When Women Gather

(10 minute read)

March is Women’s History Month. It is the perfect time for me to highlight the power of female camaraderie. I am not only referring to the progress made by our strong sisters who worked tirelessly two centuries ago, women like Lucy Stone, Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. I am thinking today about my girlfriends, my mother’s friends, and my daughter’s friends. I am thinking about women side by side with other women. Whether it be in book clubs, garden clubs, tennis teams, philanthropic organizations, knitting circles, quilting clubs, bible studies, mommy and me playgroups, or simply a handful of women who gather as friends. Throughout all time, history has shown us that great things can happen when women are in the company of other women. I would be remiss if I did not add that many wonderful things also take in place in mixed genders. Today, inside of the month celebrating Women’s History and it’s trailblazers, I would like to draw attention to how valuable it can be to build connections with other women. Nurturing those relationships by setting aside time together, away from husbands, kids, and coworkers is essential. 

When I became a mother for the first time and decided to leave my job after the end of the school year, it was during those long days of isolation with an infant that I missed connecting with other women. I knew then that I needed to find others like me who sought camaraderie in the trenches of early parenthood. La Leche League, Mommy and Me Gymboree classes, and playgroups with other stay-at-home moms all helped to fill that need for adult interaction and support from other women experiencing similar things. By the end of the first year of motherhood, my confidence had grown by leaps and bounds (along with our early to speak and walk toddler). It was not an easy year. A loving husband who always was willing to help and a support system of strong women made all of the difference. I knew I was lucky. Not everyone is. So I partnered with a nurse at the local hospital and created a New Mother’s support group. Our pairing was a good one, she with the medical background and as an older mother, and me as a former teacher and mother fresh out of her first year. What I remember most valuable about the New Mother’s support group was the interaction between the young women, and the shared experiences despite their varied backgrounds.

As years passed, we moved multiple times, and we added more children into the mix. When I look back at the different communities we lived in, I can see the efforts I made to group together with other women. I played Bunko in Norco (always fun to go roll dice and laugh with the neighborhood ladies), reconnected with college sorority sisters in Fair Oaks (trips to the zoo with our babies in strollers), led Brownie Troops and Tiger Cubs with other moms in Ridgefield, and volunteered at school in Southlake (I was somehow convinced to serve as PTO President one year). Even if it was simply sitting in lawn chairs in the driveway while our kids rode scooters and tricycles, I treasured the time spent with other women. Then as the kids grew older we spread out: driving carpools to dance class or soccer practice to help one another. Quality time was squeezed into school hallways, gym bleachers, parking lots or chance encounters at the grocery store. Our families swallowed up most of our time and energy. It was not until our youngest went off to kindergarten that time really opened up wide in my day. The school had a “Boo Hoo” Breakfast for the parents launching their children off to kindergarten in the library on that first day of school. “Boo Hoo” for some, “Yahoo” for others. Either way, gathering in that library with mostly moms I was reminded again of how connected we are as women going through stages of life. 

In a later chapter of motherhood but in an earlier era, there was a group of women that found one another and started something extraordinary. The year was 1975. Eight women from the same geographical area but from differing social circles came together. They shared a common love of the outdoors, of nature and the peace it offered. All eight were mothers around the age of thirty-five, fit enough to carry forty pound backpacks into the Sierra Nevada mountains for a seven day trek. They left behind husbands, children, pets, jobs, frozen casseroles, and notes of carpool instructions and extracurricular schedules. They got away from everything. It was about not having to take care of anyone else besides themselves. No cellphones at the time, they were able to completely disconnect. That first year there was some reluctance by some of the husbands. The women were excited to just give it a go, see how it went.

