I wake up to a text message: “Want to take the boys to the beach today?”

I know then that I’m about to experience my first real mom date since I moved to Oregon. I wonder how it could be true – my #momcrushmonday has invited me to spend the day at the coast. The occasion clearly calls for bringing out the big guns – real pants, a hair brush, and mascara.

As I get ready for the day ahead, my mind is flooded with anxiety. Will Elliot make it through the car ride meltdown-free? Will the boys get along? Will I forget something important? Will it be too obvious that I clearly do not have it all together? Will I be able to muster up the brain power for actual adult conversation in the middle of the day?

I try not to put too much pressure on this casual mom date, but I struggle. It’s been a lonely month living 1,500 miles away from my people, my tribe. The need for friendship is all too real in my heart. I’m anxious, but I’m hopeful.

We meet in the church parking lot to carpool. I nervously walk up to her SUV, my diaper bag and beach bag stretched over my shoulder, Elliot snug on my hip. Mia gets out of the front seat and greets us with a hug. She is totally rocking a messy bun and yoga pants; it’s no wonder I have a crush on her. She’s so cool. She doesn’t even care.

She opens the back door to reveal three car seats snug in the backseat, two of them filled with laughing boys. Elliot’s face lights up with joy as a drool-dripping hand reaches over to share a soggy half-eaten apple slice.

The ride there begins with loud conversations, attempting to hear one another over giggles and excited shrieking coming from the backseat. We talk about birth stories, breastfeeding, and sleepless nights. The sound of tiny sandals scraping up against leather seats fills our ears – the boys are pretending to run. We laugh; we had assumed they would take a nap on the drive.

After 20 minutes of fun, the remaining 40 minutes of the ride are filled with screaming, nap-avoidance, and several pit stops for breastfeeding, snacking, and stretching out tiny little legs.

To keep Elliot quiet, I slip him handfuls of Goldfish (our usual car ride survival trick).

When Mia’s youngest son Isaiah cries, she slips her hand back and intertwines her fingers with his. She speaks sweetly to him, “You are not alone. I love you. Momma is right here. You are not alone.”

Every so often she speaks loud over the crying to her older son Samuel – “Samuel, you’re doing such a great job. Thank you for riding so nicely in the car, Samuel, I appreciate you.” I think to myself, this is why she’s my mom crush; I can learn so much from this girl.

We arrive at the beach in style. Mia somehow carries two toddlers and her giant Ikea bag filled with sand toys and trucks, kites and towels, and snacks. We lean our backs against a fallen tree trunk while the boys play in the sand. Elliot looks as if he has a five-o-clock shadow – the sand has given him the perfect look of stubble. My boy is a stud muffin; he’s totally rocking this playdate.

We walk to the water and inhale the smell of ocean air as we feel the sand between our toes. Elliot shrieks with excitement as each wave nears closer to the shore. We dip our feet in the icy cold ocean as the sun beats down on our backs. The five of us jump and splash and laugh there together, enjoying the earth, enjoying one another’s company.

We stop at a local restaurant for lunch with an ocean view. Three highchairs line up along the table. We gulp down bowls of clam chowder and slices of garlic cheese bread. Elliot is suddenly overwhelmed with joy – loud shrieks of laughter fill the restaurant. I feel the eyes of everyone in the room fixed on us. The heat of embarrassment fills my cheeks. I look over at Mia and I’m reminded of why I have a mom crush on her. She is not embarrassed. She’s laughing right along with Elliot. She’s so cool. She doesn’t even care.

Elliot calms down. Mia and I take turns bringing the boys to the bathroom. Once everyone is cleaned up and ready to go, Samuel decides to dump his water bottle on the table. The boys splash their hands with quiet smiles. Mia and I hold back our laughter and wipe down the table, exiting the restaurant triumphantly with three full-bellied clean-diapered toddlers in tow. We reward ourselves by purchasing lattes at the shop across the street before piling back into the car.

I know that this is what mom friendships are for: sitting with one another in the middle of the chaos and the mess.

I know that this is what mom friendships are for: laughing together and learning from one another; cleaning up messes and getting through meltdowns with someone by your side.

I know that this is what mom friendships are for: to remind us that we don’t have to have it all together; to remind us that we’re not alone; to remind us that sometimes we deserve a celebratory latte for getting through the day.

As we drive back from our day at the coast, our bellies full of coffee and a backseat full of sleeping babies, Mia and I speak in hushed voices. We talk about our lives before becoming moms. We talk about our spouses, our love stories, our careers, our passions. As two stay-at-home moms, we thoroughly enjoy an hour of uninterrupted adult conversation. We laugh, with her hands on the wheel and my feet on the dash. We encourage one another, with a soft breeze flowing through open windows. We learn about one another, with both sets of eyes fixed on an open road and painted skies.

I end the day with a cranky toddler, a thin layer of sand in my bra, and a hot sunburn on my shoulders.

I end the day feeling a little less alone and a little more understood.

I end the day reminded of this truth – motherhood is better when we live it together.