One summer morning, my 3-year-old watched me stuff my backpack (not a diaper bag!) with sunscreen, water and a sweater. A carload of MOPS friends was arriving in a few minutes for a daytrip to the nearby California coast, complete with lunch at an English pub and a hike along the Marin headlands.
“Mama,” he chirped, “what are you and the other mamas going to do while you’re gone?”
“Our plan is to hike and look at the ocean and eat yummy food. And chat.”
“That’s good. Mamas LOVE to chat.”
As my son has already figured out, the key to a great girlfriend date is as easy and as hard as just making time to talk and laugh together. Whether you’re able to carve out a couple hours or a long weekend, follow this recipe for a truly memorable outing with your best gal pals.
Start with kid-unfriendly ingredients
As our hike high above the Pacific stretched into its third mile, I had just one glorious thought: Our children would never have lasted this long! The wind whipped and the sand sparkled and the sky was so blue it looked like the ocean turned inside out. And I swear it all glittered a little more brilliantly because there was no stroller access.
Plan your girlfriend date with maximum kid-difficulty in mind. Eat at a hip restaurant with no high chairs, appreciate art at a museum that doesn’t appreciate tiny humans hurtling toward its masterpieces, or visit an amusement park and scream your head off on all the rides with height restrictions. The exhilaration of being freed from sippy cups will make your time together feel like a mini-vacation.
Mix in time for talking
How often have you said goodbye to another mom at the park, released the brake on your stroller, and suddenly realized you never heard the end of the story she started at the beginning of the play date? A million times, right? Motherhood is a series of interrupted conversations, punctuated by snacks. Make sure to build in downtime to your girls’ date (face-to-face downtime is even better) to give yourself the luxury of actually hearing what happened at the high school reunion your friend started telling you about last week.
So many rich conversations came out of that eat-hike-chat date with my gal pals. Over an unhurried lunch, we had the chance to get beyond small talk.
We heard about a traumatic car accident, traded childhood Christmas stories, laughed at marital pet peeves, and brainstormed names for the pregnant mama’s baby. Months later, those conversations are still touchstones for our friendship.
Add a dash of adventure
Think about your best stories from high school or college. Chances are, they don’t revolve around study sessions or dining hall lunches; our most memorable experiences usually happen when we say “yes” to something a little beyond our ordinary. To create moments that‘ll make you smile years later, consider getting a few inches outside of your comfort zone. This might mean trading in pedicures for tandem kayaking, or putting away Google Maps on a road trip, or going to a restaurant your husband would never try – whatever gives your gal time that extra element of adventure.
Our coastal hike certainly wasn’t the stuff of Netflix documentaries, but it wasn’t a stroll to Starbucks, either. As I clambered down a rocky path to Pirate Coves (yep), my shoes slipping on the soft sand, I had to rely on a girlfriend to pave the way and point out the safest footholds. There’s nothing like the threat of a sprained ankle to bring you closer together.
Season liberally with grace
Be flexible with your friends’ comfort levels, budgets and time constraints. Kids get sick, babysitters cancel, and moms feel anxious about being away. The beauty of good girlfriends is they get it. If one pal can only join you for an hour, welcome her to the party with open arms. If the day involves pumping breaks, make sure that breastfeeding mama doesn’t feel like an inconvenience. If not everyone loves your indoor skydiving idea, find the nearest ice skating rink and get your triple salchow on, Girl.
That day on the coast, I was the one who had to bail early. The two of us with nursing infants drove back after dinner while the others spent the night at a hotel – and I was so grateful no one judged me for my separation anxiety.
I made it home just in time for bedtime. “Mama!” my 3-year-old squealed. “Did the mamas drink coffee?”
“Uh, no. We hiked and chatted and ate yummy food. But no coffee. Why?”
“Because mamas LOVE coffee.”
Can’t argue with that, Kiddo. It seems our girlfriend date may have lacked one key ingredient. But I have to say, I wouldn’t change a single thing about this dish.