THE BUCKS COUNTY DINING table was impeccably set, all flickering taper candles and cloth napkins and pretty serving dishes heaped with food. Rachel*, 36, had spent the afternoon prepping—roasting chicken, chilling wine, giving three-year-old Ava a bath, tidying the playroom. She checked her watch. Kelly, her best friend of 11 years, would be there soon, husband and child in tow.
It was much less work when entertaining meant ordering Chinese, Rachel thought, recalling the countless impromptu dinners she’d shared with Kelly over the years. But then Rachel married Michael, and Kelly married John, and then each couple had a baby, which meant that meals out of cartons didn’t cut it anymore. Life had drastically changed for both women, mostly for the better.
Rachel and Kelly had met as 20-somethings in their Doylestown gym and instantly became joined-at-the-hip friends. The time they didn’t spend working—Rachel as a teacher, Kelly as a trainer—they spent together. They even kind of looked alike: both fit, stylish, glossy brunettes. When they married within a few years of each other, their inseparable twosome grew into an inseparable foursome, and they enjoyed the perks of burgeoning careers, splurging on fancy dinners and fancier vacations. Each cried when she found out the other was pregnant, jointly envisioning playdates and family get-togethers and matching Bugaboos. They’d share tips and tricks of the mommy trade over coffee and strap their kids into car seats for educational trips to museums and farms. Their children would be best friends, too.
Only it wasn’t working out exactly as planned.
Kelly and her small crew arrived and filed around Rachel’s carefully set table; within minutes, the kids were eating and the room was abuzz with adult conversation and clinking silverware. But then Kelly’s five-year-old, Patrick, decided that he wanted down. He banged his spoon on the table and cried, clearly at the precipice of a three-alarm tantrum. Kelly cooed and mussed his hair, admonishing him to “Sit, please, sweetie. Be a good boy and sit.” So Patrick held his breath, turning his little face the color of a ripe plum.
Across the table, Ava eyed the chaos with interest and then raised her arm as if to chuck her own plastic spoon across the room. Rachel shot her a Don’t even think about it look. Ava’s spoon stayed in hand. Meanwhile, Patrick had slithered from his chair and taken off his shirt, and was now bounding around the table, bare-chested, roaring like a lion and slicing the air with a plastic lightsaber. His mother laughed, half-guiltily, chirping about his incredible energy, and continued eating. Rachel mustered a tight smile and tried to barrel through the crazy-child din, determined to salvage the evening. But it was pointless.
Dinner was over.