HerStories

  • “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.

     

  • My Momtourage

    We are excited to share an essay from Dana at Celiac Kiddo today. Dana shares her transition to new motherhood, and the women she was lucky enough to share this journey with. Dana has a fantastic blog- if someone in your family is gluten-free or has Celiac Disease, you should definitely check her out. And if not, you should still head over there, as she writes about motherhood in such an honest, entertaining way.

    mom and baby a rare moment of peaceWhen I had my first child five years ago, I was lucky enough to have a momtourage. Together we were four brand new deer in headlights mamas struggling to figure out life post babies. For nearly a year we spent countless hours in each other’s homes, at cafes, and in parks while carrying, wearing, or strolling our new babies, trying to make sense of our strange new life. We talked, nursed, cried, advised, and confided. Our last time together was at my daughter’s second birthday, but we had begun to drift apart well before then.

    Sounds dramatic, but it wasn’t. We were friends of proximity. The kind of friends that are drawn together because of shared circumstances. Our friendship was intense, as those kinds often are, born out of fear and the unknown, burning like fire until the flames die down.

    I met my momtourage in childbirth class. About ten couples gathered every week for six weeks to listen intently to a neighborhood woman who had not one, but two babies (!) and was trained in such matters. I thought of her as a guru of sorts, someone who was supposed to reveal the secrets of the universe, which for our class of first time mamas-to-be was how the hell to have a baby. As the class wound down and our due dates approached, our teacher set up an email contact list. In the weeks that followed, we learned the names and saw the smushed up faces of the babies who had brought us together.

    A few of us continued emailing after the initial announcements, and somehow less than two months after having my baby, I ended up meeting three of my classmates on a sweltering June day. The “oldest” baby was mine, at about seven weeks, the others coming in close behind. Though we were relative strangers, even after our six-hour course, that first afternoon we couldn’t talk enough. From the moment we walked through the door of Amy’s apartment with our tiny babies in tow, stories spilled out of our mouths. We tried taking turns, but it was impossible not to chime in and interrupt each other. It wasn’t rudeness, but excitement, and more specifically, utter relief at having found one another. New motherhood is like being airlifted and dropped into another country where you don’t know the language, geography, or the culture. You stumble along feeling totally shell-shocked until suddenly you run into another traveler who you understand, and better still, understands you.

    baby gang age approx 4 monthsWhen you’re pregnant, labor and delivery seems like the penultimate event, but as we mothers all know, it’s only the opening monologue to a play that lasts the rest of your life. Those first friendships I forged in the fire of new motherhood saved me from losing my mind, and my sense of humor. Because right alongside the ecstatic joy of having a new baby is the utter despair upon realizing your “life” is irrevocably changed. Like, forever.

    Even though we’re not all still in touch, I will always be grateful to these three women who made up my momtourage. Names have been changed, but the details are for real.

     

    Hanna

    I remember picking up Hanna on the way to Amy’s home for our first official get together. I had warned her that my baby would probably scream in the car (as she did most of the time except when she was passed out on my body). Hanna took it in stride and sang the whole way while I drove white knuckled. She was always like that, kind hearted and easygoing, never making me feel self-conscious about my colicky baby. I will always remember how she unabashedly sang Old McDonald for the zillionth time to soothe my fussy girl while strolling down crowded city sidewalks, and for the countless moments of kindness she consistently offered, and continues to offer, to both me and my daughter.

