Guest Post

  • HerStories Voices: One Child

    This week’s HerStories Voices column is about learning good news that brings back tough memories.

     

    HerStories (3)

     

    I clutch my cell phone. It reveals what looks like a black and white peanut, or a shrimp, or a tiny alien – if I didn’t know better.  My daughter just texted me a picture of her sonogram, and it’s a girl.  On the train while riding to work, I cup my granddaughter in the palm of my hand.  And I start sniffling.  The woman behind me taps me on the shoulder, offers me a tissue and asks if I’m all right.  I assure her my tears are happy, that I just found out I’m going to be the grandmother of a baby girl.  “Oh, how exciting for you,” she says.  Then comes the inevitable question as our train lunges forward: “How many children do you have?”

    For more than a quarter of a century, this question has clawed at my mind like a rake against a dusty, leafless ground. I haven’t been able to answer without squirming. I shift in my seat. I can’t tell this well-meaning stranger how hard it is for me to answer her.

    To begin with, I never saw my own daughter at this stage of creation. I never knew the sex of my baby because I never went for tests. No, I can’t let the woman behind me on the train know that when I was pregnant, my marriage was its own Third World country – unstable, violent, abusive, toppling.  I froze in the middle of that turmoil.  I never made a doctor’s appointment until I was almost due to deliver.  I ripped out the Yellow Page listings for adoption agencies and hid them under my bed, just in case I didn’t keep the baby.  I didn’t talk about it.  I bought bigger clothes while my friends and co-workers, aware of my history of yo-yo dieting, assumed I was in a fat phase.  It was easy to hide from my parents and close friends because I had moved several states away after college, and I didn’t schedule a visit home after my fifth month.

    My daughter was born healthy by an emergency Caesarean two weeks past her due date, after my toxemia caused my blood pressure to spike at 150 over 100.  Lifted calmly from her womb-spa, my baby was smooth and silent.  She looked Yoda-old and wise, as if she sensed that she belonged even though I had kept her existence hidden.  We looked at each other, alone at night in a bare white hospital room smelling of baby wipes.  I placed her between my knees, and in the valley of the bed sheets, I knew I could not give up this eight-pound-four-ounce bundled mummy in a pink knit hat.  I didn’t know how I would raise her, but I had spent enough nights at Al-Anon meetings to have memorized the “one day at a time” mantra. I couldn’t imagine the next 24 years, but I could manage the next 24 hours.  My baby spent her first night home in my underwear drawer while I dialed my parents and close friends to tell them the news and ask them to forgive me for not telling them sooner.

    Three years later, I was divorced. I was broke. My car was repossessed.  I filed for bankruptcy.  But my little girl and I were a team by then, and nothing would separate us.   Friends brought bags of groceries and called with employment leads, and my daughter’s grandparents paid for day care so I could work at a better job.  At the same time, my daughter started to talk about another little girl with her in a place where she lived before she was born. I had heard and read about other young children talking about life-before-birth. My daughter’s recollection of “the other girl” stuck in my mind.  Was I supposed to have had another child?  Was there another baby in that place before birth, calling my name?   My daughter stopped talking about the other girl by the time she was five, and settled on being an only child in a household of two.

    Fifteen years later, remarried, when life had the harmony of a Barbershop Quartet, I wanted to find that other girl my daughter had referred to long ago.  I tried to get pregnant but couldn’t.  Publicly, I joked about it and said, “I guess you can’t teach old egg new tricks.”  Privately, I felt guilty about having considered giving up my daughter for adoption, and I thought my inability to get pregnant meant that I didn’t deserve another child. I envisioned babies coming and going, to and from the land of life-before-birth, and telling each other, “Skip this mother and move on. She was too screwed up the last time.”

    My second husband and I tried to adopt a child.  We designed a glossy brochure about our lives so that birth mothers would choose us from among all the waiting couples. With a little photo-shopping to color our hair and wipe away wrinkles, we hoped we would show well to the young women making decisions about choosing parents to raise their children. Our case worker had encouraged us to market ourselves, so we were sure to include pictures of our daughter’s birthday parties and trips to Disney.  One morning, while waiting on the adoption list, I shot out of bed with the conviction of a cattle prod.  I sensed that a birth mother was about to choose us.  I hauled the crib, changing table, dresser and rocker into the would-be nursery, picked a carousel horse wallpaper print from a catalog, and asked my friend to sew neutral-green curtains and pillows.  My intuition was right.  The next day, the adoption agency called to say that a birth mother had indeed chosen us from the parents’ list for her baby who was due in three months.

    Room ready, day care chosen and notice given to my boss, we waited.  We chose a name for this baby – a boy would be Jesse and a girl would be Jennifer – both with a strong initial J that looked as sturdy as a soccer player or as graceful as a ballerina.   We got the call when the baby was born. “I’m afraid I have some bad news for you,” our case worker said in her scripted way.  After giving birth, the biological mother had decided to keep her child. I flashed back to my own despair and hopelessness a decade and a half earlier – remembering how I needed to know during my pregnancy that there was an escape hatch if I couldn’t take care of my baby – then knowing when the baby was born that this child was mine. I grieved for the loss of Jesse and Jennifer.  But I understood.

    Our agency case worked had warned us that adoption would be a roller coaster. I had buckled up my Type A personality and braced my peri-menopausal emotions for the uncontrollable ride. But after six years, we couldn’t stomach the ups and downs. I never said this aloud to anyone, but I sometimes wondered if this was my punishment for almost giving up my daughter and denying my family and friends the joy of my pregnancy and birth.

