Essays

  • Putting the Pieces Together

    By Lindsey Goldstein

    I stood in the shower, warm water cascading over my shoulders and relaxing me enough to cause my eyes to close. My husband and daughter had left the day before to go skiing, leaving me with my toddler son and dog. Suddenly, my eyes snapped open. What if I have a brain aneurysm in the middle of the night and die? What will my son do? He can’t dial a phone to seek help or even get something to eat without assistance. He’d be stuck in this house with a dead mother and a dog. I shook my head. No, no, no. I took a deep breath and refocused.

    A few weeks prior, my therapist, whom I will call T, and I spent an entire session discussing my tendency to worry. I told her I can relate to a Shel Silverstein poem I’d read as a child about the “what if’s” crawling into my ear. When the news bombarded me with reminders that this year’s flu epidemic was something to fear, I’d begun the worry discussion with T, telling her I had become compulsive about hand washing, scouring my children’s hands when they walked into the house from school or foregoing play dates if a parent mentioned his/her kid had a sniffle. She listened, then leaned in.

    “What would be the worst thing that could happen if one of your children got the flu?” she asked.

    “Well, one of them could die,” I’d practically whispered not wanting to tempt fate. She nodded.

    “But the chance of that happening is very slim, right?” I had to admit that was true.

    Therapy isn’t something I’d ever thought I needed, but several months ago, I told my husband I had decided I wanted to try it. His initial reaction was concern, assuming something was terribly wrong. I assured him that no, there was nothing I could pinpoint, but in general, I just felt an overarching feeling of dissatisfaction. He was hurt to hear this, but I encouraged him to listen and try to understand.

    I told him, “It’s not that I hate my life. Not at all. I just feel like my days and weeks blur together, that I do whatever I need to do to get through my days rather than actually enjoy them.” As much as I didn’t want to sound like a cliché, I explained that I felt out of balance, felt a lack of presence in whatever I was doing, and my biggest concern was that I’d wake up one day a very old woman with a million regrets about how I chose to spend my time.

    I was reminded of a quandary a friend posed to me: What would you do if someone said you only had ten minutes left to live? I remembered searching for an answer but feeling lost and desperate to come up with anything.

    My first session of therapy started awkwardly. I squirmed, unsure of how to begin. So, I just started talking, nervously at first and later with more assertion.

    “I just feel as though I’m unsatisfied. That maybe I do a lot of things with my day, but that none of them get enough of my attention. I worry that one day, I will lie on my deathbed and be regretful that I didn’t accomplish anything.” She nodded but didn’t say anything. I kept talking. I told her about my marriage in a nutshell, about my two kids, about my job as a physical therapist, and about my writing hobby. I watched as the minutes ticked by on the clock, very aware that the express train of an hour was whooshing by in what seemed like a minute. She didn’t say much, but the sympathetic expression on her face told me she’d been in my shoes before, that the dissatisfied ground upon which I tread had been traversed by others.

    Since the birth of my second child, I’ve opted to treat patients who are not able to leave their homes. The vast majority of my patients are in the final moments of their lives. My favorite part of my job is to hear each patient’s life story, to hear what made them happy, to hear what still makes them happy, and to understand what each person would like to continue to do so long as they have breath in their body.

    I wish I could say I’ve met people without regret, but sadly, I haven’t. The overwhelming response I get from these people is to enjoy my youth, my children, my husband, and my body.

    Though I’ve thought about their recommendations before, I’ve never dwelled on the fact that everyday obligations and routines sometimes get in the way of what’s really important. Or that sometimes these same obligations get in the way of even thinking about what’s important.

    During my second visit, my therapist clearly had been listening because she asked me how I feel when I’m writing. I don’t normally discuss feelings. I tell stories, I make dry jokes, but to actually say how something makes me feel isn’t within my comfort zone.

    “When I’m writing, two hours passes by in what seems like two minutes,” I said. It was the best I could muster. She smiled.

    “That is an amazing feeling. To be so engrossed by something that you lose track of time.” I agreed. She wondered how I could incorporate more of that into my routine. And so we dissected my inability to say no to work that actually pays (my patients) and commit more time to something that I love. I explained to her that that seemed frivolous, almost irresponsible. That I should be as productive with my time as I can be in order to help support my family. Then I decided to stop arguing and remember why I’d sought her help in the first place.

