Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Old Friends

Barbara: My first blog-post ever was about friendship—how I was quite unfit to be a real friend for the longest time because I had gotten into a bad habit of only being a nurturer and caregiver. I had no idea how to just sit back and enjoy the reciprocity of a good friendship. When I discovered this, I committed myself to real change. Which is when and how I found Deb.

But the exceptions that prove this rule are the friendships that began before my earnest "helicopter-friending". I am lucky enough to have some lifelong friendships that somehow managed to bypass all my usual pitfalls. I think the reason is that these friends who I only saw once or twice a year didn't have a chance to be held hostage by my secret Super-Nurturer. I didn’t have time to sneak away, tear off my glasses and button-down sweater, and don my latex super-hero garb and and laser-bangles, then clasp them to my breast and heeeeaaal. I had to just … yeah, sit back and enjoy the reciprocity of good friendship.

Twenty years ago this year, two of these lifelong friends—Sean dates back with my husband and I to university, and his (very welcoming) wife, Ann—began a tradition that continues to this day. They invited us, along with another couple—John and Sandy, who were also great friends since university––to visit them at their home for a weekend. The catch? By some miracle of timing, we had all just had our first babies. Sean dubbed it BabyFest.

It was a fest indeed. We ate incredible food, drank as much as we could given our parental states, and shared stories (oh yeah, and we changed diapers, wiped drool, and snuck away with a baby when they wouldn’t settle). Two days later, we stumbled our respective ways, vowing to do it again the next year.

And twenty years later, we’ve never let a single thing get in the way of getting to our annual fete. Our kids have grown up together—despite rarely being able to see each other outside of our get-togethers. This fact never stopped them from forming enduring friendships with the BabyFest offspring, with whom they can always somehow share their deepest feelings. Kinda like their parents. While the growing children gamboled about in whatever retreat we had finagled (everything from a windswept house, to a gay man’s living homage to all things Christmas, to my sister’s cottage on an out-of-the-way lake), the adults forged their love and respect for each other through eating and drinking splurges that may rival ancient Roman feasting without the, you know, orgies and stuff (remember, not into that—see Just Your Average Swingers).

BabyFest lasts three to four days, during which each family hosts one adults’ dinner, one kids’ dinner, and one brunch and doesn’t do a thing the other meals. It’s lovely. This year some of the “kids” (the oldest are all now officially university-attending adults, argh) did a dinner retrospective of their most memorable kids’ dinners. I think hotdogs on skewers, tacos, and root beer floats figured large. The adults are all foodies and have covered just about every country’s fare in themed dinners, from Ethiopian to British to Hawaiian. Complete with costumes, mood-music, and party favours. We take our feasting very seriously.

And there is such solace and relief—especially when times are a little rough––in seeing our dear friends and knowing we can both relax and let loose. I think the kids think we’re a little off our rockers. But then again, apparently I don’t care what the kids think—not for the three days of BabyFest. That said, watching the seven BabyFest babies grow up has been a fascinating process—like the famous British doc, Seven Up, it’s like having a microcosm of people’s lives as they go from their youngest selves to grown-ups, always themselves, of course, but incrementally changed. And there is enormous gratitude that all seven of them have gone along for the ride, never rolling their eyes at our tradition and, in fact, embracing it with as much gusto as their parents. It turns out the BabyFest babies are prepared to go the distance with this holiday—vowing even to attend when their own parents need their diapers changed, their drool cleaned, and their to-do’s settled.

I swear to you, it’s worth trying. Although hard-hats are recommended.
 BabyFest photo from 1996 and then recreated in 2007

Deb: I have listened for nine years to Barb’s building excitement as BabyFest approaches. Not once has the event not lived up to the anticipation, which is pretty incredible. There is nothing like beautiful tradition. I love that the kids have never strayed from their devotion to it either. They have never gone through a phase where it was “lame” or where other things in their lives have taken priority. May it always be this way. Long live BabyFest!


  1. What a great idea. And what fun watching the 'babies' grow.

    And I am a friend much like you- more of a nurturer, and that often results in me almost suffocating a friendship, when there is little to nurture.

  2. What a fantastic tradition! I'd love to set up something like this with some of my old friends.
    I love the comparison photos too! Hilarious! :-D


  3. Rayna, it's strange isn't it? How some of us mistake nurturing for friendship and then miss out on so much. At least we recognize it now!!