    The woman in the seat behind me is distracted for a moment by the announcement that our train will be delayed, but she quickly turns back to hear my answer to how many children I have.  I could explain that my fears during pregnancy made me wonder if I needed to give up my child for adoption. Or that I wanted more children and waited on an adoption list for six years, but that the birthmothers who chose us decided to keep their babies.

    Instead, I simply smile back at this curious stranger, because none of that history matters now.  Today, a new baby is on her way into my life. I see her outline floating in the shadows of my phone. In my mind, I trace the letters of a text message back to her:  “I love you already.  I can’t wait to meet you.”  My guilt is gone, erased by a text message telling me that I am worthy of a granddaughter.  A text message telling me that my daughter loves me and wants to share this baby with me.  A text message telling me that there is no punishment for whatever I may have considered doing years ago.  A text message letting me know that the other girls in the land-before-birth took a vote and decided that I would make a perfect grandmother.

    In a flash, I answer the woman behind me on the train.  “One child,” I say, without flinching. “I have one child, my daughter.”

     

    FullSizeRender (1)Gloria Barone Rosanio is a writer, wife, mother and grandmother living in New Jersey. She wrote a children’s book about her daughter and reads it to her granddaughter. She can be followed on Twitter @gloriabarone. 

     

     

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  • What To Do When Your Friends and Family Make Racist Comments

    What would you do if a friend makes racist comments? How do you deal with friends or family members who make offensive generalizations or display outright racism? Today’s question deals with that exact issue, and it’s a tough one to answer.

    Do you have a question for Nina? Use our anonymous form. You can read Nina’s answers to past questions here.

    friend makes racist comments

     

     

    Dear Nina,

    I’d love to know how to handle a delicate situation that has arisen with a few friends (primarily comments made on Facebook or overheard at school pickup) and with some family members in person. In a nutshell: how do I handle both overtly racist remarks, and the more subtle stereotyping that likely stems from ignorance more than anything, said by people close to me that I cannot carve out of my life? I am white, and the people making these statements are white as well, though we all live/work in diverse areas.

    Given the relationships I have with these people (especially in the case of family), they are unavoidably in my life for good, which aside from these kinds of comments, is otherwise not a bad thing. Ignoring these kinds of comments to avoid confrontation or an awkward situation doesn’t seem right. (I also don’t want to seem like I agree.) But it also does not seem like a good idea to have a full-blown discussion about the history of how we got to this point (i.e. Ferguson, Baltimore) and how I completely disagree with and am stunned by what the person on Facebook or person at a family dinner just said.

    Is there a middle ground that will make my position clear and perhaps educate my friends and family to be more open-minded? Maybe a one-liner that sets the record straight about my thoughts about what they just said?

    Moreover, sometimes these things have happened in the presence of my elementary school-aged child, and I do not want to create an impression that those kinds of stereotypes, prejudices, or feelings are acceptable. We teach and live a life of equality, compassion, and understanding for all people, and these kinds of remarks undermine that when said in front of my child. Not to mention, it makes me completely uncomfortable to even be around such close-minded people.

    Lastly, I have one family member who married into the family and who is of a different race. There have been a few times when another relative of ours has made racist remarks in her absence (mocking the accent of people from that region, making stereotypes about the kinds of jobs they hold, etc.). I feel like I should speak up, but am not sure how to do so without making the commenter defensive or putting other family members in the middle. I don’t mind being the heavy, but I have to consider that it may affect other family dynamics too.

    Signed,

    Speak Up Or Stay Out of It?

     

    Dear Speak Up Or Stay Out Of It,

    This is a hard question to answer. While most of us would like to stand behind our values at all times and always do what we think is the right thing with no shades of gray, delicate relationships require much more finesse.

    First, let’s separate these delicate relationships you’ve mentioned because some are more fragile and crucial than others.

    SCHOOL FRIENDS

    When you overhear people talking at school or anywhere, I think you ought to stay out of it. Should it be a “note to self” about ever taking the friendship deeper with the people speaking in a way that makes your skin crawl? YES. But it is definitely not a good idea in those cases to lean over and state your case, or the facts, or your opinion on their opinions. This is not because your point of view is invalid. It’s because the school pickup line or the sidelines of a school event is simply not the time and place. Also, you won’t change their minds in quick sound bites anyway.

    FACEBOOK FRIENDS

    Facebook is another animal (an untamed one!), but I would caution against engaging too often there as well. In some ways, responding with your two cents on Facebook is easier than doing so in person because you can drop your facts and opinions in a comment and close the screen. Done. But it’s never done. In some cases, those relationships exist off screen as well so you have to be careful. Not to mention, policing the conversations that happen on Facebook could easily become a full time job. And . . . now I’m going to repeat what I said about the parents in school: you won’t change their minds anyway in quick sound bites.

    CHANGING THE MINDS OF OTHERS

    Regarding the school and Facebook examples, I know that my advice to stay out of it is hard and goes against your convictions. Every so often when I’m in a coffee shop with a laptop, I will hear people at a table nearby saying things about Israel that are flat-out untrue or extremely biased. (Same goes for Facebook.) It makes my blood boil, and I desperately want to pull up a chair and present the other view, or in the case of Facebook, respond with links to every factual article that would present my point of view more articulately than I could. What I usually do is leave the coffee shop or hide the Facebook conversation because I can’t stand doing nothing, and I know I cannot change their minds. I don’t feel good about that choice, but given the alternative of a big confrontation that will not make a difference anyway, it seems like the best option.

