By Karen Hendricks
You know how it’s hard to remember a time before you had children? What did you DO with your time? What kind of MEANING did your life have, before children?
Well, for as long as I’ve had children, the past 18+ years, I’ve also been blessed to have something called “friendsdays” in my family’s life too. It’s hard to remember a time when friendsdays didn’t exist!
Basically the concept behind friendsdays is simple: three of us girlfriends decided to get together about once a week through the summer with our children, hitting the area’s parks, playgrounds and other points of interest. Through the years the number of children escalated, the destinations became more adventurous, and the friendships deepened. My fellow Off the Merry-Go-Round gals Mary Ann, Ruth and I formed “the friendsdays group” but over the years numerous other friends and their children joined us for various outings as their schedules allowed. The more, the merrier!
Thinking back, during the first year or two, our friendsdays fell mainly on Wednesdays. Probably when my oldest daughter Katie was about 4 or 5, she coined the name “friendsdays” to rhyme with “Wednesdays.” The name has stuck ever since.
At first, we primarily met at playgrounds, located within local parks, state parks, elementary schools or churches. This was the perfect opportunity to explore new playgrounds and exciting new equipment! We fell into a pattern of packing picnic lunches and spending several hours together, heading home when our youngest children needed their mid-afternoon naps.
During these early years, with at least nine children in tow—sometimes more as we brought friends/neighbors—we were often asked if we were associated with a daycare!
As the years passed, our weekly excursions took us on nature hikes, to farms and museums, on train and trolley rides and to many various swimming pools/slides. We even visited a chocolate factory!
I probably would have visited some of these locations with my children, but it wouldn’t have been as much fun or as memorable without our closest friends. And many of the locations are ones I probably wouldn’t have tackled without other moms along for support!
We also enjoy an end-of-summer friendsday picnic at our homes, rotating the hosting duties every year. Another friendsday tradition sees us getting together annually on New Year’s Eve to exchange Christmas gifts, enjoy dinner and ring in the new year—the hosting duties rotate for this as well. And these are opportunities for the dads to be involved in friendsdays activities!
We have developed several favorite friendsday locations, some of which we still visit today. One is Caledonia State Park, located between Gettysburg and Chambersburg, PA. The park includes beautiful streamside picnic areas as well as nature trails and a large swimming pool. On very hot days, we visit the pool (admission required). But the kids have always enjoyed splashing in the streams, collecting rocks, picnicking and throwing ball just as much (free admission). The vast majority of our friendsdays are simply free, budget-friendly activities, but once in a while we enjoy outings that require an admission price.
Now that our children are nearly all teenagers, will friendsdays continue? I think in some form or another, they will. Despite work schedules for all of us moms, and now our teenagers’ work schedules, sporting events, summer vacations, etc… friendsdays have become an institution! They are wonderful opportunities for us moms to “catch up” and spend time together, and our children have formed life-long friendships that seem more like brother-sister relationships. There have been wonderful memories, even a few painful incidents that required stitches, but plenty of laughter along the way too.
Thankfully we took—and continue to take—photos at nearly every friendsday stop. Looking at the huge collection of photos is like looking at a family album, seeing our children grow together through the years.
I would encourage you to think about your own circle of friends, your children’s friends, and how you could form your own friendsday group this summer. Setting and saving dates as early as possible in the summer is key. I promise… the benefits, the friendships and the memories will be absolutely priceless.
If you enjoyed this post, please also see Jennifer (Smith) Schuler’s post about how you can create your own “family,” Blood is Thicker Than Water and Other Misrepresentations of Family Life.