Friendships Nowadays: The Importance of Girlfriends and Friendships in my 30s

I am so grateful for the dozens of beautiful friendships I’ve had throughout the years. 


I’m thankful for the friends of elementary school who played at bus stops and Girl Scout meetings with me; the ones who cheered my first loose tooth and the ones who gave me my first sleepovers and even my first friend fights; the ones whose parents came to my mom’s funeral in 4th grade and who became my “extra” moms in the years after that.

A huge reason I am the person I am today would be due to the friendships of middle school and high school -- the wrong friends, the fake friends, the come-and-go friends and the always-and-forever friends. These are the people who walked with me through puberty, boyfriends, the biggest triumphs and hardest let-downs of my adolescence. These are the people who got me out of my quiet shell and introduced me to risks (and some mistakes, haha!).

In college and my early 20s, my friendships were fewer but deeper. It became the people who watched me chase dreams and change dreams and pursue dreams. They watched as the accomplishments got bigger and even more special (new relationship! Graduation! First job! engagement!). They kept me on track to figuring out who I am and who I was meant to be.

But the friendships I have today are different than all of these other ones.

Wendy Zook Photography_Lifelong Friendships, the importance of friendships, friendship
Wendy Zook Photography_Lifelong Friendships, the importance of friendships, friendship

I would say there is a handful, a very small handful, of my true-blue, tribe, no-matter-what friendships. I’m blessed with so many important people in my life and I don’t take any of the people around me for granted. It’s just that the friendships I crave and need most right now are different than any other period in my life. I’m different and my day-to-day life is different and the amount of time and resources and heck, even energy, are all different, too.

My friendships today all bring something different to the table and all have a really clear reason for being in my life. I’ve got friends who I can not talk to for weeks at a time and then we pick right back up when we’re back together. I have friends who I only see over a screen for months at a time, but it feels like they’re right here in my living room sipping tea from my favorite mug. There are friends who know when I’m lying when I say, “I’m fine” and who then know what I need to hear. I’ve got friends who tell it like it is and friends who offer the sweetest kindnesses.

My friends of today understand where I’ve come from and where I want to go and they are the lifejackets when I fall off course. They scoop me up, cheer louder than anyone else and keep me laughing all the while. We share wine and funny GIFs and complaints about our kids or hubbies or careers. And then we can turn around and applaud when one of our kiddos makes us so proud or a new workout regime is working or we actually cooked a well-rounded meal. One of my friends can talk with me about grief in one minute and then we laugh about not having it all together the next.

My friends of today have known me for 30 years or 24 months and all know me just the same.

My friends of today -- (and their kids) -- love me -- (and my kids) -- with all of their hearts and an insane amount of pride. They are adopted aunts and cooler moms and they are not afraid to tell my kids “no” and to spoil them with a “yes.” They’re also not afraid to yell at me for holding Zach back or worrying too much about Addie. They babysit, they hold the best parties, they join us for impromptu playdates and they boost me with loving comments, real-life advice and the perfect questions. We have nicknames, we have inside jokes. We even have “cheesebags.”

Wendy Zook Photography_Lifelong Friendships, the importance of friendships, friendship
Wendy Zook Photography_Lifelong Friendships, the importance of friendships, friendship
Wendy Zook Photography_Lifelong Friendships, the importance of friendships, friendship
Wendy Zook Photography_Lifelong Friendships, the importance of friendships, friendship

And sometimes it’s hard. It’s hard to be my best version of myself for them and it’s hard to let them see the struggles of real life. My friends have seen the crossing of lines, shattered glass, yelling and whining and a lot of wondering why. And I’ve seen some things on their side of the world that might have caused short-term embarrassment or guilt but brought us closer together and yep, stronger forever. There have been a lot of tears.

My friends of today get me and I get them.

It’s not to say that all of today’s friendships have people with lives that mirror mine exactly. Two of my best friends are reconnected cousins; a couple of my most important people aren’t even married and definitely don’t have children. Some have more kids than me or younger kids than me. Some live in Maryland and others in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Texas and beyond. I’d even include my 70-something-year-old godfather and my amazing Dad in the list of the people I need most right now.