    Do you see a theme here? It is very hard to change the minds of others with deeply held beliefs. I want to highlight a study completed by the journal Pediatrics; the researchers found that when multiple strategies were used to get parents against vaccinations to change their minds, there was not a single method that worked. Not one.

    YOUR EXTENDED FAMILY

    Now it’s time to address the most difficult part of your question. Dismissing it when a friend makes racist comments is one thing, but standing by while your child hears such remarks from family members is another.

    I understand why you’re upset. At the very least, I would use each instance as an opportunity for you and your husband to speak to your child immediately after an incident where something offensive has been said to the group, or in passing, or in any capacity.

    I also think it’s okay to say, right there in front of everyone, that you do not agree, but that you don’t think this is the time or place to discuss it. This way you’ve let your child know that you disapprove, but you also avoid engaging too much with your family on the spot. Even that kind of response from you will likely ruffle some feathers, but I do see it as a middle ground. It’s better than doing nothing, and not as bad as starting a family feud.

    Don’t Get Into An Argument (Most of the Time)

    You do not have to remain neutral in the face of words and actions that go against your values, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to get into an argument. As I’ve mentioned (100 times), you’re not likely to change the minds of anyone in your extended family, but you do have significant influence over your child’s views. Take some solace in knowing you are adding one more open-minded person to the world.

    As far as the comments made about the family member of another race who has married into the family, I’m curious why that person’s spouse has not spoken up? If all the comments are also made behind the original family member’s back, then I get it. But if the comments are ever made in the “original” family member’s presence, then he or she is the person who ought to be taking the offending relative aside to have a little chat.

    Readers, have you been in this situation? What advice can you share with our letter writers.

    Best of luck, Speak Up Or Stay Of Out It! I feel for you.

    Nina

    FULL RES - Badzin-03 copy-1Nina is a contributing writer for Tcjewfolk.com, Kveller.com, and Great New Books. Her essays have appeared regularly at Brain, Child Magazine, The Huffington Post, The Jewish Daily Forward, and have been syndicated in The Times of Israel as well as Jewish newspapers across the country. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children. Contact her on Twitter @ninabadzin and on her blog.

  • Staying Friendly Without Becoming Friends

    Today’s question is from a woman who is asking how to stay cordial with someone you see often without committing to a friendship. Do you have a question for Nina? Use our anonymous form. You can read Nina’s answers to past questions here.

    HerTakenoavatar

     Dear Nina,

    My family and I moved to our new town in September, and very quickly I met a woman through the PTA who kindly invited me and my daughter over for a play date. We had a few more play dates after that, but by November it became apparent that our daughters were not a match. A month or so later I realized we weren’t either.

    We remained friendly and even texted a bit here and there, keeping things very surface and casual. I joined the yearbook committee and we worked closely on that project, but we didn’t arrange any more play dates for the girls. Our last one was in the winter for a mom and daughter holiday party at her house (with many other children from school).

    My daughter turned seven at the end of April and we discussed her birthday guest list, which had to be on the smaller side due to the venue. I asked about my acquaintance’s daughter. I felt like we should invite her because of the holiday party. My daughter considered it, but ultimately said no, because they aren’t really friends.

    I felt a bit torn, wanting to invite her out of guilt, but I didn’t. Then I wondered, do I tell her ahead of time to give her a head’s up? I asked my husband, but he said to let it go.

    Now I wonder if I was wrong to not disclose it ahead of time, and I wonder if I should possibly try to explain things now, after the fact. I initially wanted to be up front with her (despite my anxiety about confrontations!) and maybe even joke lightly about the fact that it’s okay that our girls aren’t BFFs, but I didn’t.

    Now I wonder if that was a mistake. What would you think should be my next step, if any?

    Final background on my acquaintance: she is kind of gossipy and I’ve heard her speak quite a bit about other moms in unfavorable ways. I suspect she is doing the same to me. I’d like to remain on cordial even friendly terms because our girls will be in school together for many years and we will be in contact via the PTA, but not because I foresee a genuine friendship.

     

    Signed,

    Wondering If I Made The Right Call

     

    Dear Wondering If I Made The Right Call,

    While your question is seemingly about whether it was okay to leave this woman’s daughter off the invite list, I think the bigger question asks how to stay on friendly terms with someone you see often without committing to a friendship. Of course I love dissecting every aspect of a friendship dilemma, so I will cover both the direct and the indirect matters at hand.

    Let’s start with the birthday party. I’ve discussed birthday parties in this column before so without going into too much detail, I will restate my general policy. Go big or go very small. Once you start considering a position in the middle, things get sticky.

    The definition of “small” depends on how many kids are in your kid’s grade. If your daughter’s grade has 40 girls, then it’s okay to invite 10. But if there are 20 girls in the grade, inviting 10 would for sure make the other girls feel left out. I think you get the idea, and only you know the numbers so only you can answer the question about not inviting everybody.

    Your real question was about not inviting this particular woman’s daughter. Is it okay that this woman invited your daughter to her kid’s party and you did not reciprocate? In an Emily Post world, the answer might be no. But practically speaking, I think you did the right thing considering the girls truly have no chemistry, you have no chemistry with the mom, and you truly do not intend to further the relationships between any of you. Somebody had to draw the line somewhere, and it’s always better to nip things in the bud quickly as opposed to letting a relationship drag on further than what feels natural for either person.