     

    Julie

    My gratitude to Julie reaches back to the very first days of our friendship when she graciously invited my family to dinner at her home. Her husband is a chef, so considering our post-baby meals were almost 100% take-out, this was bound to be a real treat. But still I hesitated. Dinner hour was my baby’s prime screaming time, but Julie didn’t seem fazed. In the end, her laid back manner eased my anxiety, and my sweet yet high strung baby somehow followed suit and fell asleep on the car ride over. My husband and I were able to eat dinner while both babies slept angelically on the table beside our perfectly cooked lamb burgers. Soon after Julie and I enjoyed our first glasses of wine post partum while our husbands’ fed the babies pumped milk. It was my first moment of “normalcy” and I will never forget how good that meal tasted. Not to mention the wine.

     playdate--beautiful chaos

    Amy

    My gratitude toward Amy is all wrapped up in loneliness and a respite from loneliness. Just a few days before our babies were born, we met at a local bakery and politely exchanged stories. When she revealed to me that her son would be named after her mother, who had passed away years before, I nearly dropped my cupcake. My own mom had died shortly before I became pregnant, and that recent loss was still so raw. After our babies were born we mourned our mutual sadness, which was twofold: how our mothers would never hold our babies, and how our mothers would never know us as mothers.

    Motherhood can be a lonely and isolating time. Motherhood without a mother perhaps even more so. There is something to be said about shared pain, and I will always be grateful to Amy for understanding my loss.

     

    Loneliness might be powerful, but so is friendship. The stories here are only the tip of the iceberg. The rest lies beneath the surface and buoys me up, even now five years and another child later: a rock solid foundation of support, solidarity, and love.

    The four kids at age two
    The four kids at age two

    Dana Schwartz is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York with her husband, two wild kids, and two neglected cats. She writes about her family’s journey with celiac disease on her blog, http://celiackiddo.wordpress.com

     

  • Friendship Breakup Lessons: Here’s What I Learned

    friendship breakup lessons

    Losing a friend is so painful that it’s difficult to learn any friendship breakup lessons. That comes with time.

    I have often marveled at the parallels between friendship and romantic relationships, especially romantic breakups and friendship breakups. Finding new friends can be disturbingly similar to dating, complete with awkwardness, insecurity, and butterflies. Really connecting with a new friend can feel much like falling in love, as you find yourself bringing the other person up in conversation when you are not together. And breaking up with a close friend can be just as devastating as breaking up with a partner.

    Jessica and I have been reading Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend by the “Friendship Doctor,” Irene Levine.  In her book, Dr. Levine talks about why friendships fall apart, how to cope with getting dumped by a friend, how to end an irreparable friendship, and how to move forward after a traumatic friendship split.

    She pinpoints many of the various reasons that  friendships can disintegrate and also helps shed light on when it is worthwhile to mend the relationship, or better to cut your losses and move on.

    Last week Jessica wrote about toxic friendships: how to spot them and how to handle them. This week, I am going to share the story of one of my closest friends, and the painful breakup we experienced.

    I met Shannon shortly after I moved to Denver, having completed a post-graduation internship and secured my very first real job. Shannon was interning with the small company of music therapists I worked for, and we found ourselves connecting through our magnetic need to process the intensity and hilarity of the groups we were learning to lead. After co-teaching a music class for toddlers and parents, we would often stand in the parking lot for close to an hour afterwards, laughing at our mistakes and the unexpected turns our session had taken.

    I remember the exact day we began to consider ourselves true friends- we met after a monumental work week to celebrate with cocktails at a trendy bar. Over Dreamsicles, we exchanged stories, laughed, and disclosed personal details that further cemented our connection. We continued our “first date” long into the evening, and emerged from this rite of passage as kindred spirits. Each subsequent year, we acknowledged that anniversary by returning to the bar and ordering the same drinks.

    Shannon soon became a staple in my life; each Wednesday, along with another girlfriend, we honored Ladies Night, and took turns hosting and cooking for one another. Our raucous evenings included lots of wine, dessert, laughter, and profuse oversharing. We often spent hours on the phone together after our work days, debriefing each other on our challenging clients, commiserating about our incompetent boss, and of course, laughing until we were breathless.

    We traveled together, briefly lived together, and were bridesmaids in each other’s weddings. Even after the birth of my first daughter, we maintained our tradition of Ladies Night, though we had a tiny new member who was passed around each week. My transition to motherhood definitely impacted all of my friendships, and also inspired me to seek out new friends who were experiencing similar struggles and challenges.

