In my head, college remains a blissfully blurry, dream-like period punctuated by vivid recollections of hilarious shenanigans, poignant heart-to-hearts, and canyon-deep friendships. So when a postcard arrived in the mail last spring insisting that I save-the-date for my 15 year reunion, I plastered that shiny sucker front and center on our fridge, serving as an announcement to my husband and three little kids (no matter that they couldn’t read it) of my plans to desert them for a weekend to recreate my carefree glory days.

Of course, I made no real plans until I made sure that my three best friends—girls from my freshman year hall who remain among the most-dialed numbers in my phone—were on board too.

The weekend, like our four years on that campus, was a whirlwind—but this time, emerging wrinkles on a sea of familiar faces provided proof of our adult adventures. Before heading back to our current realities, my three besties and I made time for a literal stroll down memory lane.

And that was when it hit me.

This place that was supposed to train me for a career didn’t quite hit the mark. The journalism classes I stumbled through are a far cry from my current public health work. But these girls who I met on day one, who’ve since been my closest friends for half our lifetimes? They’ve been setting me up to succeed since we wandered together, hangrily, in search of our first college meal.

Thanks, ladies. You prepared me to be a mom.

The dwellings of college freshmen and preschoolers contain surprising similarities. As we walked into the lobby of our freshman year dorm, I was struck by flashbacks of holding each other’s hair back when someone got sick, somehow surviving the days after pulling all-nighters, never going to the bathroom alone (including intense conversations through shower curtains and toilet stalls), our crew taking hours until everyone was ready to go out, and being woken up at any hour of the night when someone had pressing news to share. Was it just me, or were these memories oddly reminiscent of my home life with kids ages 5, 3 and 1? Bodily fluids repulsed 18-year-old me but apparently served as part of an important desensitization process for that time the stomach flu hit my house full of little ones. Luckily these days, I don’t need quarters for the laundry room.

Sorority songs did, in fact, serve a purpose. Our meanderings led us to the door of another once-upon-a-time shared home. To this day, I’m not entirely sure how or why I was ever a sorority girl (sorry, sisters)—but walking into that house reminded me bigtime of one thing: singing. I remembered the tunes that preceded meals and chapter meetings in that house—that, truth be told, seemed bizarre even at the time—and could almost hear my roommate’s (one of the above-mentioned besties) lovely voice next to me. The pressure to join in, however silly I found those songs or self-conscious I was of my subpar singing voice, has served me well in kiddie music classes. Let’s also not forget that 40 girls living under one roof at the same time also meant that someone was always crying. Much like my house today.

Playing house together set us up for the real deal. One of the last stops on our tour included standing outside of—and creepily trying to peer into—the building of the apartment we all shared our senior year. I was reminded of the time that two of us decided to throw our very first dinner party, but our car broke down the minute we piled bags of perishable groceries inside. We learned how and who to call for help, and the art of rush cooking (and guest stalling). The chore charts, debates about which show to watch on our communal 13-inch TV (in a pre-DVR world), and the harried dance of 5 girls sharing a bathroom—all lent skills that I use today. Granted, sometimes I combine them: okay, kids, everyone go to the potty together and then if you can agree on a show, you can all watch TV while I scramble to create (cook is a strong word) dinner.

Decades-long friendships are the antidote to the Mommy Wars. Our weekend together ended as they always do: at the airport with tearful, extended hugs and promises about our next gathering. When I got home that night, I saw a video of one bestie’s 5-year-old. He was asleep. In a box. (Literally, in a cardboard box, on top of his bed.) Through my hysterical laugher, I realized nearly 20 years of friendship have enabled us to sidestep all parenting judgement. With nine kids between us, we’ve made every possible parenting decision: we’ve breastfed, formula-fed, and pumped exclusively; we’ve worked full time, part time, and been stay at home moms; we’ve let kids cry it out, shared beds with kids, made kids share rooms, and had kids sleep in closets (that was me—sorry, third child); we’ve relied on tough love, pacifiers, bribes, and apparently even boxes. Yet our shared history allows us to understand—and wholeheartedly support—each other’s every choice.

So thank you, my dear college friends. It turns out that those four years together—and your unwavering encouragement ever since—actually did get me ready for a job. The most challenging one I’ve ever had.

Jodie Fishman is 60% public health professional, 40% stay-at-home-mom of 3, and 100% addicted to running, jelly beans, and iced coffee (year-round). She went to journalism school in a past life, and has recently rediscovered writing. She’s allergic to blogging and social media, but you can check out some of her musings on HuffPost and Kveller.

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