    Consider this: perhaps the other mom is relieved you made that call so that she can take your daughter off the list next year. Life is too short to make all of our decisions based on obligation alone. Yes, there are plenty of cases where we have to do things we don’t want to do and spend time with people we don’t want to spend time with. It’s called being an adult, and it’s also called having an extended family. With friends, however, we do have choices.

    Did you make the right call by not explaining your reasoning to the other mom? YES. I don’t blame you for the desire to smooth over the situation by explaining the small party venue and that the girls do not seem to click and how that’s okay and yadda yadda yadda. I understand because I suffer from Over-Explainer Syndrome. (I made that term up, but the suffering is real.) If I just explain my point of view, my reasoning goes, then person X will not feel offended.

    Sometimes it’s true that an explanation helps, but it’s also true that people make up their minds about you no matter what you say after the fact. In all cases, it’s really better (as your husband wisely advised) to let it go and give her the benefit of the doubt that she, like you, gets that you can all stay on friendly terms without actually being friends outside of school activities.

    So what about the next step? This is not terribly exciting, but I’m suggesting more of what you’re already doing. You can be chatty with her and helpful as a fellow member of the PTA and as a fellow parent of a kid in the same school and same grade. (Just like she was helpful to you when you were new to town.) I understand your reservation about being close to her because of the way you’ve heard her talk about others. But on the flip side, it’s (sadly) a rare bird who not only says, “I’d love to have you and your daughter over,” but who follows through with an honest-to-goodness legit invitation. Most people say all the right things to new people but fail to open their homes and their lives. (Trust me, I have questions sitting in my inbox expressing those exact issues.)

    My point is not that you should make a friendship work. On the contrary, I’m just reminding you that nobody is all good or all bad so as far as an acquaintanceship goes with this woman, come at it from a place of gratitude for how she welcomed you rather than a place of fear about how she might discuss you with others. You won’t be able to control the latter anyway.

    My biggest tip for staying friendly without committing to a friendship is this: Never say things you don’t mean such as, “We should have lunch.” Keep your intentions in mind and you two should be able to continue operating in concentric social circles.

    By the way, it’s exciting that you’re at the end of the first school year in a new town. I bet it only gets easier from here.

    Best of luck,

    Nina

     

     

    FULL RES - Badzin-03 copy-1Nina is a contributing writer for Tcjewfolk.com, Kveller.com, and Great New Books. Her essays have appeared regularly at Brain, Child Magazine, The Huffington Post, The Jewish Daily Forward, and have been syndicated in The Times of Israel as well as Jewish newspapers across the country. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children. Contact her on Twitter @ninabadzin and on her blog.

     

     

     

     

     

  • Superficial Friendships: How to Change Shallow Friendships

    UPDATE (2019): Find Nina and her advice column at HER NEW FRIENDSHIP ADVICE SITE

     

    Today’s question is from an introverted woman who is unsatisfied with her superficial friendships. She feels she lacks deep friendships in her life, despite many acquaintances and social activities. What should she do when she feels like she only has shallow relationships?

    Do you have a question for Nina? Use our anonymous form. You can read Nina’s answers to past questions here.

    shallow friendships

    Dear Nina,

    During the years after college, I drifted away from most of my friends from that time. Since then I’ve worked in several places, pursued hobbies, had a child, and met other moms. After separating from my child’s father, I’ve put work into a new social life. I keep in touch with my colleagues, and I’m active in my religious community. I really love those activities, and I don’t do them just to meet people.

    Still, I hardly have any close friends. I have nice acquaintances, and my social life is interesting as long as I show up. As soon as I don’t, due to holidays, work, whatever, it easily happens that I don’t talk to anyone for a week or more.

    I know that a deep friendship is something rare, and that relationships develop slowly, especially at an age close to 50. Also, I like doing things on my own, I don’t need company all the time. Still I’m getting slightly desperate, because I seem unable to get beyond other people’s C-list. (A term I learned from this column!) It seems that other moms at school quickly become close. For example, other families from the group we joined for a canoeing trip exchanged phone numbers. For the record, I did exchange contact information with a nice family. We planned to meet, but it didn’t work out. After that, I wrote two e-mails, got no answer, and that was it. That’s pretty much how it goes all the time.

    Is something wrong with me? Probably not. I’m an introvert, sometimes I seem unfriendly at first sight. Still, I’m not anti-social. I’m able to establish contact. I can both talk and listen, I’m fun (if I may say so myself!), and people like me in general. Still, when I reach out a little more, I find there are limits. I get nervous when my kid suggests we invite people for New Year’s Eve or other occasions. On days like that I literally can’t invite anyone – everybody already has plans. I’ve almost stopped planning birthday parties for myself, although I love to do this. I’m just infinitely tired of people’s explanations about why they can’t come. When I need someone to look after the flowers during holidays, or when I’m sick and could use some help, things get complicated. (To be fair, I have to say that so far I’ve always found someone. It mostly felt awkward though and very different from when I was younger and my friends and I could call one another any time.)

    In your column and elsewhere so many people complain about imbalance in relationships, loneliness, and breaking up with a best friend. Sometimes I ask myself: Where do all those people live? I only seem to meet people who are perfectly happy and completely uninterested in new friends.

    I’m grateful for the many fulfilling things and friendly people in my life. Still there are feelings of loneliness and of losing courage to try for deeper and less shallow friendships. I’d be very grateful to hear your opinion and your readers’ opinions,

    Too Many Shallow Friendships

     

    Dear Too Many Shallow Friendships,

    To quote Winston Churchill, never, never, never give up. I believe those words apply strongly here. I could end the advice on that point, however, there are some details to attend to as well.

