is that?”
If an adult’s back there, we have another cracker. We know our friend’s got it.
We know our friend’s got it.
We sit together through crying kids who haven’t eaten enough for dessert. We sit through BS times in marriage. We sit through alcoholic family members and no money and a little money and vacations and rounds of strep throat and on Halloween maybe we dress up together. We sit together through pregnancies, the expected and unexpected kind, and we sit together through newborn periods and husbands working out of town and questionable mental health.
Each week when I ask “What can I bring?” or read “My house tomorrow, 5:45pm,” I know soon I’ll be at a table with friends who are just friends because we are friends. If that makes sense to you, you are a fucking blessed human.
We pass baby clothes around and it’s less painful because I know I’ll get to see another baby in those pajamas, on a Thursday night, as if he were mine. We all live within a mile from each other. Sometimes we walk to each other’s houses.
Sometimes we stop for a couple weeks, but we pick back up. Right where we left off. Just exactly where we left off. We keep picking up where we left off like a little crew that won’t give up and when the world is crashing and pummeling around me, when 10,000 things are happening that make me feel thrown around at sea, the chair at that table with my friends becomes a 10,000 pound anchor.
A built-in support system. A group of humans who already know because they’re already there. They’re always there. Sick? Soup. Depression? Company. New baby? Both. Out of town? Plants watered.
We know our friend’s got it.
I watch the three girls who’ve known each other since birth, in each other’s clothes, now they’re in a tattling stage. We tell them as they come, one by one, that they can work it out with each other. We laugh. They’re getting big. Ava and Rocket sit with us now at the adult table (none of us have a table big enough for 14 people). We talk and talk and talk. We get interrupted again and again and again. We get up, we clean up, we get annoyed, we discuss revisionist history, and a maybe a trip snowboarding this weekend. They all come out of the room without clothes. Somebody just poured water in her plate. Arlo is snatching toys. The three-year-old is on time-out. The baby’s nursing.
Everything is just as it should be, this Thursday night.
In times like this, when mosques are being fire bombed and Muslims spat upon and planned parenthood shot up and San Bernardino shot up and all the schools shot up and all the life bombed and Donald Trump white supremacist hate-conjuring as if the Japanese Internment never happened and old friends are dying and getting sick and newer ones too, and, and.
Each Thursday I sit at a table with my friends and our whirling-dervish mayhem, good food and love become a tiny shelter in an insane unjust bullshit world. It’s all falling apart, out there, it seems, but tonight we share something we made or they made for me, taking in the love of humans still in my arms, now in my arms. Our kids. Our bellies. Lives move on and on and yet stay right here at our table.
We don’t have to talk about it. We just pick up where we left off.
Our kids are the ages of the ones who died in Newtown. We don’t have to talk about it. We will, for a moment. For a moment somebody will say something, but probably not much else, as we sit down and serve ourselves and smile at the 2-year-old who just removed her clothes for the 10th time tonight.
What beauty. What luck.
People, I never tell you what to do, but I’m telling you this: Get yourself a crew. Find them. Show up. Cook some food. A lot. Pick up where you fucking left off.
Every time. Just pick up where you left off and know they’ve got it.
Know your friend’s got it. None of us were made to withstand the weight alone.
Two spots left in my January writing workshop.
February is half-full.
Join us now!
WRITE THE MOTHERFUCKING WORDS.
(Also, hang out with me (well, via video). I’m way less batshit than I appear in my writing. LIES I AM WORSE.)
MikiThursday, 17 December, 2015 at 15:18
This is awesome. It’s definitely something I feel is missing in my life and hope I can find t some day, but my friends need to have some effing babies first! And I do have good, close friends with babies but they all live far from me. So we text and call and send each other funny things on Facebook and I pretend I’m not 5+ hours from them.
SaraFriday, 18 December, 2015 at 12:38
Man, do I feel you!!! All of my close friends don’t have kids. Those that do live far away. Or I like the kids but the parents are nutty. Or the the parents are cool but the kids are bratty. Or I like the parents but my husband doesn’t. Blergh. I actually told my husband the other day that I’d love to find a family we all like to create this exact thing. There’s nothing like commiserating with other parents. I know everything can’t be rainbows and butterflies all of the time, but I can find my fucking tribe. Bums me out.
JessTuesday, 3 January, 2017 at 20:03
Man, do I feel you on that! How do you go about finding your ride or die’s at 35?
SaraFriday, 18 December, 2015 at 20:04
I’ve been so amazed by my little community – and super lucky, for sure- and a lot of it is because someone once started a Facebook group of mamas and the support on there is so incredible. You should try it- I bet there are other awesome mamas and papas just like you who wish they could connect. You could start a private Facebook group for mams and papas in your area and little by little, it’ll grow. In any case, good luck- thank heavens for faraway friends, too. Good luck!