    When I was much younger, I shied away from anything I feared. Following dreams or passions wasn’t in my nature, but rather practical choices were. Then I turned forty.

    Friends who were younger asked me what that was like. Some wondered if forty was terrifying. I wasn’t scared but suddenly was very aware of how fleeting my time is. I looked back at the years behind me and the details of so many experiences, of so many relationships with people, of loves and hurt and joy. It was as though they had been placed in a food processor and blended together to make a blurry collage of snapshots of my life.

    There is no slowing time down, but by going to therapy week after week, I realized I had gotten into a habit of being half-present in my life, of multi-tasking so I can get everything done in favor of committing myself fully to each moment of my life.

    At the last visit I had with T, she probed further into my relationship with my seven-year-old daughter. She and I have very different personalities, but I want to understand her and also have a healthy relationship with her. Her greatest need since we had our son is for me to be affectionate with her. She sees me carry him places or hug him and though I try to give her the same level of affection, she has voiced her feelings that it isn’t enough.

    “Mommy, will you lie in bed with me and cuddle?” she has asked on numerous occasions. Normally I put my son to bed, read with my daughter and then try to get her to bed in an effort to preserve one hour of alone time before I too need to go to bed. I told T how many times I’ve used the fact that it’s late and my daughter needs to go to sleep in lieu of cuddling with me. Or if I do sit with her on her bed, my mind goes to everything I still have left to get done in the paltry number of minutes I have before bedtime.

    “Do you think you could forego any of the things you have to do at night in order to lie with her and cuddle for five minutes?” T asked me. And then of course, I blushed because I felt like a selfish and terrible mother. “What would happen, for example, if you didn’t get the dishes done at night?” she asked.

    “Nothing,” I’d mumbled. Then I’d looked T in the eye and made a heart-wrenching confession. “The real issue is . . . I don’t like to cuddle. With anyone.” I explained how it had been a problem with my husband when we first dated because he enjoyed cuddling, while it made me feel suffocated. I compromised with him a bit, but I know it’s not what he really wanted. I explained to T that as awful as it sounded, I just wanted to be transparently honest. She applauded my honesty. We discussed ways in which I could meet my daughter halfway, to give her what she needs without compromising my comfort. And I believe these suggestions have helped.

    As I understand it, there isn’t a finish line in therapy. I won’t cross a line and be handed a medal. But I feel myself unfolding.

    Most importantly, I feel myself allowing truths to emerge. I have nothing to hide or lose by telling all to T. And only by admitting the deepest, ugliest, most wounded aspects of myself can I take myself apart and put myself back together.

     

    Lindsey Goldstein lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two kids and dog. In addition to writing, she works part-time as a physical therapist. She has published essays in the The New York Times, Modern Love column, in Kveller, and in Parent.co. Lindsey is currently working on her first novel.

     

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    A Fury of Her Own: Midlife Women on Embracing Anger and Changing the World will examine the reasons for women’s anger at this current moment and celebrate the ways (big and small) they are using their rage to create lasting change.

    See full submission details and guidelines here.

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  • Conscious Unhovering

    unconscious hovering

     

     

    By Lizbeth Meredith

    “Don’t ever do this again, Mom,” came the angry text from my youngest daughter. “It’s so inappropriate. . . I don’t need your help.”

    Home for a college break, she was texting from her post at a coffee shop, waiting for the blind date I’d set her up with. And getting more anxious by the minute.

    She rarely meets young men on her own. Of course she needed my help. True, my only marriage ended in divorce and my publication of a misery memoir, but I’ve got good instincts about my kids.

    “Where did you meet him?” my daughter had asked when I first gave her my pitch. I spared no details in the retelling.

    Our eyes had locked from across the room. I was on a date, but as soon as I saw him, this tall, dimpled, olive-skinned young man, I knew he was the one. For my daughter, that is. I left my bewildered date in the dust, practically lunging to meet this young man. I introduced myself, hoping I wasn’t being too obvious. He told me he was from New York. He was Jewish, something I’ve long equated as synonymous for higher intelligence. And he was here in Alaska, volunteering in a theater camp.

    So perfect, I thought. My youngest daughter loves volunteering.

    I wasted no time asking about his dating status.

    When it comes to my own dating life, I’d sooner jump out of a moving car than to be that forward. But there was something exhilarating about the potential of presenting my daughter with her soul mate.