    Let’s get something straight. The social life you’ve created should bring you significant pride. You’re right that it takes time and energy to make close, deep friendships. But it also takes time, energy, and skill to keep up with acquaintances and to stay involved in hobbies and other activities outside of work and home, especially after a separation.

    In the short run, it’s easier to stay home and binge watch Game of Thrones on Netflix and enjoy that introverted side of your personality. I want to applaud you for getting out there to achieve your desired goal of making A-list friends. In fact, I believe making close friends is not too different from dating for a significant other. The only difference is that in the case of close friends, maybe you’ll end up with two or three instead of one particular life partner. (That said, even just one close friend is great.) I do want to say that I disagree with your statement that deep friendships are rare. I’d say they’re special, but not rare. There’s a difference.

    Don’t Make Assumptions

    With only your letter to draw on, I’m guessing that you’re making major assumptions about other people’s lives that are exacerbating your feelings of inadequacy in the friendship department. I also wonder if you have an unrealistic view of what a close friendship looks like and are therefore chasing something that does not exist. You might be closer to your goal than you think!

    You said, “I have nice acquaintances, and my social life is interesting as long as I show up. As soon as I don’t, due to holidays, work, whatever, it easily happens that I don’t talk to anyone for a week or more.”

    This is a perfect example of you feeling inadequate over something that is true for most people. The only person I speak to on the phone regularly is my sister-in-law, and I have a good amount of close, deep friendships with women both in and out of town. Even when it comes to my close friends in town, we can easily go weeks or a month or more without speaking on the phone or seeing each other in person. I know this is true for my friends and their other friends, too. If you focus on quantity of time over quality, I think you’ll always feel like you have shallow friendships. The depth of a friendship cannot be measured in minutes together or minutes on the phone.

    The Only One With Superficial Friendships?

    You then said, “It seems to me that other moms at school quickly become close.” How do you know that the banter you’re witnessing in the hallway or pickup line at school is anything more than very friendly acquaintances happy to see each other? Even if what you’re seeing is an example good friends interacting, it does not mean that these people would call each other to water the plants or to help when someone in the household is sick. (We’ll come back to flowers and sick calls later.)

    You also said, “Other families from the group we joined for a canoeing trip exchanged phone numbers.” Again, how could you possibly know that their attempts to make plans ended any differently than yours with that one family? Or maybe they got together once or twice then never again. You cannot presume to know what happened after the numbers were exchanged. I wouldn’t take it personally that it didn’t work out to get together with that one family. Most people suck at follow through with new people. It’s a bummer and it’s frustrating, but it’s not personal. They don’t even know you!

    Your situation is likely better than you think. You even pointed out that while it was hard to find someone to help you with the flowers or the few times you’ve needed extra hands around, you did find friends to come over eventually.

    When To Ask For Help

    While we’re on the topic of watering flowers, I think it’s worth mentioning that when it comes to things like watering flowers or bringing in the garbage cans, I’m not likely to ask a friend unless she lives next door or across the street. If I didn’t want to ask a neighbor for that favor, I would pay a high school kid in the neighborhood a few bucks a day to do the chore while we’re gone. I do think it’s healthy to be careful and reasonable about how much you expect from your friends.

    As you said of some of your friends, “As soon as I reach out to them a little more, I find there are limits.” That is true and very normal. There are always limits because friends are not family. Friends may be “like family” in the best case scenarios, but they are not family. There are limits to what you can expect from other people who also have kids, or jobs, or homes they’re maintaining.

    I think you have to differentiate between asking for help in times of real need and asking for help with the flowers. I would drop anything to drive a friend to chemo or help in an emergency. Helping water the plants for anyone other than a neighbor? I would have no problem saying I have too much going on that week. I don’t think that makes me a bad friend.

    Too Many Shallow Friendships, you said many true and important statements in your letter that you simply have to allow yourself to believe with conviction. Yes, it takes time to make close and less superficial friends. Yes, you have to keep trying. Yes, you have to both talk and listen. (Remember you want to listen twice as much as you talk. I have to constantly remind myself to be quiet. You may be usurping more time on your topics than you realize.)

    Your Superficial Friends Don’t Have Perfect Lives Either

    Now I’m going to be the one to make a big assumption. Of all the details you provided in your letter, the following comment is probably the biggest issue standing between your satisfaction with your friendships and not. “I only seem to meet people who are perfectly happy.”

    Losing Courage, that is simply not possible. There is not one person who gets a pass on periods of unhappiness. The people we love get sick. They die. We get sick. We suffer from mental illness or live with someone who does. We feel lonely. We feel unsuccessful, unattractive, and unloveable. We cannot afford necessities. We cannot afford luxuries and suffer from envy or forget the difference between necessities and luxuries. We cannot have children. Our children drive us crazy. We are in unhappy marriages. We are desperate to get married.

    The possibilities for unhappiness are endless. The happiest among us focus on the better pieces of our lives, but that does not mean we do not suffer or have problems. Either you are living in an exceptional place (not likely) or you are painting the people you come across with a wide brush of sparkly sheen.

    The Ground Rules

    Now, some ground rules as you continue “dating” for a few closer friends while still enjoying and appreciating your acquaintances.

    • As we discussed, twice as much listening as talking. Twice as much!
    • Be open-minded. Join new groups. Look outside of work, your kid’s school, and your religious community if those three areas are not working.
    • Don’t try too hard. If the chemistry is not there, keep looking. Plenty of fish in the sea as they say.
    • Act worthy of those deep friendships you desire because you are worthy. Get those questionable assumptions out of the way, and I think it will put you back on the right road.