SaraFriday, 18 December, 2015 at 20:05
Funny- I didn’t see the other Sara when I posted mine! Obvs, I’m a different Sara! Ha. 🙂
SaraFriday, 18 December, 2015 at 20:07
Oh- and to be clear – it’s an in-town group (in-town online group – ha) and people meet up in real life, too. Playdates, meet up for walks, exchange toys/clothes- it’s so incredible.
LaraThursday, 17 December, 2015 at 15:18
Your writing made me feel less alone. “A giant ball of love and limbs”. This blog, I thee wed. You can’t take backsies, *sticks tongue out*.
I think, very much, we are blessed when we retreat to those who bring us comfort, even when they need it most.
Thank you. From my time to yours, to the blessed fairy lights, turkey and the baby Jebus. Amen.
Fuck the roast potatoes.
another janelleThursday, 17 December, 2015 at 15:20
fuck, im jealous.
i cant even get my friends to come over for my birthday, or for any other reason.
MelissThursday, 17 December, 2015 at 15:51
i have this! I have a tribe too. And I’m going to share this with them ass soon as I’m done writing this comment because you have beautifully written what I feel about them.
danielThursday, 17 December, 2015 at 16:00
fuck. I need a different life.
AnneThursday, 17 December, 2015 at 16:14
We’ve got a crew. And you’re right, it is huge. To be able to roll in to our friends’ house and see the kids disperse to entertain themselves, and launch right into what’s UP without the polite small talk. To be cooked for on a weeknight. To be able to leave in a gale of tears because the kids have stayed up too late while we enjoyed ourselves too much, and know that it’s cool, we’re all cool, we’ll do it again next week at our house.
JoelleThursday, 17 December, 2015 at 16:23
Love. I wish I had that community. Need to build one. Right, f-ing, now.
SavThursday, 17 December, 2015 at 17:05
I’ve read this 4 times in the past few hours, and it’s made me tear up every time. Immediately after the first read, I sent it to the 3 friends who I want at my table. We get together for kids’ birthdays and new babies and whatever… but that consistency is something I crave. Thanks for the inspiration. I’ll officially be having a monthly dinner at my house. We’ll see if I can make it more frequent. (I’d probably do weekly if I could afford it, and if I thought they’d come every time!) And, Janelle, if you’re ever in Arkansas, dinner is at my place. Count on it.
KerryThursday, 17 December, 2015 at 17:18
Every Saturday can range from 2 adults and 4 kids to 14 adults and 18 kids. The ex army pans come out and the dog hides but we live for it. They scream and shout and laught and cry but without them life would be so quite. So I shout out to out wonderful gatherings that are planned with 30 minutes notice because I wouldn’t have it any other way, can’t wait to see how many arrive this Saturday.
Sarah GrundyFriday, 18 December, 2015 at 1:04
I bloody love this, thank you so much for a fantastic piece of writing that really resonates. You sum up my crew perfectly, it sounds a lot like yours (our 4 families kids are 10, 8, 7, 7, 5, 4, 4, 3 and 1…I don’t think there will be any more!) they save me again and again… I am SO fucking blessed to call such an amazing bunch of humans friends, and to have them living in walking distance. Such a good reminder to say yes to things that seem hard work, nothing worthwhile comes without a bit of work eh?! X
SiriFriday, 18 December, 2015 at 2:40
We’ve got a crew. We swap houses every Monday and do waffles. And there are sticky fingers and always someone yelling from the bathroom to get his ass wiped and deaths in the family and our baby always falls asleep in the neighbor husband’s arms. It’s just about as great as your Thursdays.
JessicaFriday, 18 December, 2015 at 5:01
This made me cry, and reminded me that I need to SEEK OUT COUPLES. like now.
Zon EastesFriday, 18 December, 2015 at 5:09
Nostalgic reading. This was my family when I was a small boy. A jumbly, vibrant family. Cousins enough, in every direction, to make any activity just that much more chaotic. So many dear memories. So much laughter. …It all broke apart as various family dysfunctions came into the light. Now, it feels so distant. …Enjoy your crew for as long as it persists.
CourtneyFriday, 18 December, 2015 at 7:19
We have a crew too. We don’t get together regularly but we all make time for everyone at some point. We just had our Christmas party and it felt just like what you wrote. And I have kissed many a baby’s head that isn’t mine. Actually, they’re all my kids in a way.
EstherFriday, 18 December, 2015 at 9:58
I am also very lucky to have three friends whom I have known since grammar school. We share humor and mostly family love. I consider myself a very lucky person. I try to ignore what is happening in politics currently, but sometimes I am overwhelmed with the sadness that is dispersed by hate mongers. Being around my lovely friends always brings a calmed energy that makes me appreciate my life.
Sam PereiraFriday, 18 December, 2015 at 16:20
That is a crazy kind of heaven right there.