    “Are you single?” I asked without shame, quickly adding, “You seem around my daughter’s age. Maybe she could show you around town if you’d like.” I interpreted his stunned silence to be a green light to proceed.

    “She loves volunteering. She’s home on a college break, too. She likes hiking and biking and animals.”

    And before I knew it, I was pulling up my daughter’s Facebook account on my iPhone, thumbing through picture after picture, and singing her praises.

    I could see by the slow smile that spread across his face as he looked at her pictures that he was warming to the idea, so I kept talking.

    “She paddle- boards with the sea lions and tent camps among the buffalo in Kodiak. And she loves kids.”

    The last part was a lie, but I wanted it to be true. My daughter babysat once as a teen, and asked if insurance would cover a tubal ligation shortly afterward. But I wrote it off to her youth.

    “She’s beautiful,” he said, confirming my suspicions about his intellectual superiority. “I think I’m in love with your daughter.” Ha! I knew it! Matchmaking is in my genes. I may be a failure at love in the matter of romantic love myself, but I like to think I’m a carrier.

    As he entered his contact information into my phone, I couldn’t help but notice that his large head, his curls, and his prominent nose matched my daughter’s gorgeous Greek features. My grandchild might get stuck in the birth canal, but nothing a C-section couldn’t cure.

    My daughter’s initial reaction was less enthusiastic.

    “Mom, that’s weird,” she told me. “It’s creepy that you pulled up my Facebook page. Don’t do that again.”

    But her stance softened once I pulled up his Facebook page. And how could it not? With a deep dimple and sparkling eyes, he was positively adorable. Anyone could see that.

    “His name is Ian, just like the Greek girl’s love interest on My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” I told her, “It’s a sign, don’t you think? And he’s Jewish. You can raise our family’s stock with him since you’re from hillbillies on both sides of the family.”

    My family roots are from rural Kentucky. Her dad’s side are from a tiny map dot in Greece. With this winning swirl, I worry my future grandkids won’t find value education or a full set of teeth. I was only half-joking. She still wasn’t laughing. After more stony silence, she issued her verdict.

    “I’ll go to coffee with him this one time,” she told me. “You’ll have to pay me. But it’s still inappropriate.”

    There was that word again.

    Who decides what’s appropriate when parenting adult children? How did I miss that lesson?

    Here’s the thing: When our children are young, we parents are expected to manage every detail of our kids’ lives, even before they’re born. How are we supposed to flip that switch, just because the kids are grown?

    When it came to my own daughters, I nursed them, pushing past my need for personal space and giving up every tasty food I’d previously enjoyed so they wouldn’t be gassy. As they grew older, I blended their foods rather than buying baby food in jars. I was a single mom by the time they were both in diapers, and did the heavy lifting for choosing their schools, registering them for sports, weighing in on their choices of friends. All the stuff parents do.

    Back then, my friends described me as being active. Involved. Engaged. All glowing terms. But after the girls were 18, I was suddenly considered anxious. Inappropriate. Controlling. Or worst of all, enabling.

    Ugly words, if you ask me.

    Why is it that all the things that make a parent good as our child grows up are suddenly considered terrible after the child turns 18? And why isn’t there as step-down plan or some other curriculum for parents when their kids are nearing adulthood?

    Like maybe we could stop “helping” with their science homework by eleventh grade and let them select their own clothes for school by twelfth. Baby steps to get us parents ready for the hearbreaking journey ahead.   

    I’ve tried giving fewer opinions and less advice. But after so many years of offering it freely, the gems crop up in unexpected places like the little bits of blubber that pop up when I put on Spanx. When my mechanic mentioned he was filming a commercial for his business, I insisted he cut his hair. I spent a half hour lecturing my favorite barista on the importance of college, oblivious to the mile-long line behind me. I admonished my boss for not taking her mother on that once-in-a-lifetime cruise to Iceland that her mom had been wanting. I can’t help myself. This unspent input is just too great not to share.

    I’m working on finding that happy medium. And I’m open to advice.

    I’m also cutting down on the time I Facebook stalk Ian. Sure, I’ll admit to enjoying the videos he posts, and I’m warming to his girlfriend of the last three years. She seems nice.  Her comments under his pictures are always witty and kind. But of course, she can’t measure up to my daughter.

    It’s been eight years since Ian and my daughter had their one and only coffee date. I wish it had been more successful, but I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet. Both he and my daughter, though in long relationships, remain unmarried.