    My final piece of advice: If you truly feel that you are unable to connect beyond the surface or that all of your continued efforts are not yielding good results (fewer shallow friendships), I encourage you to ask someone who knows you well to tell you honestly how you are coming off with other people. Perhaps a sibling-in-law, a cousin, a coworker, or someone who has known you for years who will not be afraid to tell you the truth. You have to assure this person that you will not turn on him or her if you don’t like what you hear.

    Thank you for trusting me with your question. Readers, what did I miss? Have you been in this situation of feeling like you have too many shallow friendships? Please add your thoughts in the comments.

    Good luck,

    Nina

     

     

    FULL RES - Badzin-03 copy-1Nina is a contributing writer for Tcjewfolk.com, Kveller.com, and Great New Books. Her essays have appeared regularly at Brain, Child Magazine, The Huffington Post, The Jewish Daily Forward, and have been syndicated in The Times of Israel as well as Jewish newspapers across the country. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children. Contact her on Twitter @ninabadzin and on her blog.

     

  • HerStories Voices: I Am Here

    Today’s HerStories Voices column is by Suzanne Perryman, who blogs at Special Needs Mom. It’s a lovely meditation on the relationship between Suzanne and her oldest daughter, as well as the triumphs and struggles of her entire family.

    Sometimes our most precious moments with our children take place with them asleep, beside us.

    My daughter Olivia is breathing gently in a rhythm I know well. For almost 14 years I have studied her stages of sleep.  With her hand tucked in mine, I stay stretched out beside her. In the shadows I study the new curves on her body and the way she fills her childhood bed. The way her long curly hair falls in thick bundles off the ends of her pillow, the dark hiding its rich reddish brown. She called me here me tonight, overflowing with excitement and anxiety, unable to sleep.

    “ Lie with me, Mama,” she used to say. When her curls were just a cap of copper penny red and still shooting in all directions.  And I would resist then, empty and exhausted by the end of my day. Wanting the touch of my husband’s skin next to mine, wanting my own turn.

    Her curls grew into a mop of deep red during the years she favored Strawberry Shortcake. The feather-light weight of her five year old body made her steps small and almost silent in her Strawberry Shortcake slippers, and I could barely hear her coming each early morning when she slowly shuffled down the hall .

    She would find me at my desk most quiet mornings and climb into my lap, whispering in a sleepy sing song, “Whatya doing?

    Looking at pictures,”  I replied one morning, as the softness of her body settled and snuggled into mine, she reached for the photo I held in my hand. “My favorite,” she sighed.

    She studied that image of her four year old self, dressed in pink and red, raincoat and boots, standing in our backyard holding her umbrella. 

    I woke up from my nap ..” she began, “and Zoe was still sleeping and we snuck outside to the play in the rain. We ran all around my playhouse and splashed on the patio until we were wet! You remember, right, Mommy?” She questioned with her eyes wide. “I can’t see you in the picture but you were there.”

    You were there.

    She didn’t say it, but with her subtle reference, I know that she remembered those times when she woke up and I was gone. Beginning when her sister Zoe was born and I disappeared into the night, returning home a week later. My first night home, when I had finished singing and rocking her to sleep and after quietly tucking her in her crib, she awoke screaming and crying for me, and then finally flung her body out of her crib and across the room.

    And times after that, when Zoe fell sick during the night and I had no choice but to take her to the hospital, and Olivia would wake up with her Mommy missing. Her mommy wasn’t there. 

    In Pre-k, the psychologist called it a slow-to-warm temperament, the way she would wrap her arms around my legs, and refuse to say goodbye. The way she would clutch and climb my nearly six foot length, from bottom to top, the way a child can scurry up a tree. While I stood solid with the weight of Zoe in my arms, the weight of the guilt in my heart made me weak.

    Slow to warm, like the careful way I would warm her maple syrup for our pancake lunches. She would stand then, hugging the back of my legs as I poured the pancake batter and then start to giggle as I carried her plate to the table, over the silliness of our eating pancakes for lunch. Pancake lunches were special, for the days we missed our pancake breakfasts. For the days she woke up and I wasn’t there. 

    Kindergarten at an early age was a better choice for my smart and spirited happy child.  A smarter alternative to spending her day visiting Zoe’s specialists and therapists or playing quietly while her sister napped.

    And like a fragile flower, well-nurtured, she flourished within our simple family life.  She grew strong until fall came along every year, and with new transitions and new teachers, she would falter and wilt a bit, until slowly opening wide again strongly rooted again by spring, and warmed by the season’s sun.

    Until one spring, when she didn’t. And I grieved for her. I missed her smile, her charm, her affection, the way she shimmied across her bedroom floor as she sang her favorite songs. And that way she always started her day by sleepily climbing into my lap where I too found comfort in her body still warm from sleep. I missed her then and I tried everything. I went back to my mothering basics: more attention, more love, more sunshine, more backyard time.

    And when nothing worked, I sat down at my computer and Googled “how +to+make+my+daughter+happy+again.” And knew then I had reached my rock bottom, and her anxiety had outgrown me. It was a psychiatrist who helped her to find the right words,  to identify the panic attacks she was experiencing, and it was the medicine that eventually brought my happy girl back to me.

    Olivia just kept growing, taller and smarter. The color of her hair began to turn an auburn brown. She took to reading big books, piling them in her room, and carrying three or four in her arms to school with her each day, admitting quietly the comfort they gave her, how they helped to ease her anxiety.

