It's graduation season, and for one close-knit group of parents, it's the end of an era. But for their kids, it's only the beginning.
It was a regular day in 2003 when Kelly Marcusson checked into a drop-in baby group to have her new baby Sam Watson weighed and maybe connect with some other moms while she was at it. Little did she know, the group of women she would meet that day would remain central to her life for the next 18 years.
As the 10 or so brand-new moms — most of them first-time moms, most of them new to Squamish — took turns having their newborns weighed, they chatted over tea and compared notes on breastfeeding and how tired they were. And they clicked.
In fact, they hit it off so well they decided to all meet for a moms and babies' hike together. That one hike turned into another. Then another, and before they knew it, this group of 10 or so women was meeting five times a week to walk the trails of Squamish with their babies on their backs.
The walks turned into backyard playdates, which turned into camping trips and parties.
"There was 13 of us that met that day, and we all got together because we're all outdoorsy, and most of us had just moved here," Marcusson said. "It turned from one to two days a week to three days a week. And then we did everything together, and all of our husbands met, and we're still friends."
This group of parents were mostly new to town, and the sky was the limit as far as opportunities for activities went. A lot of them were active volunteers, taking part in their kids' sports leagues and clubs and even helping to bring Montessori to Squamish.
Vicki Schenk, who helped to found the Squamish 4H Club, (her daughter Robyn is headed to agricultural college in Alberta) remembers the special bond that group of parents had and how supportive they were of each other. And how that bond was transferred onto their babies, who spent so much time in each others' lives.
"The kids themselves, they did a lot together," she said. "As first-time moms, we did a lot together. Because of that, they sort of have this little bond, because they've shared so many experiences. they'd been to everybody's everything. They did sports together. They did everything together, this little group."
They camped together often, had big birthday parties at Alice Lake, and spent countless hours at each other's houses, supporting each other through the ups and downs of parenthood.
"We all found ways to support each other," Schenk said. "I don't think parenting is easy. It's easier to do though when you have other people to do things with. We were all fairly active, and it was nice because if ever anything happened, we had eight or nine built-in babysitters. Anyone would jump in at any point and take the kids. Because of that, the kids have that same sort of community; they've grown up seeing how we looked out for each other, so they continue to look out for each other. Even though they don't all necessarily still hang out together, they've got each other's back. They feel they have this unique bond of being that baby group, and I'm sure they would jump in and support each other if there was ever a crisis."
This year, those kids from the 2003 baby group are graduating, and for the first time for many of them, they are heading off in their own directions and saying goodbye to these lifelong friends. Isabella (Bella) Fietz and Ethan Skiffington have been close friends since their moms, Jeanette and Pauline, respectively, met for the first time in the 2003 baby group.
The two women became best friends and still are to this day. And their kids have been best friends for just as long.
"It's a real kind of sibling bond, almost. Our parents have been friends for so long and been so close that we basically grew up like brother and sister," said Bella. "He's always been very understanding, he's always there to listen, he's always there to chat when I need it."
Bella's heading off to the University of Victoria next year to study political science, and Ethan is going to Okanagan College to play baseball and to study for a B.A. and eventually go to law school.
Ethan says he'll miss having Bella around to "bug." But that's not all.
"I feel like Bella's been a true friend to me. I've always been able to go to her for really anything. Advice, if life is tough or whatever it is, she's always been there for me no matter what," said Ethan. "Me and Bella made a promise to each other that we would go to prom together no matter what, to wrap up the last 18 years and set off on a good note when we go to university."
Even though they're all going their separate ways after graduation, Bella is sure their bond, and those with the other kids they grew up within the close community of Squamish, will endure. And it's because of the close friendships they witnessed in the adults around them.
"Our parents were really close growing up," Bella said. "I feel like seeing those friendships while we were growing up really made me value good friendships and strong bonds. Even if our parents don't see each other, or we don't see each other, we know that no matter how old we get, we'll all still be friends."
For Pauline, this graduation will be an echo of past ceremonies that have felt less like a recognition of only her child and more like a community celebration: "You'd watch them go across the stage, and it's like they're one of yours, because you've all had such a great bond, and I'm sure it's going to be the same way when we do this in Grade 12."
Marcusson credits this bond to all the time the group of parents spent outdoors when the kids were young, enjoying everything the Sea to Sky has to offer — the reason many of them moved to the area in the first place. Not only that, but the special intimacy, activity and safety that the small town with its proximity to mountains, lakes and ocean provided. And, back then, a lot more space on the trails.
"It's an end of an era for sure," Marcusson said. "It was kind of paradise because we were on our own wherever we went."
"I look forward and am hoping that Sam moves back here, and continues because this is turning into a beautiful little town. What a privilege, I think, that these children got to witness. I searched my entire life for this town, and my son, Sam, gets to start here," she said.
"There was no rest for us; we never rested. There was always something going on; there was always competition. I think every single one of us in the baby group, all of us, stepped up to the plate for all of them."
Sam recognizes how lucky he was, he says.
"Having such a close group of friends that I’ve been friends with for so long, some of them are like siblings to me. It’s like a second family," he said.
“A bunch of my friends who were also part of that group do have siblings, and I see their bond, and how similar theirs are to what I have with them, and I think it’s been really good for me growing up because it’s exposed me to that kind of relationship.”
*Please note, this story has been corrected since it was first posted to clarify what Ethan is going to post-secondary school to do.