    I figure I’ll unfriend whichever of them marries the wrong person first. And my next book will be called Conscious Unhovering: Transitioning Appropriately for the Everyday Parent. Once I learn how to do it.

    Surely somebody out there will find my advice useful.

    Lizbeth MeredithLizbeth Meredith is a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska.
    Her memoir Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters is a 2017 silver medalist at the IPPY Awards. Her work has appeared in Sunlight Press and on Jane Friedman’s blog. You can find her at lameredith.com, on Twitter @LizbethMeredith, and on Facebook.
  • “The Girls From Ames” Gave Me a Complex

    We have another brand new friendship essay from one of our amazing contributors, Shannan Ball Younger, who writes for Tween Us. Shannan shares her feelings about her own friendship history after reading Jeffrey Zaslow’s book about a group of women who have been friends since childhood. Did you read The Girls from Ames?

    Am I The Only Grown Woman in America Without a Close Friend From Childhood?

    While I found the book The Girls from Ames to be a good read, it gave me a complex, or at least significantly exacerbated one that I already had. It is the non-fiction account of 9 women who have been friends for decades who all grew up together in Ames, Iowa. They have remained close despite different life paths and geographical distance.

    And as I read it, I kept thinking, “What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I have those kinds of life-long friends?”

     

    Red book.I went away to college and graduate school and then moved even farther from where I grew up. I feel very, very fortunate to have a number of amazing girl friends, but I would not say that any of my close friends are the ones with whom I grew up.

    When I think about female friendships, I often feel like I have failed or that something is wrong with me because I am not friends with my best friend from kindergarten.

    Not that I don’t think of my kindergarten best friend on occasion. I remember the day we met and thinking that I should become friends with her because she was very fair taking turns on the slide at recess. We stayed friends through elementary school and even through middle school, which included a New Kids on the Block lip syncing contest that was broadcast on cable access.

    I feel like this is the beginning to all the great friendship stories, but mine comes to an end in high school. She became a goth as I became a band geek. I realize that it sounds like an episode of Glee; it pretty much was. I remember being in high school English class with her and trying to strike up a conversation as we neared graduation, but there just wasn’t a connection. We haven’t spoken since.

    Even those who were close friends in high school are ones from whom I’ve grown apart. While I certainly enjoy being Facebook friends and the occasional dinner when visiting my home state, they are among those with whom I confide, overshare or ask advice.

    I do have those friends, and I am crazy grateful for them, its just that I met them later in life.

    Why does that make me feel so odd? I wondered if my perception that I’m on of the few without a childhood friend to whom I’ve remained close for decades.

    This is not the first time that my perception is not, in fact, accurate.

    Jeffrey Zaslow, author of The Girls from Ames, wrote in a Wall Street Journal article that “a Harris Interactive Inc. survey in 2004 found that 39% of women between ages 25 and 55 said they met their current best friends in childhood or high school.”

    That means 61% of us do not have that life-long bond with a friend. That’s a pretty solid majority. I am not the friendship leper I feared I was. It’s more that a book about friends of a few years is apparently not quite as exciting to publishers as a friendship story spanning many decades like that of the Ames girls.

    I probably should have realized that I needed to get over my complex before reading that statistic, but honestly, it helped knowing that it’s not just me. I’m certain there are numerous reasons that I do not have those sustained childhood friendships, and those will take more than a blog to explore.

    Instead of wondering what was/is wrong with me, and there is a fair amount wrong with me, I’m going to focus on the close friends I have who remain in my life despite my flaws.

    That’s not to say that there isn’t great benefit and comfort in old friends, but I think I can say that I know that first hand. I find that one aspect of birthdays that I love now that I’m old not young is that it makes my college friends feel like “old” friends. We’re coming up on two decades of friendship and that’s pretty solid, in my opinion. The friendships with those girls are well aged, if you will.

    All this has called to mind the Girl Scout song “Make New Friends and Keep the Old.” (You hear it in your head now, don’t you?)

    A friend from college sent out an invitation not long ago to a cocktail party with the explanation that she knew a lot of “awesome women” (her word choice) and that she thought it was high time that we meet each other. There was no specific pressure to become friends, but we did. I loved the idea of friendships begetting more friendships.

    In the past year I’ve made new girlfriends with whom I’ve instantly clicked. They feel like old friends. I’m as comfortable with them as I am with my favorite, broken in sweatshirt. And for that I am grateful.

