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How My BFFs and I Are Like Old Jewish Grandmas

Photograph by Getty Images

I have a secret.

Out here in the suburbs of New York City, something strange is happening. It's a new trend, and, just like skinny jeans, I resisted. (It took me two years before I finally got on board with the skinny jeans). Eventually, there was no denying it. And I wanted in.

All in.

Like everyone else, I wanted to start playing mah jong.

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I grew up on the South Shore of Long Island, where it was something all of the moms and grandmothers played at the beach (you play with tiles, so no pesky cards to fly away). It was always sort of a joke.

"Where's your mom?"

"Oh, she's off playing mah jong, we won't see her for hours."

Well, mah jong is back, and lots of young women are playing it. It started with my cousin. In Manhattan, she and her friends were getting into it. Then, out here in the burbs, I noticed other people were, too. First my sister-in-law, then my mom, and then random people out at restaurants on weeknights. It was everywhere I looked.

Mah jong was officially a trend.

But I wasn't having it. After all, we used to make fun of the moms and old ladies who played when we were young. I wasn't about to learn how to play and risk becoming an old lady myself.

Until one night when my Aunt Myrna called to tell me that I should take lessons.

"I'm not playing a game that I have to take lessons to learn," I explained.

Because there's an element to mah jong that I never realized until I started playing: the bonding experience you can have with other women.

"Wouldn't you like to play with all of your cousins when we get together?" she asked. I had to admit it: I did. They all looked like they were having so much fun, and her daughter-in-law had the cutest personalized mah jong set. I had no idea how to play the game, but I'm a sucker for anything that's personalized.

At a girls night dinner with my friends Heather and Jaimie, I told them about my conversation with Aunt Myrna. Which is when something shocking happened: They told me that they wanted to learn to play!

After voicing my concerns about being an old Jewish grandma, we decided to learn. Jaimie's mom offered to teach us, but we just needed to get a group together. It was surprisingly easy to find others who wanted to join in.

I guess mah jong's not just for old Jewish grandmothers anymore.

We get together every other Monday night to play and learn. Jaimie's mom, Joan, is our intrepid leader, and we have a blast calling out the names of tiles, figuring out strategies and just having fun.

Because there's an element to mah jong that I never realized until I started playing: the bonding experience you can have with other women. It's fun to get together with other moms and have a shared interest together. So much of our lives is filled with the kids, what the kids are doing, their schedules. Sometimes when I'm with my mom friends, it feels like I don't even know them at all, I just know their kids. I can tell you which sports each of my friends' kids play, but I can't tell you where each of my friends went to college. Playing mah jong enables us to do something that's not centered on our lives with kids. It's just about us.

We laugh, we drink wine, we take selfies of the winner as she holds her winning hand.

We laugh, we drink wine, we take selfies of the winner as she holds her winning hand. We put together a spread of five different types of candy, three different types of chips and even a fruit platter (for the skinny jeans). There's more laughter than anything else, and even some fun trash talk as we gather our hands together. Heather and I, during the part where players pass tiles to each other, always, and I mean ALWAYS tell each other that our passes are utter garbage. It always, and I mean ALWAYS, elicits non-stop laughter. (Note: I tried this once in a game with Aunt Myrna and she was not amused. If you ever have the chance to play with Aunt Myrna, do not tell her that her tiles are garbage.)

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I look forward to mah jong lessons every other Monday night. It's the game, yes, but it's also the friendship. The fun. The laughter. Did I mention the friendship? It's addictive.

And, of course, there's the personalized mah jong set. You knew I had to get one, right?

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