My friends of today are the people who fill my soul and embrace my spirit and make me feel 100% me.

There are people I thought would still be on my list of daily messages. There are surprise connections that have reignited after moves and marriages and time apart. But I know these people are all here in my life for a reason.

Wendy Zook Photography_Lifelong Friendships, the importance of friendships, friendship
Wendy Zook Photography_Lifelong Friendships, the importance of friendships, friendship
Wendy Zook Photography_Lifelong Friendships, the importance of friendships, friendship
Wendy Zook Photography_Lifelong Friendships, the importance of friendships, friendship

Zach & Addie: A Sibling Relationship of Love, Pride, Support and Joy

I am the luckiest mom in the world. Even on the hardest days, I believe that sentence with 100 percent of my being. Being the mother to Zachary and Addison is such an incredible experience that I treasure every day.

I always wanted a house full of children; I always wanted a Christmas dinner with so many chairs around the table that it took 10 minutes to pass the potatoes from one end to the other. I wanted my kiddos to have a support system around them always and to go through life with some best friends who share blood.

And then reality set in and quite honestly, between health concerns and back-to-back difficult labors and deliveries and moving for Scott’s job multiple times when the children were babies, having more than our two awesome kiddos just wasn’t in the cards for us.

Wendy Zook Photography | Down Syndrome Awareness, Down Syndrome family, sibling with Down Syndrome, siblings, brother and sister, parent of child with Down Syndrome, DS awareness
Wendy Zook Photography | Down Syndrome Awareness, Down Syndrome family, sibling with Down Syndrome, siblings, brother and sister, parent of child with Down Syndrome, DS awareness

I wasted a lot of unnecessary time wondering if having Zachary for her brother would ever feel like a burden or “too much” for Addie. Looking back now, it’s one of the things that Current Me would most want to slap Past Me in the face for -- I see now that they are each ridiculously lucky to have the other for a sibling.

I don’t know what the future holds for the two of them as a team. There’s a possibility that one day, we will have to officially ask Addie to care for her brother when he’s an adult. There’s a possibility that she will be teased herself about her brother. There’s a chance that there will be moments of annoyance or frustration. There are other possibilities that I can’t even allow myself to say or think out loud, but they lie in a deep dark place.

But what I do know is that now -- right now -- they are each other’s rock.

Addie is an empathetic, wise, big-feelings kind of girl. She wants everyone to be happy and to feel loved and the biggest recipient of her big heart is her big brother. If he’s upset, she’s right next to him rubbing his back. If he has a boo-boo, she’s on an immediate quest for a band-aid. If he’s nervous or trying something new, she is clapping and cheering him on.

This past year has seen a lot of moments with big talks -- about Down syndrome, therapists and special treatments, treating all people the same, bullying and teasing and so much more. It’s a delicate balance of being honest and yet delivering it in an appropriate way for a 7-year-old. She asks amazing questions. I always answer with a pause and complete truths.

But it’s not just Zachary that wins a cheerleader in this situation. 

Wendy Zook Photography | Down Syndrome Awareness, Down Syndrome family, sibling with Down Syndrome, siblings, brother and sister, parent of child with Down Syndrome, DS awareness
Wendy Zook Photography | Down Syndrome Awareness, Down Syndrome family, sibling with Down Syndrome, siblings, brother and sister, parent of child with Down Syndrome, DS awareness
Wendy Zook Photography | Down Syndrome Awareness, Down Syndrome family, sibling with Down Syndrome, siblings, brother and sister, parent of child with Down Syndrome, DS awareness

I talk to adults who have siblings with special needs and the one thing they always say is that having their brother or sister in their lives has made them a better person. Their parents say both siblings learn compassion earlier and bigger than most kids.

