In this thoughtful book extract from Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink Kathy Jindra says she survived the happiest and hardest years of her life with a little help from her friends.

Sometimes I ask myself: how did we get by without the Internet?

We relied a lot on our friends—that’s how.

It was 1982. I had just moved into a new neighbourhood with my husband, Gary, two-and-a-half-year-old son, Justin, and six-month-old daughter, Sarah. It was exciting to upgrade from a two-bedroom apartment into this beautiful three-bedroom house with a yard. The only problem? I knew no one.

One morning, the doorbell rang. There stood a smiling lady with two children. She told me about a babysitting co-op and asked if I would like to come to their next meeting. Little did either of us know that my door- bell ringing would be the beginning of many new friendships, and that thirty-two years later, the babysitting co-op would still be going strong.

I attended that first gathering and was given my forty now-obsolete computer punch cards. That was the group’s form of money. Each card was worth half an hour of babysitting. We took turns hosting evening meetings for the mothers as a way to get acquainted, so we could feel comfortable leaving our children with each other. But they turned into so much more.

My husband, Gary, knew he had to be home on time on the co-op evenings, because he was in charge of the kids. I looked forward to those meetings when we would sit, laughing and talking. Before we knew it, it would be midnight (and some nights, 1:00 a.m.). When it was my turn, I learned to host it in the family room instead of the living room, which was at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the bedrooms. It’s amazing how loud ten to fifteen women were once they all started laughing.

Our husbands wondered what we could possibly talk about until midnight. Since it would be a month between meetings, there were all kinds of things to catch up on. We shared suggestions and ideas about potty training, how to get rid of the dummy, good preschools, ballet teachers, and teenage babysitters (although if you found a good one, it was really, really hard to give out her name for fear she would then always be busy). We set up playgroups and carpools. We talked about family trips. We discussed the kids riding the bus to school, the good and bad teachers they shared, when our kids would be old enough to walk or ride their bikes to high-school, taking our fifteen-year-olds out driving once they earned their driver’s permit, sports, curfews, dating, university choices, and much, much more.

And, yes, there was even some talk about husbands, but we can’t ever let them know. It was such a good place to vent and discover there probably isn’t a perfect husband out there. Like us, they all have their little quirks, but we are blessed to have them.

Each month, we paid two dollars in dues into a kitty to be used to send flowers when a new baby was born. I had my third child, Bethany, two years after joining, and received one of those bouquets at the hospital. There were many babies born, which gave us even more to talk about.

Now we are all in our fifties and sixties. Fifteen years ago, we looked at each other, laughing, realising we hadn’t used each other to watch our kids in years. We can’t give up our monthly meetings, but it seems silly to keep calling ourselves “the babysitting co-op.” So we are now just “the co-op.” Friends have moved, but there are still ten women in our group. One dear friend passed away, but her memory will always be with us. We no longer spend our kitty to send flowers for new babies, but for our own surgeries and illnesses.

It took our husbands years to finally realise there were no kids to watch when we had our gatherings. Now, on the evenings we meet, they go out to dinner together. At least twice a year, we combine our groups and let them take us out. Our conversations have turned to our parents’ health and nursing homes, our health and surgeries (cancer, knee replacements, heart attacks, and pacemakers, to name a few), vacations, retirement, our children’s weddings, and most fun of all: our grandchildren.

Moving to this neighbourhood thirty-two years ago and having that doorbell ring was such a blessing. The friendships I have gained from the co-op fill me with happiness.

How do your friends help you in your life? Let us know in the comments section below.