    And Elle, I really do highly recommend it. After seeing each other go through so much over the years, there's a great shorthand to ease and comfort.

  4. I think this is great!! And, can I just say, Barb, how much you look like your mom in the 1996 shot.

    WHat a wonderful tradition you've begun. Our bookclub just marked it's 20th anniversary (I'm a relative newbie at 12-14 years!)and I find it fascinating to get together with these women every couple of months. Many of us don't see each other outside of the bookclub, but somehow we can get together and catch up on all the news - the good, new relationships, weddings/anniversaries, new jobs, accomplishments, new homes, babies and adopted kids; and the bad, including relationshop breakups, and even the loss of one of the women to breast cancer. Just like your babyfest, the formula doesn't change - potluck with the same person "offering" each time to bring wine like we'd expect something different.

    What would we do without our old friends?!

  5. Hey Susan! I never realized that I look like my mom in that photo. But I see it now -- with the blonder hair and all.

    And I love me a good book club get-together too. We have a wonderful group -- although not yet as established as yours. It is amazing how much really important ground you can cover when you feel so comfortable with people.

  6. Great picture. It is cool to see everyone coming together in that photo. It looks like you all have a lot of fun together.

  7. I love the pictures. The 2007 one had me rolling. You guys look like you are having way too much fun for it to be legal.
    Old friends are the best. I just recently got back in touch with my best friend from school days. It is like we were never apart. We just picked up where we left off.

  8. This is SO SO cool. I wish my husband and I liked each other's friends... I particularly love the two young ladies in front who look SO OPPOSITE, yet are obviously close enough to climb on each other. Those friendships are pretty special.

    I actually came in to tell you ladies you have an award, but I got suckered into enlarging photos, trying to figure out who went with whom... really is fabulous!

  9. TJL -- waaaaay too much fun, it's so true!

    And Hart -- thank you for our wonderful YOU ROCK award!!! (PS Hart really rocks too) What do we do, bow and scrape in humble gratitude or somehow post it?

    Oh -- and in case anyone else is wondering: my brood is the three of us on the far right and the (2007) red-head in the middle-front in the arms of her buddy. Sean and Ann's brood are at the far right with the 3 girls around them, and John and Sandy and their 2 kids are in the middle. Yes, their son is our only boy. He has been a real man about it -- which I mean as a very sincere compliment.

  10. omg, i want a BABY FEST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    um, but not the new babies to go with it. >:(


    well, the closest I've come is I host an annual New Year's eve party and the same families have been coming since my 15 yr old was 2. I'm told that the girls leaving for college next year will STILL want to come on their visits home and I am counting on it. Even though they live near by, because they are older, I rarely see them and they are like daughters to me.

    and, Barb, those photos are incredible. They made me cry. <3

  11. Barbara -

    It occurs to me to wonder if the lone son in the group will end up marrying one of the BabyFest daughters someday. ;)

    Hmmmm, will there be GrandbabyFest someday?

  12. Um, first a comment on my own comment -- my husband pointed out that I said that both my brood and Sean's brood were on the far right. Of course, that's just silly. Sean's brood is on the left.

    Gae, love that the photo made you cry! And, Rigel, oh, how many convos we had over the years about whether Lone Son would marry BabyFest daughter. Those all ended with Phil and Sean threatening to banish said son "to the island".

    And if the Festers have their way, GrandbabyFest fo sho!

  13. Oh, it's Roman alright! This year Barb made me slather my body with strange oils and her husband wanted to paint me with a can of rustoleum.....
    The babies interviewed us on tape the last night of BF with a common set of questions, one of which was "What is your greatest accomplishment?" My response was simple: "This...Babyfest"
    And I am truly thankful that the paths that crossed so many years ago have become a shared highway of happiness

  14. Okay Sean clearly Barb has left a couple of key things out! Love the shared highway of happiness!

  15. Sean, did you have to mention the oil???! The can of rustoleum you deserved, though.

    Seriously, Sean has innumerable successes he can celebrate, but I have a soft spot for his BabyFestian accomplishment. *sniff sniff*

  16. Sean, the can of white rustoleum was on standby only if you forgot to bring the required white shirt for our theme dinner. Unfortunately, you remembered to pack one and thus deprived the group of some bonus entertainment.


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