AmymaiSaturday, 19 December, 2015 at 2:08
Not sure if it’s the baby in my belly causing my hormones to go nuts or just the beautiful truth of your words – anyway they brought tears to my eyes. Thank you
MegSaturday, 19 December, 2015 at 8:34
Love this. Reminds me of one of the intercalary chapters of Grapes of Wrath and Jim Casy’s “Maybe we all got one big soul that everyone’s a part of?” Love it. Love the whole blog, actually. I teach high school English and have shared quite a few of your pieces with my Women’s Perspectives students. Luckily, I haven’t gotten fired for it yet ; ) Your perspective, your humor, and your style always make my day. Thanks!
sydneySaturday, 19 December, 2015 at 18:05
Janelle, you have spoken to my heart. We are trying for a baby and contemplating moving back to husband’s home town (see population 10,000 instead of current 2 million) just to have that kind of tribe. I crave this every day. You are so lucky. I will repeat what a previous commentor said, if you and you family are ever in Denver, you have a place at our table.
KatieSunday, 20 December, 2015 at 21:50
I had that, until my friends were able to have more children and I suffered secondary infertility (I have just the one boy with Down Syndrome) and they seemed to have decided it wasn’t worth it to include us in their get-togethers anymore. It has hurt me deeper than anything so I don’t think I’ll ever be able to connect like that again.
KerryTuesday, 22 December, 2015 at 7:07
Hey Katie. I know it hurts, but those weren’t your crew. Your crew would never do that to you. So, the good news is that your peeps are still out there waiting to be discovered.
AllisonTuesday, 22 December, 2015 at 13:55
What Kerry said.
KatMonday, 21 December, 2015 at 14:41
Beautiful! We are lucky to have this too… We just moved halfway across England to make sure we don’t lose it. Love your words.
LorrieMonday, 21 December, 2015 at 14:56
That was my neighborhood when my kids were growing up. It was amazing. They are scattered now, but they still go to each other’s weddings, meet in person when they can, and let the children play. I know one of my children has a tribe, and I wish the same for the other. It’s the best. Ever.
AnneMonday, 21 December, 2015 at 15:22
kathysMonday, 21 December, 2015 at 21:58
Janelle, I love everything about you and I want your tribe.
Katie, the hell with those people and their “perfect” kids. Go to PTA meetings; find your local down’s awareness group; find a church ladies get together; talk to moms at the swimming or gym classes you take your kid to. The good people are out there.
NZ MamaMonday, 21 December, 2015 at 22:42
I needed this today, like you would not believe (or perhaps only you would understand)!
Being a parent is so hard and if it weren’t for good friends and family I’d certainly be screwed. Thanks for making me smile and keeping it real x
JocelynTuesday, 22 December, 2015 at 5:26
It feels like this when I get together with my sister. We have 7 kids between us and you just parent everyone and anyone while we are together. There is always someone to help out cooking or tidying up or soothing kids or disciplining…. it is quite special and pure chaos and I love it.
KerryTuesday, 22 December, 2015 at 7:06
Ok, the crying at work is going to get me fired, or at least stared at. Thank you for this. Only one of our friends have kids (a gorgeous step-daughter), but we’re still a crew. It’s not as big as I would like anymore since we’ve lost two of us to stupid fucking cancer. But I’m clinging to the 4 I have left with all of my might. Some of us are scattered as far as PA, but we always manage to find our way back to one another.
JulieTuesday, 22 December, 2015 at 7:51
Aaaaaand I’m crying. This is so beautiful, and so right. That last line is EVERYTHING. My crew gets together every Sunday night to watch good TV and dumb YouTube videos. It makes me feel human again when having a baby and a job and aging parents etc. have made me forget how to feel like a whole person.
Thank you so much for this, Janelle.
DaisyTuesday, 22 December, 2015 at 11:40
I did this, actually. For a long time I didn’t, because people are scary, and my house is safe. But my house is fucking boring, and so I did something about it. My family and hers… we’re just family. All of us. They work a lot so sometimes we go for weeks without seeing them, but each and every time they come to my house, it’s the same as the last. Nothing changes. It’s great.
And now I’m trying to find more willing victims to collect and throw into my tribe.
allie gTuesday, 5 January, 2016 at 12:18
The picture of your husband kissing your friend’s baby brought me to tears. You are blessed to have such great friends and to be such great friends.
I need to work much harder at making and keeping good friends! Definitely something missing in our lives. Our support system sucks at the moment.
CatWednesday, 16 March, 2016 at 18:14
Every other Tuesday. My house, their house, their house, or their house. Make-your-own pizzas last night. Enchiladas a couple weeks ago. If no one can handle life, we order in. My friend’s husband wrestling with my daughter. My other friend’s son throwing all the stuffies out of my oldest’s top bunk. Someone else’s baby on my hip. It’s chaos, but our chaos, it’s our people, it’s our love, it’s our life, and I don’t know what I’d do without it.