    Friendship cannot always be measured by a calendar. I’m wondering if it should be measured at all, or only in the quality and not quantity of smiles shared, ears bended, tissues passed, shoulders offered, hands lended and hugs given.

     

    As we prepare for the release of our book, The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendship, we have a special offer for e-mail subscribers only! We will send a newsletter on Friday to all subscribers with an exciting offer- if you aren’t a subscriber yet, it’s not too late! You can subscribe to our weekly email newsletter by entering your email address in the sidebar.

     

  • I’m Going Rogue: Punching Culture in the Face With a Phone Call

    We are so happy to bring you a brand new friendship essay from one of our HerStories Project contributors, Vicky Willenberg. Vicky blogs at The Pursuit of Normal, and her essay, Big Girl Friendships, is featured in our upcoming book, which will be available in just two weeks! We bet you will be able to relate to the post she is sharing with us today: 

    I’m going rogue.  I’m going to take a cultural norm and smack it upside the head.  Am I going to challenge gender roles and the unreasonable expectations thrust upon women? Um, not really.  Am I going to admit that I often forget to turn off the water while brushing my teeth and I don’t even feel badly about the wasted water? Nope.

    I… am going to call you. Well, not all of you. But I am definitely calling some of you.

    I am breaking the cultural chains that have tried to convince me that I cannot and should not call my friends.  The same chains that have bound me to my computer, iPad and smartphone and have brainwashed me into believing that I don’t have time to make phone calls. Even more tragic is the fact I’ve convinced myself that I don’t need to call, that my current means of communication are enough.

    But the truth is, they aren’t enough.  So I will be making some changes.  I won’t be texting, Facebooking or emailing you. There will be no tweeting, Instagramming or Google Circling. Well, there might still be some of that, but that’s not all there will be.

    The truth is, friends, I miss you. I miss the sound of your voice. I miss the way you roll your eyes when you’re telling me something your mother or mother-in-law did.  It’s been too long since I’ve seen you flail your arms as you share another story about your kid and how he just won’t pick up his clothes! And I miss nodding in solidarity when you heave a sigh and tell me how you and your husband feel more like roommates than lovers these days.

    I want to Laugh Out Loud with you and even Roll On The Floor Laughing. And when you tell me something utterly ridiculous, I want to Shake My Head. I mean physically shake my head with you… in the same room!

    I know it won’t be easy. We’ve become accustomed to this detached form communicating. It will be a tough habit to break largely because we did not arrive here intentionally.  Someone once told me that the best way to cook a frog is not to drop him in a pot of boiling water, but to put him in a pot of tepid water and set the heat to low.  Little by little the temperature will rise until the poor little sucker is cooking to death.  Unbeknownst to me, over the last few years I think I’ve slowly boiled my friendships to death.

    When I had my first child, I regularly chatted with girlfriends on the phone because my son was confined.  I could strap him into the swing or the bouncy seat and he happily stared at his feet or gnawed on his fist. But those days passed much more quickly than I expected.  Soon, he was on the move and all bets were off.  The minute I got on the phone he decided it was time to attempt climbing the stairs for the first time or riding the dog.  Talking on the phone was a bit like this…

    Vicky

    Next came the parenting phenomenon known as The Magnetic Phone began. The second I picked up the phone, my children were drawn to me like magnets with life or death questions such as, “Can you read this for me?” or “Do you know where my Lego guy is?” and my personal favorite, “Can I have a snack?”

    The next phase of parenting brought on the harsh reality that the “little ears” that rode around in my car were now big ears attached to an even bigger mouth; and unless I wanted my business discussed with the entire third grade or announced loudly in the aisles of Target, I needed to conduct all “adult conversations” after hours, in private.

    And so, it became virtually impossible to have meaningful conversations with my friends.  Slowly and surely I adapted and the Age of Texting dawned.

    I’ve come to realize, though, that this really isn’t communicating because “communication” by definition is the “exchanging of information.”  There was no “exchanging” going on. I was more or less dumping information as quickly as I could in a tiny window of time.

