pumping at weddings (and other tales of mamas sticking together)

Somewhere around 10:30 p.m. last summer, in the middle of a spectacular wedding, I slipped under the table. The Jerry Ross Band was doing their thing at the front of the tent, drawing out even the most apprehensive dancers, the cocktails were flowing, the bride and groom were glowing, and the night was as warm and electric as the little white lights circling the nearby trees.

It wouldn’t seem the ideal moment to lift up the table cloth and duck away but there I sat, crouched under the table, dress unzipped and pump in hand watching shoes and bare feet peek out and shift around me. There we sat, actually, me and three (sometimes even five) of my female friends. We sat almost suctioned together like the shield I had just secured and our conversation flowed as freely as my milk.

I’ve pumped in many makeshift places in the past 16 months traveling and working while still nursing my son Max but none so communal, memorable or poignant as under that table, surrounded by white cloth and women I love deeply.

Motherhood is a communal word. It’s a communal “world”. Not too far removed from other such communal worlds: Sisterhood. Womanhood. Parenthood. Brotherhood. Childhood. Hollywood(?). These societies we join by association – through event, age, circumstance or even accident. We come to them on our own, as new arrivals unfamiliar with the territory (language, customs, topography) and we navigate through the best we can. We look for road signs. We Google recommendations. We fly by the seat of our pants.

But mostly, we turn to other people. We seek traveling companions who know the way or know what we’re in for or know nothing but are willing to stick by our side. We come to a realization that we’re not the first to travel this way, nor the last, and that our time is best served tapping into the collective experience around us. While we enter these ‘hoods’ solo we become one of many. Part of the fold. We immerse ourselves into the new world and in my experience, it is precisely the others in the hood that make the journey enjoyable (manageable, possible, exciting, even exceptional).

If we are lucky, as I have been, we find ourselves sitting under a table with some of the finest community members.

We chatted about whether or not I could count hand pumping as a workout for my hand (I can) and where we picked up our fascinators (Etsy and the closet), whether we knew what they were before they were requested on Alexis’ wedding invite (nope), as at ease as if we were lying on a circle of towels on a beach. None of us seemed to be phased by the crick in our necks nor the grass on our legs nor the strangeness of the location and my pumping.

We were just us, as we’ve always been. Gathered together, supporting what one woman needs, being present. This is what our ‘hood’ had come to look like.

It didn’t start out that way. In the beginning, we were all young, at varying levels of strangers and childhood friends and acquaintances choosing to work at Camp Henry, a summer camp in Michigan. (Choosing to forgo showering and time with family and funds and any kind of decent sleep.) We were all solo travelers arriving into summer camp-hood. We spent the summers together and bit by bit, mosquito bite by bite and Three Jolly Fisherman by Rock-a-my-Soul, we started to relate.

We connected in the cabins with ease until one day, Amanda got married. And we celebrated outside the camp trees and learned we liked it. A lot. So we decided to head to Jenny’s cabin the next year. Uncertain of how it would go, or whether we would all get along, armed with a pile of magazines, a boatload of alcohol, a few tiaras, and very few places to sleep, ten of us gathered in a circle on the shores of Lime Lake and struck upon a way to take the Shores of Lake Kimball with us. We discovered that camp-hood and sisterhood and womanhood and suspended childhood were really one in the same.

Twelve years later (give or take, depending who is counting), and twelve years of summer weekends and weddings together, we found ourselves at Alexis and Andrew’s beautiful celebration, sitting there under the table. And standing by the tree holding new babies and babies with beautiful blue eyes. And observing our communal husbands standing in their own familiar circle at the barn.

We had chosen partners and cities and careers and motherhood. (Still choosing to forgo showering and time with family and funds and any kind of decent sleep.) While in some ways we’re always still traveling alone, in the ways that matter, we’re deeply connected.

We may not all have summers off or know that breast milk is warm when it comes out or work long hours in the corporate world or have a married name but we all know what it means to be one of many with this group we call the Hanks Honeys.

We know the value of our hood.

And we know that when someone says they need to pump somewhere other than a port-a-potty that the best idea is to go under the table and have husbands go for drinks while we chat.

Cheers to AR and AR, the Hanks Honeys, and all those embracing their ‘hood’s.