I definitely have friends

"Shannon, is that you?!” 

I was at a south Minneapolis playground, zoning out on a bench while my young children cavorted in the sand. I looked up expectantly at my recognizer. 

“Samara?!” 

Wow, I hadn’t seen her in ages! We hugged like old friends suddenly reunited, excitedly inquiring about the latest happenings in each other’s lives. 

So, who was this great friend of mine? An old pal from high school, perhaps? A fellow parent from that ECFE class I took two years ago? 

No, I’m afraid not. 

Samara, as it so happened, was my favorite cashier at Lake Wine & Spirits, a short jaunt from my home in the Lyn-Lake area of Minneapolis. Until she left for a new job I saw her at least a couple times a week — far more often than I saw any of my “real” friends. 

Meet my new friends 

Lest this come across as a boozy cry for help, let me point out that Samara was just one member of my carefully curated clique of retail BFFs. At that point in my “parenting journey” (mother to a toddler and a baby), I found myself in a troubling state of existential alienation. 

Estranged from my childfree friends and fundamentally unable to connect with the seemingly like-minded parents in my “family friendly” new neighborhood, I turned my attention to that previously unnoticed gold mine of friendship — the sympathetic providers of goods and services at my preferred local retailers. 

My new group of “friends” included, but was not limited to: 

  • A clerk in the adjoining cheese shop at Lake Wine & Spirits; 
  • A server at Lucia’s To Go (RIP, Lucia’s); 
  • Select members of the Uptown Pizza Luce “slice line.”

Despite my new-parent sleep deprivation, I was aware on some level that these people weren’t my “real” friends. Or was I? Like the guy who sincerely believes, “That stripper really liked me,” perhaps I, too, was mistaking someone who was just doing his or her job for someone who was actually taking an interest in me. 

I’ve had my share of service-related jobs in which I suspected that a certain customer or two was stopping by my coffee shop or bagel store not simply to get a beverage or a meal but to connect. I generally found this sad at best, tragic at worst. 

“Doesn’t he have any real friends?” I’d ask myself as “Carpet Installation Guy” plodded out the door of the coffee shop with his mocha after a lengthy chat that interfered significantly with my dishwashing duties. 

Assembling the ‘village’  

We all know it “takes a village” to raise a child. We also know that villages as such are basically obsolete, and therefore we’re instructed by the masters of parenting knowledge that it’s up to us to find our “tribe.” (Let’s acknowledge the problematic use of the word “tribe” to more often than not describe a group of privileged moms swapping paleo recipes and cloth diapering advice.) 

Why a lifelong loner like me who was nicknamed “Aloof Shannon” by my so-called friends in college ever thought she’d naturally fall in with a posse of “warrior mamas” (or however we’re spinning the drudgery today) is beyond my comprehension. 

I see women I vaguely know posting pictures of their kids in their “play groups” and praising the fellow mothers in their group who have “held me up through so many trials.” Hashtag BLESSED. 

I wish I could relate, but I can’t. 

Still, I like to think I’ve come to terms with my way of being in the world. My support system has changed a bit since I moved to St. Paul, but I like to think it’s stronger than ever. And these people deserve a shout out, too. 

So, Woman Who Hands Out Skates at the Downtown St. Paul Skating Rink — thank you for remembering my size. Tom, owner of Brunson’s Pub — thank you for comping that meal when my husband, Nick, was going through cancer treatment. And cashier at the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store — thank you for looking the other way when my son attempts to scale the bookshelves like a bunk bed ladder. 

I don’t know if I’m #blessed, but I think I’m #finefornow.


Shannon Keough lives in St. Paul with her husband and two children. Send questions or comments to skeough@mnparent.com.