The banker and the child psychologist do lunch every week with the marketing manager and the CPA.
They talk mostly about their kids and occasionally about weighty matters, such as world hunger or the allure of George Clooney's eyes.
They meet to keep each other company, a once-a-week support group. Togetherness always stands at the top of their agenda. They added me recently, nominating themselves for "Lunch with Cliff," wherein I get to share a midday meal and hear what's on people's minds.
Margaret McCaslin, Kendra VanDe- Velde, Jan Bolubasz and Kris Mullin all left the corporate world for a higher calling. Starting with Jan eight years ago, they stepped out of promising careers and traded in their briefcases to be stay-at-home moms.
Now, says Kris, the CPA, "we meet every Thursday to retain our sanity."
The four women live on the same block in Anderson Township. They never met before moving to Cincinnati with their husbands. But since forming what they call "The Play Group" in 1993, they've shared much more than a ZIP code.
Each mom has a son ready to go to kindergarten. Each boy has a mom on the verge of tears.
"The boys are ready to go to school," says Kendra, the child psychologist. "But," she adds, her eyes growing misty, "we're not ready to let them go."
Three heads nod in silent agreement.
The stay-at-home moms take turns having lunch each week at one of their kitchen tables. While their children play in the basement or run around the back yard, the four mothers eat and talk. They are used to the business world's give and take. And they give it to you with a rapid-fire exchange of pointed opinions.
"Our kids are of the age where we can finally have some time for adult conversation," says Kris.
Between bites of food, they reconnect with themselves and each other.
"A lot of stay-at-home moms feel isolated," says Margaret, the banker.
"But we're doubly blessed," insists Jan, the marketing manager. "We stay home because our husbands can support us."
"And," Margaret adds, "we have each other."
They cheered a Newsweek cover story that declared working parents' notion of quality time to be a myth.
"It's interesting to see the results of tests and studies coming back and supporting what we decided to do years ago," Kendra says. "Especially when you consider that when we chose to stay at home, it wasn't as accepted as it is today."
"We're not out to judge working parents," Margaret hastens to add. "We're just saying our experience has been special. And they're missing a lot."
Happy at home
When it comes to their previous lives as career women, they share the same opinion: There's no place like home.
As proof, Kendra surveys the group. "Has anything in your careers matched our experiences as stay-at-home moms?"
All table talk halts.
After a long pause, everyone speaks at once. No one regrets missing an important meeting. Or working late to finish a big project. Nothing at their old jobs compares to what they've seen the last few weeks, watching their sons learn to ride their bikes.
"To see them on their bicycles is to see a little bit of self-esteem that you know you gave them," Kendra says.
"And when they get older," Margaret continues, "we can say, 'We were there.' We're not going to have any regrets."
Boom! Boom! Boom!
Deep from the floor below comes the thunder of little fists beating on furnace ducts. Four giggling boys race up the basement steps and into the kitchen.
"There's a dragon down there," says 5-year-old John Mullin. Four moms roll their eyes.
"People I used to work with are shocked I am at home," Margaret says. "My boss said, 'You had ambition and drive. You should be pursuing a career instead of staying at home with kids.' "
He figures she must be miserable.
As the boys tear out the door and hop on their bikes, Margaret looks after them.
She has news for her old boss.
"Actually, I'm very happy."
Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax 768-8340.