It's Girls Night Out: Mom Edition, and I'm a player in a whole new game. It occurs to me that I really don't know these four women. We've been circling one another for about three years, ever since our kids started preschool. We'd bump into each other in the parking lot, at Valentine's Day parties, and later as one or the other shyly suggested we all sign our kids up for softball, gymnastics, dance. Who knows why the five of us clumped together more than any of us clumped with other mothers. I suppose it happens all the time, friendship circles spiraling in and around and about and anew.

This is the first time we've gathered without the kids, and I am having a difficult time saying "Janice," as opposed to "Zoe's mom," or "Susan," instead of "Kaitlin's mom," and so I have decided, for tonight, not to use any names at all.

The waitress has already taken our drink order. I can't believe nobody ordered beer. Nope, this is a Diet Coke and iced tea crowd. In the back of my mind I'm wondering if I'm going to be the naughty one who corrupts this group.

There is so much business to take care of when you are just getting to know people as people. One of the things we are doing is comparing dates, the years that each of us graduated from this or that. I see where this is going.

"Well, I was already teaching in 1984," Zoe's mom says.

"Teaching?" Tritan's mom says. She was, I think, probably just starting junior high that year.

"I was in grad school," I say. As we start going backward in time, the divide becomes even more acute. Some of us were watching "The Brady Bunch" in reruns on cable, while others of us remember the thrill of seeing Jan and Marcia the first time around, on Friday nights at 8.

"Okay, so how old are you?" Zoe's mom finally asks me.

She and I are clearly running neck and neck for most senior member.

"I think I'm older than you," I say, horrified by the very words. Why is this so terrible? She throws out her number.

"You're a baby!" I say. I've got her beat by three years.

And holy Budweiser. Now I could really use a brew. I'm the oldest? It occurs to me that I've never been the oldest, anywhere, except perhaps in the college classroom where I teach, and even there I have a hard time completely grasping the notion that I don't belong on the other side of the desk.

I'm the oldest? I'm . . . old? "But -- " I say to the group, and I find myself trying to explain and make this all go away.

I'm the youngest of four kids in my family. Those of us who are youngest children have a certain . . . perspective. We can't be old. It's not in our nature. We have older siblings to clean up after us. We are slobs. We are forgetful. We are screw-ups. We are spoiled. We are free spirits who learned from our older siblings' mistakes, learned all about how to circumvent silly parental rules. We are independent. We believe in the healthy neglect that got us where we are today. We are Type B personalities. We love beer.

We can't be old. We make choices that keep us in this comfort zone. Is it any accident that I married a man 15 years older than I am? To his friends, I'm practically a kid. As it should be. I imagine myself one day a wizened hag in a nursing home, drooling in my Jell-O, and I will believe, deep down, that I am younger than the nurse wiping my chin.

"Okay, so you see, I'm not really the oldest," I say to the other women. They're looking at me blankly. The thing is, I actually believe in what I am saying. Is this pathetic?

"You're only as old as you feel," one of them says politely.

"You don't look your age," another says.

"You're in such great shape."

This is pathetic!

I change the subject. I ask about that horse camp we were thinking of signing our kids up for. "Should we do it?"

They whip out their calendars. Um. I did not bring a calendar. Who thinks to bring a calendar to a Girls Night Out? Soon enough we move on to scheduling which night we'll take our kids to a play, and the zoo, and a museum visit. I crane my neck to glimpse their calendars, tell them I'll have to write these dates down and go home and check. "Does anyone have a pen?"

Kaitlin's mom has a pen, and a pad of paper, so she makes me a little list of all the dates, hands it to me. Funny, my older sister Kristin did the same thing for me last time we got together.

When the check comes, I remember that I forgot to stop at the bank machine before this little outing. I have $6 in my wallet. Oh, dear. This is so embarrassing.

I hate being the youngest.

Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is