    I equate texting to Grammatical Photo Bombing. While stopped at a red light I am furiously texting the latest events of my life as fast as my fat thumbs and autocorrect will allow. I breathe a sigh of relief that I finished before the light turned green, hit send and I’m on my way.  You, on the other hand, are not sitting at a red light.  You are driving your child to soccer, while mentally planning dinner, reminding yourself to sign that permission slip and trying to figure out when you’re going to fold that clean load of laundry that has been sitting in the basket for 4 days.  Suddenly BOOM! You’ve got a text- smack in the middle of your life.  Like the goofy guy who waves and flashes a giant smile in the background of your photo, interrupting the romantic atomosphere, I’ve just interrupted your groove with a 2 paragraph synopsis of a recent altercation I had with a friend.  So you read it, plan your reply because you are a law abiding citizen and don’t text at red lights (unlike me) and get around to texting me when you have time- anywhere from 2 hours to 3 days later.

    This, friends, is not communicating. Whatever it is, it’s not enough for me. My friendships are worth more than 140 characters, the length of a red light, or the 11 minutes I sit in the carpool pick up line at school. YOU, my friends, are worth more.

    I wholeheartedly believe we were designed for community.  Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, the need to connect and share is ingrained in us. Our technology based lives trick us into believe that Text Bombing is connecting.

    I don’t feel like it’s been ages since I’ve seen you because I saw a picture of you and your sweet family at the pumpkin patch just yesterday.  Although sweet, that 3 second glimpse of you doesn’t strengthen our friendship nor does it tell me anything other than where you are.  But I want to know how you are. And I need to tell you how I am.

    Pictures and fun updates have their value of course. But I don’t necessarily need my friends to share in the fun happy times nearly as much as I need you when my life is in the crapper and I’m drowning in my over-scheduled, over-carpooled, over-guilted life. And no one’s posting that stuff on Facebook and if they are, they’re certainly not getting any “likes” for it.

    Simply put, the current trend of drive-by communicating does not satisfy my soul.

    The women I have chosen to call “friends” are amazing, complex people. They are women who enrich my life and help me be my best self.  Our friendships are beautiful and deep and fulfilling. And in order to glean all that they have to offer, I must invest the time to connect- truly connect, in a way that is meaningful.

    So I’m taking back my friendships. I’m restructuring my priorities and rediscovering what made you all my favorite people.  I’m going to call you. I’m going to stutter and mumble and giggle and drone on and on and on, on your answering machine. And if you have 5 minutes to call me back- awesome.  And if you don’t- well, that’s OK too because I know how busy you are and how hectic your schedule is.  But I want you to know in a way that’s meaningful to me, that YOU are important to me and I’d love to hear your voice when you’ve got some time.

    Being a rebel feels pretty good. You should join me.

    That’s just my normal.

     

  • Stronger Than Me

    BeFunky_Cartoonizer_1.jpgWe are featuring a powerful friendship essay today from Rose Townsend of Naturally Educated. Rose’s story of friendship and loss reminds us to be grateful for the time we have spent with those we have loved. Read her moving tribute to her college friend:

    I hate being sick. It makes me miserable and angry (ask my husband). I resent the time lost and dwell on tasks undone. I curse my body for betraying me. For preventing me from operating at full capacity. I don’t have time for that shit.

    Fortunately, (for everyone) it doesn’t happen often. Recently, I got sick for the first time in years. I reacted exactly as described above. While I complained and whined and cursed the nasty virus, I thought about my college roommate.

    I thought about the night I met her. I pictured her sitting in the house we shared as I unpacked. Arms wrapped around her knees, talking and listening. The conversation came easily and we were instant friends.

    I thought about sitting across from her at dinner. We made “real” meals together. Actual chicken (shake and bake) and veggies (frozen) and noodles (from a box). Pretty classy by college standards. She would sit and say “Mmm mmm,” as we bragged about our gourmet meal to our housemates. (They were so freaking jealous.)

    I thought about playing beer pong in our basement and drinking shots of rum and grape Kool aid. And dancing. Crazy, dizzy dancing that involved loud singing and jumping and smiling until our faces hurt.

    I thought about lazy weekends. I pictured her on the couch watching cheesy Lifetime movies and eating take out.

    I thought about watching the only girl fight I have ever seen. (Which may or may not have involved her kicking someone’s ass while I watched in shock and admiration)

    I thought about her dancing at my wedding. And about how happy I was to meet her fiancé and be at her wedding shower. And how amazing they both were with my kids a year later when met for a winter walk at a park.

    I thought about the phone call I got a few weeks later. The news shook me, but her voice never wavered. Breast cancer, she said. This isn’t going to kill me, she said. I just have to get through it, she said. No tears. No nonsense.