My mother turns 83 next month. When we spoke recently about that first year of the “Mountain Mamas” annual backpacking trip she said, “We knew right away it was magic.” She described the experience of sitting on the rocks and having deep discussions with the other women. She recalled a feeling of “awe of the world.” She told me how the division of labor in camp was easy, no assignments based on gender: either they all collected some kindling or none did. For the most part these women had lives layered with responsibilities for others, so shedding those must have felt amazing. Each one of them had different skills or talents to offer the group (gourmet cook, writer, water color artist, etc). They contributed to the group from their various skill sets but also took delight on relying solely on themselves. Literally everything they needed carried on their own backs. I can only imagine the transformation that took place as they got further into the wilderness and more distance from their roles as mothers and wives. The reason I am only able to imagine is because those days and nights spent up in the mountains are their private memories together to treasure. I am certain that what my mom did tell me is true, “It was magic.”

The core group of women continued for several decades what began in the summer of 1975. Year after year they planned weeklong treks into different mountain ranges. The husbands (like my dad) who were luke warm about the idea initially saw how much their wives got out of it and embraced the annual trips. In the early years the husbands planned big welcoming parties the day the women came out of the mountains. That was phased out due to the challenges of re-entry for the hikers. It makes me happy to know how much my dad supported my mom. I am sure he missed her greatly and appreciated her even more after caring for four teenage daughters in her absence. We were a handful.

I wanted to know more from my mom about what she felt over the years about these ladies. I knew them as her “backpacking friends.” My mom also had friends from other areas in her life, like her childhood best friends and women she was close to in our neighborhood with kids close to the ages of her daughters. She explained to me that Mountain Mamas were all busy with other friends and interests, which made their coming together that much more special.. They celebrated each other’s birthdays with a little breakfast and met up to plan before their annual hike. Not even the isolation of Covid stopped them from driving to my mom’s cul-de-sac and sitting far apart in lawn chairs to celebrate her eightieth birthday. I wondered what is it about the Mountain Mamas that continues to pull them together even in the years since the backpacking days have passed? She told me that these have been relationships “to savor” and that she knows she can depend on any one of them at any time. Through the various stages of their adult lives they have remained connected. Growing older together as “backpacking” friends they have weathered hardships and celebrations: weddings of children, grandchildren, relocations, divorce, death, health issues, career changes, and retirement. I am envious of the relationships she has that are so deeply rooted and long lasting. My mom reminds me that relationships have to be tended.

Women inspiring other women is what this month is all about. I was reading about Lucy Stone (from the 1800s). The passion and drive behind her efforts may have been for all women but I also believe she wanted to inspire her daughter Alice. She did. I hope in some small way I can inspire my own daughter. She formed a book club recently and was excited to tell me all about it. Not even married one year yet and she is already making time in her busy work and family schedule to gather with other women. I love it! Discussing the origin and long journey of the Mountain Mamas with my mother reminded me of how strong a woman she is and how much she values self care. Whether it is through art, piano playing, meditation, yoga or experiencing nature with friends she is a great role model. My mother inspires me (along with my three sisters). We value our close sisterhood, even when many miles separate us. As my mother reminded me, relationships need tending. This is true of sisters and of friends. I thought about this, especially being the home-body introvert writer that I tend to be as I have grown older. Relationships do need tending. Saying yes to girlfriend getaways, attending book club or tennis clinics, and just meeting up for a walk. Gather with other women and you will find renewed energy and perspective. Maybe even a little magic.

(Watercolors painted by my mother on her backpacking trips)

3 comments

  1. So so important to make the time for & “tend” to these relationships❤️ also can we talk about your mom’s watercolors???? So beautiful!

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  2. Carolyn, That brought tears to my eyes. The Mouintain Mamas defy explanation but you did a great job. This group of friends is such a treasure.

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  3. Carolyn……A lovely piece about bonding with other women. Funny how back then the Mt Mamas just “did it”. We were so innocent in just wanting to be together in the glorious outdoors. And we were also so very lucky our husbands supported each of us. Now in our eighties, when we gather (sometimes for no good reason) we once again enjoy that magic of friendship and loving support. Carry on ………

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