    With growth came more truth. One day Olivia asked if her sister Zoe would ever get better, when Zoe might begin to walk, without using her walker and if she would ever someday not need her pink power wheelchair.

    I looked at my oldest then, knowing she had outgrown her little girl eyes. I took our routine each day for granted and never realiized that Olivia believed the medicines, the therapies, and the doctors would someday make Zoe better, help her learn to walk and speak clearly.

    I watched Olivia’s eyes fill with tears as I explained that although Zoe’s body would grow taller and maybe stronger, her condition would never change. I waited for her words of grief.

    “Does Zoe know, Mom?” was all she said. Protective  of her little sister, she was trying to imagine if Zoe knew this truth too, if Zoe, who was full of life and laughter, always smiling knew this to be her truth or if there was more hurt to come.

    Through her middle school years there were times when Olivia hurt, feeling the pain of her anxiety and in those moments, I felt even worse. There were other times too, with friends and pool parties and school, her first concert. Through these years she found comfort in our family, and at her school.

    My “fix-it” years of motherhood filled with research, identifying problems and then applying my best mothering skills, were soon coming to an end. We gave up the medicine and I worked on developing a specialized set of coping skills. I started thinking about the tools Olivia would need to take with her one day. What she would need to know about herself, how she would need to be the one to “fix” things in her future.

    I never imagined lying beside my teenage daughter like this, thinking that someone else will lay next to her one day, someone else will love her this fiercely. Thinking about how her world will grow beyond this home, beyond her father and me, beyond her sister who will always stay here with us. That I will still be here, but the someday is coming when she will be gone.

    She is in high school now and everything is new. The scratchy uniforms, her friends, the community, the higher expecations, the honor classes and study load. I am here for you, I tell her. I try to comfort, try to help her to pack and prepare the toolbox she will take with her when she someday goes. I watch her struggling for social approval when even her most familiar becomes uncomfortable, like when she straightens her hair, as if denying her true self, and can erase the memory of her corkscrew curls like they were never there.

    She raises her voice in anger when she is worried, anxious. I raise my own voice in fear and frustration.Then I pull her into me saying, “I am here.”

    She cries many different tears, raindrop tears that trickle, as she slowly tells me her story. Tears of a thunderstorm that come fast and furious lashing out that it is my fault she feels this way, and finally with no warning, the torrential downpour that falls hard and steady and seems to have no end. “ I am here,”  I tell her as I try to be her shelter from the storm.

    These moments of darkness, like weather, sometimes come with no warning, are unpredictable and follow no pattern. They interrupt the sunniest days of sweetness, and light and the calm of our family life.

    No storm clouds follow. The outburst comes and passes, and with frustration I accept that she has outgrown my own ability to fix it. I can hug and hold,  coax and plead. After, we talk about what worked, what helped to guide her through it and soothe her fears. And we pack that too into her toolbox, to take out and use again someday.

    It is late when she calls me to her bed tonight. At first I sit, listening to her talk about her day. I hear hesitation in her voice and then it grows stronger and then smoother. High school is hard but she is finding her way.

    Lie with me, Mom,” she says and I hear that little girl voice again, I can see her little girl curls.

    I don’t resist because I know my turn with her is coming to an end.

    Her hand reaches for mine, and our fingers find their familiar places wrapping around each other. We lay connected.

    I close my own eyes and now it is my little girl I see, the way her curls fly as she runs. The way she likes to hide behind me, her body aligned perfectly with mine.  I see my husband, waiting for me time after time, his eyes full  with care and understanding as he too chooses to put Olivia’s needs before his own.

    We do all we can to prepare our kids, to pack their tool box full for someday. We push them out into the world — when really we want, for just a little while longer, to pull them back in.

    Olivia’s fingers are still wound tightly through mine, and I know that years from now, she will be gone, finding her way in the world with her confidence in full bloom, and it will be this moment I will miss: the simple joy of being the one who holds her hand, late into the night.

    I am here, I whisper in the dark.

    suzanneperrymanSuzanne Perryman began blogging at specialneedsmom.com to celebrate the simple, inspiring every day, one story at a time. Her work has recently been featured on HuffPost Parents, Brain,Child, BlogHer, Mamalode, Project Underblog and QueenLatifah.com and was chosen as a BlogHer Voice Of The Year.

     

     

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  • HerTake: When a Close Friend Does Not Support Your Passion

    Today’s question is from a writer and blogger wondering how to handle a close friend who is dismissive of her work. It may seem like this question and answer is specific to one profession, but it’s really for all people who feel that a close friend or family member is disinterested or even hostile towards an important piece of their lives.

    Do you have a question for Nina? Use our anonymous form. You can read Nina’s answers to past questions here.

    HerTakenoavatar

     Dear Nina,

    I recently started writing and trying to get my work published in various online and print magazines and newspapers. I’ve had some early success with credible publications–what I call my “small wins.” I’ve wanted to write (outside my previous day job) for years, so this is a huge deal for me.

    One of my good friends in town hasn’t been very supportive of my writing. She never asks how it is going, or gives me positive feedback on my work. Any time I have a “small win,” she avoids mentioning it. If someone else brings up my writing in a social situation, she either ignores the conversation, is dismissive, or gives a cursory “oh, yeah?”

    On the other hand, since I started writing, I’ve made some amazing online friends, all of whom are supportive and happy for my success. It’s like we share in each other’s accomplishments and happiness, and genuinely support each other. How can it be that people I have never met, except online, encourage and support me, while a great friend of many years, living down the street, does not?