If Zach is not wanting to do homework for me or with me, 9 out of 10 times he’ll do it immediately if Addie helps him. If Addie is sad, Zach is trying to be silly and make her laugh. They share with each other -- the last of favorite snack, a dollar from their piggybank, a sweatshirt on a cold day, toys and games to borrow. They read together, help each other with showers, hold hands almost all the time and constantly try to surprise the other with a kind note or gesture or surprise. If one has a day with mom or dad alone and the other is at home, the one who is out and about will always ask to bring something back for the other. They request sleepovers constantly and frequently read a book together before bed.

Photo thanks to Amanda Hedgepeth Photography

Photo thanks to Amanda Hedgepeth Photography

Wendy Zook Photography | Down Syndrome Awareness, Down Syndrome family, sibling with Down Syndrome, siblings, brother and sister, parent of child with Down Syndrome, DS awareness
Wendy Zook Photography | Down Syndrome Awareness, Down Syndrome family, sibling with Down Syndrome, siblings, brother and sister, parent of child with Down Syndrome, DS awareness

There is a lot of cheering in our house. A huge amount of hugs. And all the laughter you can imagine. And our house is always filled with kids -- friends of both kids. Our home and our hearts are more full than I ever could have dreamed.

I really am the luckiest mom in the world. But my kids? They’re even luckier. Because they have each other.

Wendy Zook Photography | Down Syndrome Awareness, Down Syndrome family, sibling with Down Syndrome, siblings, brother and sister, parent of child with Down Syndrome, DS awareness

First Day of School : Ready, Lucky & Happy

The first day of school was this date on a calendar that I thought I was looking forward to for three months. It turns out that after a summer of magic, vacations, adventures and easier kids than in previous years, the long-awaited date snuck up on me and turned out to be a little bittersweet.

We were ready physically -- we toured the school and prepped Zach and Addie for new teachers and a new bus number; we got some new clothes to handle summertime growth spurts.

And my Momma Heart was so sad to see them go. But they were so ready. Both of them were 10 times as confident this year as just 365 days ago. They didn’t have any fear or nervousness in their eyes and they were just so, so excited.

I love the first day of school photos I see from all of my friends. The longer we’re here, the bigger difference I can see in their kiddos and in ours. I love capturing their excitement and their silly and very big personalities in this little moment of pause as we celebrate another new chapter.

Addison begins second grade with a love for reading, art, outdoors and adventure. She’s always curious about geography and nature and is much less intimidated by new challenges. I hear stories of her tying other kids’ shoes at recess and sitting next to a new kid at school and I feel so proud.

Zachary is starting third grade with tons more independence, determination and confidence. I love the way he brings joy to others and how quickly he seems to be making new friends this year.

I can’t wait to see this chapter unfold and to see the differences I’m sure there will be between now and one year from now. Enjoy these peeks at our goofy kiddos on a very exciting first day of school.

Wendy Zook Photography | First day of school photos
Wendy Zook Photography | First day of school photos
Wendy Zook Photography | First day of school photos
Wendy Zook Photography | First day of school photos
Wendy Zook Photography | First day of school photos
Wendy Zook Photography | First day of school photos
Wendy Zook Photography | First day of school photos
Wendy Zook Photography | First day of school photos
Wendy Zook Photography | First day of school photos
Wendy Zook Photography | First day of school photos
Wendy Zook Photography | First day of school photos
Wendy Zook Photography | First day of school photos
Wendy Zook Photography | First day of school photos
Wendy Zook Photography | First day of school photos
Wendy Zook Photography | First day of school photos

Hiking the Appalachian Trail in Pieces: A Goal of Nature, Fitness, Serenity & Challenge

I’ve always loved the Appalachian Trail. As an outdoor-lover who grew up on the East Coast, the AT was this coveted, magical path that I understood from a very young age meant you could dream big and accomplish bigger than you dreamt. I always wanted to one day hike it and I even thought a thru-hike (walking it non-stop from one end to the other over the course of 4-6 months) was a possible and achievable goal for me.