    I thought about the timeline. Done by next year at this time. Back on track with her life’s plan. One year later arrived and all was well. I admired her strength and courage and ability to remain calm and focused. She did it. I knew she would.

    I thought about the phone call a few months later. The cancer was back. In her lungs and inoperable. She talked casually about leg surgery and being unable to climb the stairs in her house. She was in her early thirties. I felt angry. I’m sure she must have too, but she never said it to me. She kept me up to date on her condition and asked what was going on in my life.

    I thought about her concern for her husband. About how she joked over lunch that if anything happened to her, he wouldn’t know how to access their bank accounts. She would give him a tutorial just in case. She talked about him often. She thought about what he needed. About how he was suffering. So completely selfless. So very in love.

    I thought about the last time I saw her. My five year old saw a money jar in her living room and forwardly asked if he could borrow some. She quickly grabbed her wallet and made his day by giving him some change. She had made so many of my days just by being there.

    I thought about one of our last conversations. The cancer was in her brain. She talked about her weekend away with her husband and time at the beach with family. She talked about how there were still more medications to try. The doctor said they would keep trying. If she knew she was close to the end, she never let on to me. Still no tears, no complaints. Just unbelievable courage.

    I thought about the voice mail I left her the day before she died. I thought about the snow on the way to her funeral. I thought about how there is no way that all she was could fit into the tiny box they wheeled up the aisle of the church that morning.

    I thought about her strength. Since the day I met her, she personified strength. I admired her for it then. I am in awe of it now. I don’t know how the hell she fought the fight she did. I was pissed at a virus that would be over in a few days. She had been fighting for her life. But she was much stronger than me.

    I would like to say that all these thoughts made me stop being a miserable sick person, that I sucked it up and showed a little of the strength I saw in her. But that would be a lie.

    20121124_131237What these thoughts did do, was make me even more thankful to have known her. Thankful that someone that kind, that honest, that fun, that strong would call me a friend. Thankful to have spent a year under the same roof–laughing, crying, singing, dancing and really living with her. Thankful that we kept in touch. Thankful to have told her she was one of my all time favorite people (she totally was). Thankful she met my children. Thankful for that last hug and that I can still remember the sound of her voice so clearly. And see her smile. And picture her dancing.

    As for getting angry at illnesses and life’s other annoyances, I’m guessing she would advise me to be strong and positive. She would probably tell me not to be so miserable. She would encourage me to embrace every moment I have here whether those moments are ideal or painful. I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t want me to complain or feel sorry for myself. As her passing tragically proved, we don’t have time for that shit.

    20130501_124213(0)Rose Townsend is a stay at home mom with three children and a leader of her local Down syndrome interest group.  She blogs about using her children’s interests, nature and travel to create meaningful learning experiences for the whole family at naturallyeducated.com.

  • World’s Best Mom?

    We are excited to feature a moving friendship essay today from Jamie Krug. Jamie writes candidly about her family’s unique story on her blog, Our Stroke of Luck, and is a regular contributor to Huffington Post. Has a close friend ever helped you to see yourself from a different perspective?

    Today, I had a long overdue conversation with my best friend in the world… Nothing remarkable was planned for this chat, and we really just spoke about what’s going on in our lives. She’s telling me about the unfortunate and coincidental timing of her gutted kitchen setup looking eerily similar to one of the “kill rooms” Dexter set up the night before during their completion of a marathon viewing of the previous season, and I’m talking/complaining/freaking out about what’s going on with Parker and Owen right now. Parker has Psoriatic Arthritis and Sensory Processing Disorder. Add to that having a brother with special needs and it’s a lot for a not-quite five year-old to take.

    Her three and a half year old brother Owen had a stroke in utero and has Cerebral Palsy. To put it so succinctly in one simple sentence seems almost laughable based on how complicated the circumstances around his birth turned out, and the equally unsure footing I’ve felt as a parent ever since. He has a long road ahead of him, and our entire family will be on that road with him. And I consider Rachel to be part of that family.

    And then she said it.

    Rachel told me that I was a wonderful mother and that she hoped I knew it. She told me that she looked up to me and my parenting. I was so taken aback that I almost simultaneously burst out laughing and began bawling. Instead, I do what I’ve been doing for the past eleven months or so – I tried to shrug it off. I’m not comfortable with people telling me I’m a good mother, or doing a good job, etc. There is an unease about it for me that I actually can put my finger on, but am choosing not to at this point.

