Laura Kelly Fanucci '03

The Binds That Tie: On Motherhood and Social Distancing


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The red notification on my phone flashes: 248 unread messages. I scroll back to find where the conversation started, chuckling to myself as I catch up on what I’ve missed.

“The girls are texting again,” I explain to my husband across the kitchen counter. 

He laughs, shaking his head: “You all are impressive when you get going.”

The stack of Saturday texts is nothing new. We’ve been checking in more since the quarantine began, but we’ve been chatting like this for decades.

Today’s text thread is a perfect snapshot of our friendship, twenty years since we first met. Work updates. Family drama. Kid stories. Cultural commentary. Political venting. Relentless snark. Endless encouragement. 

Sprinkled between our emojis are news articles, parenting memes, recipe links, movie quotes, and countless jokes from college days. Scrolling back reveals a snapshot of motherhood in our tired thirties.

I used to lament the loss of letters, even the emails that we used to send each other from dull cubicles at summer jobs. But now I see the beauty of our friendship’s ever-evolving conversation: a living and breathing communication, equal parts hilarious and heart-felt. 

A group text cannot be pinned down on paper or pressed between pages for posterity. But it can be carried in your back pocket whenever you need it.

It can even save your life.

Right now we are five moms worried about our families. We send updates from relatives in outbreak hotspots. We share articles to make sense of the latest news. We ask if it’s ok to take the baby to a routine check-up, and the consensus is yes.

We are muddling our way through unexpected homeschooling and freaking out about where to find formula and baby wipes. We are frustrated with figuring out how to work from home without child care. We are just so sick of never having two minutes alone.

But we always have the group text. 

Modern motherhood is intense and isolating. We’ve read this story a thousand times. The demise of local support networks. The stress of working parents. The geographic distancing of extended families. The lack of family-friendly policies in workplaces. The anxiety of today’s parenting strategies. The weight of society’s expectations.

So what happens when we find ourselves stretched even further? 

The present pandemic has sequestered us at home, away from schools, churches, and workplaces. Around the world, routines and habits have been ripped apart. Coffee dates, moms’ groups, lunch with coworkers — all of it evaporated overnight.

Laments abound for everything we’re missing during this social distancing. Zoom calls are no substitute for family dinners. FaceTime can’t replace a real hug.

But when it comes to mothering in the time of COVID, these friends have already taught me how.

Over the years, we’ve texted each other in doctors’ offices and hospital rooms. We’ve waded through personal troubles and professional dilemmas, cheered each other through graduate school and cross-country moves. We’ve even made our husbands promise to text updates during childbirth, because no one else worries as much about each other as we do.

Now these four women — in four different states and four different professions — are walking with me through every challenge of quarantine life: worrying to keep our kids safe, wanting to keep our parents healthy, wondering when on earth it will end.

Even as isolation takes its toll, the miracle of having best friends at arm’s reach is not lost on me. They are never farther than the phone in my back pocket.

“Behind every successful woman is a group text hyping her up,” boasts the Internet meme. The words ring true today more than ever. As virtual communication becomes the norm with family, friends, and coworkers — literally everyone in my life besides my husband and kids — I realize that this is how we carry each other through: one day at a time. 

One text at a time.

I’d rather be with these friends in person, much like I wish I could hug my parents or see my kids play with their classmates. But living thousands of miles apart has made us nurture our friendship in different, deeper ways. We’re still together, even when we’re not together.

Since we met, our ties are what bind us: undergrad antics, bridesmaid adventures, vacation memories. But life’s binds have tied us even tighter. The unexpected diagnoses. The unimaginable losses. The heartbreaks that happen to us all.

Now societies are finding the same on a global scale, searching for ways to come together while staying apart, relearning that loyalty and love are not limited by geographic proximity or physical closeness. What matters are the foundations of friendship that transcend space and time: faithful support, mutual vulnerability, dogged commitment, and common delight. 

Even in extraordinary times, we can still share ordinary life. 

Last night my anxiety would not quit. Watching the newborn nursing in my arms made my fears skyrocket. What if his tiny lungs were too weak? What if that package on the front step brought the virus into our home? What if my husband got sick and I had to care for all the kids by myself?

I turned to the text thread that’s been lighting up my phone for years. The ones I can reach out to in the middle of the night, trusting that someone else will be up with a baby soon, too. 

Mothers know how to keep vigil.

Within minutes, one of them writes back. Soon I’m stifling laughter so I don’t wake my husband. For a moment we’re back in the dining hall, laughing so hard we can’t finish our food. Nothing is fixed, but I am found.

Ordinary friendships do not make headlines. But these women have kept me going a thousand times when I wanted to quit. I could not have mothered without them. I couldn’t make it through this quarantine without them.

Even in a time of distance, their presence is my saving grace.

Laura Kelly Fanucci is a 2003 graduate of Notre Dame with degrees in French and art history. She is an author and columnist and writes about motherhood and faith at Mothering Spirit.