    I’m not sure if my friend is upset that she isn’t writing herself, as I know she would like to be. My husband keeps telling me this is about her and her own insecurities, and not about me. Whether that is true or not, it still stings. I’m not sure what to do about it. Do I tell her how I’m feeling, and that her lack of support has been upsetting to me? Or do I leave it alone, and simply carry on with my writing?

    Sincerely,

    At a Loss for Words

    Dear At a Loss for Words,

    Through my experience as a writer and from years of talking about this type of issue with other writers, I’ve found that family and friends will react in one of five ways to your work.

    1. THEY WILL BE ENTHUSIASTIC

    These are the friends who read your work regularly. They send you occasional texts and emails saying, “Really liked this one,” and they may even be supportive on Facebook as well. To keep these friends, you must never, ever assume they have read anything. You are to be surprised and delighted by anyone who has taken the time to read your work.

    I’m going to say right now that to expect enthusiasm from anyone in your life, even your spouse, your sister, or your mother, is asking a lot. It’s rare that anyone can keep up with all the work we writers produce. So when you find these people, make sure to come from a place of deep gratitude and appreciation. There is so much out there to read, and if they read your work in any capacity (weekly, monthly, occasionally), then that is extraordinarily generous. Ask them about their jobs and their families constantly because you owe them tons of enthusiasm in return.

    1. THEY WILL BE NEUTRALLY INDIFFERENT

    These are the family and friends who know you’re a writer and have seen your work here and there. They ask you about it sometimes, but if they don’t, it’s not for any specific reason just like you might not know the gritty details of their jobs. They are neither excited nor threatened by the topics you cover. I suspect that most family and friends fall in this category, and that is not a bad thing. Ultimately to succeed in this business, your audience has to expand beyond family and close friends anyway. Remember, the family and friends who read your work regularly get your surprise and delight every time!

    1. THEY WILL BE CONFUSED

    These folks say things like “I just don’t understand the internet or blogs.” This reaction is genuine and not meant to be hurtful, but starts to feel like passive-aggressive criticism when it goes on for years.

    1. THEY WILL BE DISINTERESTED

    The family and friends in this category do not read your work and they do not ask you about it even if you ask about their jobs or passions. It’s worth mentioning that they may also be the types who are not good at asking questions in a conversation. That is why disinterest can feel personal, but it truly could be a matter of poor social skills.

    It’s important to remember that not everybody likes to read, not everybody likes to read online, and nobody will be as interested in our writing as we are. That said, do I think it’s irritating if you’re always asking about someone’s life and she never asks about yours even if she’s not particularly fond of essays or whatever else you write? Yes. It’s especially rude and awkward if you’re supposedly good friends. People do not have to actually read your work to ask about how things are going. It’s called good manners.

    1. THEY WILL BE DISAPPROVING

    These are the people who read your work and see your activity online, but do not like what you are saying and doing. They may openly let you know, or they may choose to act disinterested to avoid letting you know directly. No matter how the message gets across, being on the other end of disapproval never feels good.

    So, what about your friend?

    It’s hard to know whether your friend falls into “neutrally indifferent” of your work, “disinterested” or “disapproving.” But now I’m going to tell you the hardest truth. You have to force yourself to forget about winning this friend’s interest, support, and approval.

    I want you to learn from my mistakes. Until recently I spent far too much time worried about the few people in my life who fall into the disinterested and disapproving categories. I was also too attached to the enthusiastic ones. The peace of mind of not needing so much approval from those giving it and from those withholding it would have been better for my relationships, my confidence, and my writing.

    I also want to say that I think we can get overly fixated on changing the mindset of a particular person. You have to ask yourself why this one friend’s lack of support is bothering you so much. Do her doubts mirror your own? Is her refusal to acknowledge your success holding you back from settling into the writing identity?

    Bottom line: You do not have to end this friendship, but you have to stop hoping she will like your work or even acknowledge it. I think your husband is right that her inability to show any interest in what you’re doing (even as a friend if not a reader) is her issue to face and not yours.

    You asked: “How can it be that people I have never met, except online, encourage and support me, while a great friend of many years, living down the street, does not?

    The enthusiasm of fellow writers, even those we’ve never met in person, is impossible to match because we’re members of the same team. We understand the challenges of getting work accepted for publication and the harder challenge of getting eyes on that work.

    You also asked: “Do I tell her how I’m feeling, and that her lack of support has been upsetting to me? Or do I leave it alone, and simply carry on with my writing?”

    If your friend continues to act as if this important piece of your life does not exist, it’s only logical that you will want to spend less time with her. It’s not like you’re a drug dealer asking for her approval. While I believe it’s unreasonable to expect your friends to read your work, it is reasonable to expect them to acknowledge its place in your life, even if just in casual conversation. If you miss the time you used to spend with your friend, or if she misses you and asks what’s going on, I think it’s only fair to tell her that you want to be able to talk about your writing just as she is able to talk about what matters to her.

    Fellow writers, what advice do you have? Should this week’s letter writer confront her friend or let it go? What would YOU do?

     

     

    FULL RES - Badzin-03 copy-1Nina is a contributing writer for Tcjewfolk.com, Kveller.com, and Great New Books. Her essays have appeared regularly at Brain, Child Magazine, The Huffington Post, The Jewish Daily Forward, and have been syndicated in The Times of Israel as well as Jewish newspapers across the country. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children. Contact her on Twitter @ninabadzin and on her blog.

     

     

     

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