Recently I received a text from my friend S, one of my school-mum gang. "Send a topless picture to A," it said. "She's having a bad day." I am a strong believer in the curative powers of community and comedy, and so I quickly took a selfie in which I pretended to pinch my own nipple with a pair of kitchen tongs.
The tongs featured because I was cooking lunch at the time.
I sent off the picture, and that afternoon at school, where I saw A, we eventually established that her old-school phone didn't accept photos.
I had to open the topless selfie on my own phone to show her.
We looked at S's offering, too; it was impressively complicated. S had wedged her phone in the fork of a tree and shot a video where she ran like a nude lunatic towards it through the bushes.
A was delighted, a job well done.
Later, though, I ran into the deputy headmistress, and offered to take her picture with my eight-year-old daughter. (They were both dressed as Pippi Longstocking.) I snapped the photo and said, "I'll text it to you!"
I opened my messaging page, and while the teacher looked over my shoulder, up came the bizarre image. There I was, topless, serious, bespectacled and manipulating myself with a kitchen implement.
I quickly stabbed buttons to make it go away, but I am not the quickest at this. Frozen in the moment, we peered together at the unexplainable. My only hope was that she was not wearing her glasses.
I know that to many "normal" people, this anecdote would be baffling or frankly horrifying. But to my gang of girlfriends, this falls within the realms of reasonable behaviour.
They are my team - my squad, as Taylor Swift would have it - even if they are middle-aged, Birkenstocked ladies rather than young billionaire glamazons.
Female friendship is having a cultural moment, you see, and it's about time.
In my opinion a good lady-squad is critical to life's happiness, and it's especially important when you're raising small children.
Family life is like swimming in a massive sea: it's wonderful and magical, tiring and exhilarating, terrifying and thrilling, all at once. Having comrades you can count on is a real gift. They will help you navigate all the joys and sorrows of family life, send a comedy selfie designed to lift your spirits and, if necessary, tell you the hard truths.
Home from holidays recently, I faced a towering pile of laundry. My friend S came over to help me fold and bring me up to speed on the local goings-on, but she lost her train of thought each time she encountered a pair of my knickers.
She was horrified on a number of levels - age, bagginess, general nanna vibe.
"I'm staging an underpants intervention," she said.
Yesterday I found a paper bag in my letterbox containing two pairs of new knickers and a letter from The Ministry of Unacceptable Underpants, beginning: "It has come to our attention that you have not renewed your underpants at the recommended intervals. By following our quick checklist you can ensure the reliability and safety of your underpants."
The list was exhaustive. It included the following questions: can you see through any part of your underpants that were once opaque? Does the elastic around your underpants hold the garment securely in place? Is the integrity of the gusset still acceptable? Can a breeze enter through any part of your underwear?
The Ministry gave me four weeks to update my collection, after which they warned of direct community action.
While underwear-shaming and accidental sexting scandals are key components to my female friendships, this community has another function.
We are a safety net for life and all its unpredictable slings and arrows. Here, deep in the trenches with small children, we lean on each other for help.
Any time one of us drops, the machine rolls into action. Lasagnes land on doorsteps and schedules to manage the kids start circulating.
There is a direct and practical aspect to my female friendships: when we have to be responsible, we are. And when we bundy off the responsibility clock, we are absolutely ridiculous, making each other laugh until our weak pelvic floors give way.
These moments, cackling in the coven of my witches, bring me such joy. They are the icing on the cake of life.
Marriage is my peaceful harbour, and my children are part of my body - my heart itself. But my girlfriends are a lucky gift that the universe rained on me. As life rolls on with, as one Korean proverb has it, "a thousand joys and a thousand sorrows", my girlfriends will be a fundamental part of both.
If I call, they will be there in a flash, with only two questions: what do you need? And what the hell is the matter with your underpants? •