Photo: Kristin Van de Water

Dear Mom of Four,

“Are they all yours?” you asked and responded with such glee when I said, “Yes—all four!”

There we were, peering off the overlook at a snoozing grizzly bear at the Central Park Zoo. I snapped a gazillion photos of my brood, trying to get eight eyes to stop squinting simultaneously. Then you rolled up in your double stroller, big kids clamoring for a spot on-board while your baby tried for a nap.

“Four! That makes me so happy!” you gushed. “I can’t wait to go without a stroller, like you.”

As it was a school holiday, we were both loaded up with four kiddos apiece plus plenty of gear, making the most of a beautiful spring day in New York City.

“Well, our stroller is waiting at the bottom of the steps,” I explained, “but it is a lot easier when the youngest can walk a bit.”

“And you live in the city?” you continued. “Do you know anyone else here with four kids?”

“We know lots with three but just a few with four. And yes, Upper East.”

“Me too!”

But when I learned that we lived 25 blocks apart—including a few hilly avenues—I shied away from exchanging contact information and pursuing a friendship. We chatted for a moment as we strolled toward the snow leopard exhibit but left it at that. In the moment, I couldn’t fathom the logistics involved in getting our families going in the same direction at the same time. That’s just too many bodies to coordinate.

I live most of my life within 10 blocks of my apartment. Realistically, if you live outside my kids’ walkable radius, it just isn’t going to happen. Our day at the zoo was a rare excursion out of the neighborhood in honor of Grandma’s visit. I connect most readily with the people I naturally do life with—families we see regularly at our local playground, playgroup, church, library or school.

Four kids in, I have my community established, and I’m guessing you do too. To be honest, I often feel like I’m not a good enough friend to those people. I’m lucky if I can see my best friend even once a month. Adding another family to the mix would dilute the time I have for those established connections.

How sad, though, that friendships must be so calculated. For better or worse, relationships take work. Like a garden, they must be weeded and watered in order to flourish. That day at the zoo, I had just bumped into a couple of other friends by the penguins. Unfortunately, that blinded me enough to mistake you for a dandelion instead of a sunflower.

While I generally don’t dwell on the past or live with many regrets, I keep replaying our interaction in my mind, wondering if I should have paused to plant another seed in my friendship garden. The work of pursuing a new mom friend would certainly be worth it if I found a new BFF.

So much of our conversation went unspoken because we just automatically understood each other. There’s no way we were going to spend the public-school holiday cooped up inside. Rather than turning our tiny apartments into madhouses with kids bouncing off the walls, we geared up and headed to the real zoo instead. I already knew what your morning looked like because I, too, had spent several hours pouring cereal, brushing teeth, tying ponytails, slathering sunscreen, packing lunch, locating shoes, convincing everyone to use the bathroom, hyping up the zoo to at least one cranky kid, and trekking back upstairs for forgotten hats.

Maybe I didn’t catch your name because, subconsciously, it felt like I already knew you.

Anyway, I think you are a rock star for parenting four kids in New York City. Stick it out. Invest in this great city and your neighborhood. Get creative with your living space. Live simply. Don’t feel like you must have it all or do it all—because “normal” gets a whole new definition when a family of six is involved. Spend time with your incredible family and dare to dig your roots into the city instead of searching for your suburban escape plan. Let’s do this together, even if we never physically cross paths again.

And if we run into each other grabbing frozen waffles at the grocery store while the kids negotiate who gets to hold the basket, counting books at the library because we’re close to the 50-item max, or stocking up on popcorn and pretzels at the Dollar Tree, I’ll know our mom friendship was meant to be.

Yours truly,