Let’s pause for some fun facts.
The AT is the longest walking-only footpath in the world, with around 2,190 miles to tackle, climb and move along. It runs through 14 states (I’ve completed two of the smallest ones!) and is maintained almost exclusively by volunteers in different regions. While more than 3 million people hike a small section of the AT each year, there’s only about 3,000 thru-hikers that begin most years and most of them hike south from Georgia to Maine. Of the thru-hikers who begin the trek, only one-third of them will complete it, with some dropping out due to finances, injuries, mental fatigue, etc. Solo women hikers make up about one-third of all thru-hikers and the majority of thru-hikers are in their 20s.

And now back to me.
Despite years of dreaming of this trail, I never put a foot on the ground until this last year. My AT section-hiking journey (piecing the entire length of the trail together in little sections over the course of years) began with a “joke” among two friends one night. We had heard about the Maryland / Four-State Challenge, in which you walk from the Pennsylvania/Maryland line to the West Virginia/Virginia line below Harpers Ferry in one day (around 45 miles) and next thing you know, there were spreadsheets and training hikes and some Amazon hiking purchases.

The three of us started the Maryland Challenge day at 3am on June 1st. Stepping onto that trail and seeing those white blazes brought such joy for me. That day, I walked 36 miles. It was tough -- tougher than I thought it would be -- made even more mentally frustrating when you find out Maryland is one of the easiest states on the trail. That day definitely reignited my passion for the AT and I decided that night, with aching legs and a swollen knee and all the things going on in my mind, that I would hike all the miles of this trail in any way I could do it.

Since June 1, I’ve completed about 75 total miles on the AT. I obviously have a long way to go, but for only a few months and no overnight travels yet and staying completely local, I’m really happy with this so far. I’ve done about 20 miles into Virginia and the first eight or so miles of Pennsylvania, plus all of Maryland.

I’ve laughed a million times on this trail; I’ve cried quietly when I felt so moved by emotions and nature coming together; I’ve felt pain and lost pain; I’ve dreamt big dreams.

My husband helped me figure out how I could get in a decent amount of hiking and still maintain the kiddos’ schedules, his work schedule, photography and travel.

Next summer will see a one-week hiking adventure at the Maine end of things and then another week the following year in Georgia. In between, I’m dedicating one weekend each month to AT miles. My goal -- hold me to it -- is to complete all 2,190 miles in eight years.

I’d love motivation, company, ideas and travel buddies!

Happy Trails!

Wendy Zook Photography | Hiking the Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail, hiker, outdoor hiking, hiking trail, hiking with friends
Wendy Zook Photography | Hiking the Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail, hiker, outdoor hiking, hiking trail, hiking with friends
Wendy Zook Photography | Hiking the Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail, hiker, outdoor hiking, hiking trail, hiking with friends
Wendy Zook Photography | Hiking the Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail, hiker, outdoor hiking, hiking trail, hiking with friends
Wendy Zook Photography | Hiking the Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail, hiker, outdoor hiking, hiking trail, hiking with friends
Wendy Zook Photography | Hiking the Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail, hiker, outdoor hiking, hiking trail, hiking with friends
Wendy Zook Photography | Hiking the Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail, hiker, outdoor hiking, hiking trail, hiking with friends
Wendy Zook Photography | Hiking the Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail, hiker, outdoor hiking, hiking trail, hiking with friends
Wendy Zook Photography | Hiking the Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail, hiker, outdoor hiking, hiking trail, hiking with friends
Wendy Zook Photography | Hiking the Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail, hiker, outdoor hiking, hiking trail, hiking with friends
Wendy Zook Photography | Hiking the Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail, hiker, outdoor hiking, hiking trail, hiking with friends
Wendy Zook Photography | Hiking the Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail, hiker, outdoor hiking, hiking trail, hiking with friends
Wendy Zook Photography | Hiking the Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail, hiker, outdoor hiking, hiking trail, hiking with friends
Wendy Zook Photography | Hiking the Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail, hiker, outdoor hiking, hiking trail, hiking with friends
Wendy Zook Photography | Hiking the Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail, hiker, outdoor hiking, hiking trail, hiking with friends
Wendy Zook Photography | Hiking the Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail, hiker, outdoor hiking, hiking trail, hiking with friends
Wendy Zook Photography | Hiking the Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail, hiker, outdoor hiking, hiking trail, hiking with friends
Wendy Zook Photography | Hiking the Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail, hiker, outdoor hiking, hiking trail, hiking with friends
Wendy Zook Photography | Hiking the Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail, hiker, outdoor hiking, hiking trail, hiking with friends
Wendy Zook Photography | Hiking the Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail, hiker, outdoor hiking, hiking trail, hiking with friends
Wendy Zook Photography | Hiking the Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail, hiker, outdoor hiking, hiking trail, hiking with friends
Wendy Zook Photography | Hiking the Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail, hiker, outdoor hiking, hiking trail, hiking with friends
Wendy Zook Photography | Hiking the Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail, hiker, outdoor hiking, hiking trail, hiking with friends
Wendy Zook Photography | Hiking the Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail, hiker, outdoor hiking, hiking trail, hiking with friends

