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The Importance of Intergenerational Friendships

The beauty of a good book club.

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Two women talking on their phones and smiling.
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Author’s note: Obviously this article was written before the coronavirus crisis. But even now, while circumstances have made it so we're unable to physically meet once a month due to social distancing guidelines, our book club meetings continue. These virtual meetings have provided a sliver of normalcy in this profoundly weird period of our lives. The book club meetings continue to be a few hours in the month we can look forward to, an event we keep on our now empty social calendars. We may be separated by circumstance, and there are less shared snacks and a few more glasses of wine raised to each other over our computer screens, but we're there. Together. Just as we've always been.

"Justin asked if we want to grab dinner Friday,” my husband says, during our weekly calendar de-confliction meeting, during which we figure out who is picking up what kid and which nights we're going to attempt to eat an actual meal.

"Well, you can invite him to eat with you and the kids if you want,” I said, “but I have book club this week."

My monthly book club meeting has been fiercely guarded touchstone of my life since I was brought into it, almost a decade ago. A newlywed transplant to a coastal town hundreds of miles away from home, I was aching for friends and a sense of community. Through a few missteps attempting to find adult friendships in mismatched volunteer opportunities and snobby running clubs, I stumbled into my book club — a group of mostly stay-at-home moms to young children.

They were all a few years older than me, with some closer to my mom's age than mine, and they were all in a life stage that still felt far away to me at 24. My husband and I were still learning how to exist as adults. We mostly felt like college kids playing at house, consuming more beer and ramen than advisable, but now we had real jobs and a mortgage and a crushing sense of responsibility to our four-legged fur baby. My book club friends and their lives of preschool playdates and sleepless nights and aging parents felt oceans away from my reality, and yet, it worked. I felt immediately accepted by these women who were letting me see behind the curtain of adulthood in a way I had never experienced before. I got to study at their feet as we talked candidly about books and babies, husbands and jobs, friendships and families. I spent years soaking it all in. Time, as it is wont to do, passed and soon my designation as the only childless member of our book club came to an end.

When I turned down my normal glass of wine, they cheered. They were the first to rally around my pregnancy, they talked me through each fear and worry. They showed up at my door with dinner and baby gifts, welcomed my infant son to meetings and then four years later, returned to my door with handmade quilts to welcome my new baby daughter. They were the ones texting me, asking me what I needed and when was a good time to deliver it.

As much as I feel there is immense power in having mom friends who are down in the same diaper and sippy cup trenches you are, having mom friends who are a few years further along in the journey is a gift I never knew I needed. I am the beneficiary of their experiences, and likewise, I am a Padawan they can pour their lessons into, a willing student of everything they've learned the hard way. My book club friends never tried to sell me on motherhood or paint a rosy picture of the future, as a mother or aunt or sister might be tempted to do. Instead, they complained about things worth complaining about, showed me that there was joy and frustration in all of their lives in equal measure. They had no interest in trying to make it seem like they weren't struggling when they were. There was no hiding the hard stuff. They let me down easy, but firmly reminded me that no one has it all figured out and no one is 100 percent happy 100 percent of the time.

Real friendship and unbridled conversation with people outside of your own peer group is rare and important. From the moment we're born, we're mostly kept segregated by age. Some of us might be lucky enough to tag along with some older siblings or be allowed to listen in the wings as our parents talk to their friends long after bedtime, but real friendships with unrelated people 10-plus years older or younger than us just doesn't appear organically. I should know. I'm as old as they were when we first began our book club and I remain the youngest member. I'm hopeful we can bring in some new, bright-eyed 20-something women into our group in the future, even though it might require us to switch from red wine to White Claw to draw in some recruits.

I've learned so much from the women I've called my friends for the last decade, I can't wait to find out what more I can learn in the next one.

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