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Published July 15, 2013, 11:35 PM

Parenting Perspectives: Female bonds important at every age

My husband comes from a small town in Iowa, a place where lunch is dinner and dinner is supper, Norman Rockwellesque farms dot the landscape and drivers give nods and pinky waves to each other as they pass on the road.

By: Tracy Briggs, INFORUM

My husband comes from a small town in Iowa, a place where lunch is dinner and dinner is supper, Norman Rockwellesque farms dot the landscape and drivers give nods and pinky waves to each other as they pass on the road.

But Exira, Iowa, also happens to be home to a group of women I’ve come to follow like some Americans follow the Kardashians.

Every couple of weeks in the hometown paper, The Audubon County Advocate Journal, 92-year-old Maxine Christensen writes about the escapades of the Exira Red Hat Firecrackers. The Firecrackers, like Red Hatters all over the United States, are older women who celebrate fun and friendship. And I’ve found myself turning right to Christensen’s column as soon as we pull the paper out of our mailbox.

Despite our frequent visits to Exira, I don’t think I’ve met any of these women. But something about them intrigues me. Maybe it’s because the column often starts with a description of what the Firecrackers ate at their last meeting.

“The members met at the Lions club for a dinner of mashed potatoes and gravy, broccoli salad, pork on bread, a large cookie and chocolate pudding.”

Women after my own heart.

“Oh, we do like to eat! You can tell by our picture in the paper,” says Christensen with a laugh, herself a member of the Firecrackers.

In addition to eating, the women listen to guest speakers and go on visits to attractions in the region. But mostly it’s about the friendship.

“Many of us have known each other for years. We just have a lot of fun getting together and talking,” says Christensen.

That’s what really resonates with me. I love the idea that these women are doing what women have done for generations: leaning on each other, laughing and crying and being part of an ad hoc sisterhood husbands might never understand.

Researchers say women have a propensity to rely on a network of friends much more than men. We lean on our girlfriends to talk us through the bad days at work and husband and children frustrations.

We all do it. It might fall under the guise of book club, mom’s group or scrapbooking weekends, but it’s really about female bonding.

For me it’s a group called Tae Pie. It started in the late 1990s when six of us decided it would be fun to get together and try that new workout video Tae Bo, where personal trainer (or was it drill sergeant?) Billy Blanks shouted at us through roundhouse kicks.

After an hour of sweating in my friend’s basement we knew we needed pie.

The name Tae Pie was born.

The group is now entering its 14th or 15th year. Billy didn’t make the cut. We stopped doing Tae Bo after just a couple of months, but the pie and conversation continues.

It’s changed. Oftentimes it’s dinner and cocktails now, and where we used to spend the majority of the dinner discussing blind dates and aggravating boyfriends, we’re now more likely to talk about our kids, jobs and earning graduate degrees.

I have gone into Tae Pie some nights crabby and tired, but left energized by these women.

It’s the same thing with my dear friend Missy, who might be one of the funniest women on the planet without even realizing it. She’s the friend who picks me up for lunch (both literally and figuratively) in her minivan blaring a cassette tape of Mac Davis’ greatest hits.

She’s a character, and I can’t imagine my life without her in it. We met in kindergarten, endured running laps in high school tennis practice, and spent our college weekends at the Trader and Trapper and Mick’s Office.

These days we don’t see each other as much. Usually we’re hauling kids off to dance, figure skating, cross country or band practice. There’s not much time for each other. But I know she’s there. There’s something really comforting in that.

I love that I now see my daughters forming deeper friendships. I can hear the giggles as they share secrets they swear to always keep. They buy BFF necklaces, share text messages and click “like” on each other’s pictures on Instagram.

It’s not mashed potatoes and gravy at the Lion’s club, but it’s probably just as meaningful to them and a pretty good indicator that female bonding is alive and well and will flourish for years to come.

Looks like Maxine will have plenty to write about.

Tracy Briggs is a mother of two and is an employee of Forum Communications Co. She can be reached at tracy.briggs@forumcomm.com.