Our Beach Adventure: A Salt-Air and Foamy Waves Summer Vacation to the Outer Banks

Last year, our family took a spontaneous and last-minute vacation to the Outer Banks along North Carolina’s coastline. It was a magical few days of relaxation, peace and so much laughter. We decided shortly after we returned last year that we wanted to try to make our time in the Outer Banks a yearly tradition.

This year, we made plans with two other families to join us in a gorgeous home one block from the beach in the village of Hatteras.

It seemed like the weeks and months stretched on agonizingly slow before it was finally time to be driving past those tall sand dunes again.

We spent seven beautiful days this August soaking in sunshine, surrounding ourselves with laughter, letting go of stress and work and worries and basking in the little joys like flying kites and digging sandcastles and sunsets and sunrises.

The other two families meshed so well with our family -- everything was so easy and fun. All of the kids got along great and the adults enjoyed time in the pool, at the pool table and around the table for game nights.

One of the families included the other half of our beloved nonprofit Friendship by LiliZach. We loved getting Lili and Zach together. And I loved photographing Lili and her parents for a very-special photo shoot, too (stay tuned for more on that in the near future!).

It was soothing, calming and so special. The kids are still talking about the “beach house adventure” and it is something we’re hoping works out again next year and years after, too.

That salt air was healing to a tired spirit. I’m grateful for those waves and those memories and I can’t wait to build more new ones with my family in the future.

Wendy Zook Photography_Outer Banks Family vacation, Outer Banks, beach time, family vacation, NC beach vacation, Friendship by Lilly Zach
Wendy Zook Photography_Outer Banks Family vacation, Outer Banks, beach time, family vacation, NC beach vacation, Friendship by Lilly Zach
Wendy Zook Photography_Outer Banks Family vacation, Outer Banks, beach time, family vacation, NC beach vacation, Friendship by Lilly Zach
Wendy Zook Photography_Outer Banks Family vacation, Outer Banks, beach time, family vacation, NC beach vacation, Friendship by Lilly Zach
Wendy Zook Photography_Outer Banks Family vacation, Outer Banks, beach time, family vacation, NC beach vacation, Friendship by Lilly Zach
Wendy Zook Photography_Outer Banks Family vacation, Outer Banks, beach time, family vacation, NC beach vacation, Friendship by Lilly Zach
Wendy Zook Photography_Outer Banks Family vacation, Outer Banks, beach time, family vacation, NC beach vacation, Friendship by Lilly Zach
Wendy Zook Photography_Outer Banks Family vacation, Outer Banks, beach time, family vacation, NC beach vacation, Friendship by Lilly Zach
Wendy Zook Photography_Outer Banks Family vacation, Outer Banks, beach time, family vacation, NC beach vacation, Friendship by Lilly Zach
Wendy Zook Photography_Outer Banks Family vacation, Outer Banks, beach time, family vacation, NC beach vacation, Friendship by Lilly Zach