    It was different when Rachel said it to me though. We are peers and equals, each with our own strengths and weaknesses of character, but I have looked up to Rachel since high school. She has (at least in my eyes) seamlessly achieved her goals along the path I wish I had taken. You know, the easy one – in a straight line. My path has meandered a bit – taken a right, or was that a left? A few u-turns thrown in, and a lot of parallel parking. I’ve clearly taken the metaphor too far, but I’m committed at this point so I need to run with it (or should I say drive the point home?)…

    She is my equal, yes – but she was always the glue that held me together. We used to joke around that if she decided to go into psychology, her “real-world” experience treating me should allow her to skip her internship altogether. We have been through a lot together. There are things that Rachel knows about me that Scott likely doesn’t. Yet another wonderful thing about the man that I married, is that Scott respects that and has no problem stepping aside when he knows that she is better “schooled” on that aspect of me or my life, past, etc. There are situations where her advice is more meaningful to me than his may be based solely on the fact that she has always been there and might know more about the history of a particular situation. I will say that again because it is important – she has always been there.

    IMG_4254-1Rachel will give it to me straight, too. She is definitely not a “smoke blower”. She looks out for me, but has no problem putting me in my place when she feels I’m wrong. I’d like to think I do the same for her. Honesty and friendship like that is a rare gift. So is someone breaking you of your life-long insecurity-based habit of apologizing to everyone for everything – she did it by telling me to f**k myself every single time I said “I’m sorry” to her for anything she deemed unnecessary of an apology. There were a lot of F-bombs dropped during our conversations for a while, but I finally got it.

    For this fantastic woman – my dearest friend – whom I love like a sister and respect beyond words, to tell me that there was something about me that she looked up to, well, it made me take notice. Maybe I am a good mother. Perhaps better than my doubts will allow me to accept. Maybe “just doing the best that I can” is enough.

    I know I’m not the only mother out there to wonder if she’s doing a good job. The difference here is that I genuinely feel (and I think I’m correct about this on some level) that the success and health of my children is riding on it in a different way than the average parent. The pressure I feel is enormous. To be honest, some days I’m not sure if I’m going to crack or explode! Am I bringing Owen to the right therapists? Am I doing enough with him at home? Is there someone else out there that I should/could be having him treated by? Is Parker getting the right amount of therapy? Do I need to change her preschool to one that will be more accommodating to her needs? What can I be doing at home to help her? What am I doing at home that is potentially exacerbating this and how do I know the difference?

    IMG_5074When Parker was little, before Owen came along, I remember wringing my hands over whether or not to change pediatricians… The differences likely being subtle between the practices I was considering, I’m looking back now at that naive woman who thought she had a really difficult decision and chuckling sadly. Now, making a decision to change practitioners for Owen could mean the difference between him walking or not – and if so, with or without a limp. If I choose the wrong therapist, I am taking the risk that he will not have full use of his hands, or speak properly, or eat solid foods before he’s five. I try as hard as I can not to think about the immense implications of the decisions I make on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, but the truth is still there – these seemingly small decisions have gigantic consequences down the road.

    I do not want to put aside my partner in this – Scott. He is incredible and is definitely in on all of the major decisions, and about a million more of the minor ones than he likely needs to be. He is my anchor, but I steer the ship. I am their mother. I am home all day long with them, making all of the microscopic decisions, that individually might not make a difference, but as a conglomerate likely will.

    I am doing the best I can, and maybe – just maybe – it’s more than just good enough. Maybe, it’s just plain good. Somehow, though I’ve been hearing it for months now from other people, hearing it from Rachel makes me a little bit closer to believing that it might be true. If she was just saying it to make me feel better, well, she can go f**k herself.

     

    photo-8Jamie Krug is a stay-at-home-mom with a full-time job as the CMO (Chief Medical Officer) of her family. Her work has been featured on the Huffington Post where she is a regular contributor. She is mother to an inquisitive daughter named Parker and the mischievous-grinned Owen.Her blog, http://www.OurStrokeOfLuck.net, tells the story of her family’s day-to-day struggles and triumphs in the wake of the devastating and still largely misunderstood rare diagnosis her son received at birth.She prides (embarrasses?) herself by stating out loud what other mothers may feel but wouldn’t dare say…You can follow Jamie on Twitter @OurStrokeOfLuck or on her Facebook Page for Our Stroke Of Luck.