    Girls NightWhen my daughter was about eight months old, Shannon and I broke up. It was not a gradual fade, though I’m certain my transition into motherhood along with my decision to file for divorce from my first husband was a burden on our relationship.

    But our breakup happened suddenly, in the most dramatic and unmistakable way possible- a blowout. I will refrain from sharing the details of our blowout, because I don’t believe it is productive or appropriate to rehash it; suffice it to say, hurtful words were exchanged, and both of us walked away from the experience feeling wounded and misunderstood.

    We did not reach out to each other. My life was changing significantly, and I was swept along by the inescapable wave of single motherhood, navigating new roles, and eventually, finding a new relationship with my husband. I thought of her frequently; I no longer enjoyed Ladies Night on Wednesdays, I didn’t have anyone who would fully appreciate my music class anecdotes, and her absence was felt sharply at my daughter’s first birthday party.

    Months went by, and though I had other friends, I did not have Shannon. I missed her intensely, with the deep ache of someone who has become a refugee from their home. But I clung to my sense of justice and wounded pride, and did not contact her. And then one Christmas I received a text message from her. Merry Christmas. Missing you. It was late at night when I saw the message, and my heart began to pound with shock and elation. I called her the very next day, and we made plans to get together for dinner.

    I will always remember where we went, what I ate, and even where we sat. We filled each other in on the tremendous changes and tiny joys that we had missed out on.

    Avoid rehashing old arguments.

    We carefully navigated the tender details of our breakup, and were able to hear one another, understand things with a fuller perspective, and make amends. That was over five years ago, and we have stayed close ever since. We do not often revisit the context of our breakup; I still maintain that it is unproductive to rehash old arguments, no matter what type of relationship you are in. Unless you have found yourself in an unhealthy pattern that continues to reappear, it is often enough to acknowledge the isolated disagreement and move on.

    However, I do think it is possible, and beneficial, to learn from a friendship break.

    Think about the balance between honesty and support.

    In our case, Shannon and I learned a lot about what lines to avoid crossing in terms of offering advice, appearing judgmental, and speaking our fullest opinions. Dr. Levine refers to the importance of finding a balance between honesty and support. My friendship break helped me to clarify my own opinions and practices when reconciling the role of honesty vs support in relationships.

    Severing ties (temporarily) in times of flux can help a relationship.

    While it was never my intention to end my friendship with Shannon, when I reflect back on our breakup, I feel that it served a purpose for us both. Sometimes when we are experiencing great flux in our lives, be it the transition of motherhood, career change, divorce, or even a move, we need to temporarily sever ties with a friend in order to fully move forward and reinvent ourselves.

    Dr. Levine devotes an entire chapter to friendships in flux, discussing the various life changes and transitions that can take a toll on relationships. I saw this happen with several of my best college friends, many of whom are an important part of my life today; we simply needed to break away from one another, learn who we were outside of the context of our friendships, grow up a little, and then assess whether we still belonged in each other’s lives. And unless the friendship has become toxic, is no longer relevant, or irreparable harm has been done, it is often possible, and even therapeutic, to find your way back after a friendship break.

    In an earlier HerStories essay, Nina Badzin shared her insightful perspective in The Case For A Friendship Break. Her piece deeply resonated with me, as I have successfully rebounded from several friendship breaks, including Shannon’s, as well as others that were more gradual. I think that sometimes they are necessary, and provide the space and perspective to grow, process, and reevaluate the role of the friendship.

    Wedding shower 419I will be forever grateful that Shannon reached out to me that Christmas night; she was present when I remarried, celebrated with me when my husband adopted my daughter, and supported me after the birth of my second child.

    She is the friend who keeps me grounded- the friend who knew me “back when,” who understands who I am at my core, and who knows me apart from my children. She makes me feel appreciated, celebrated, and listened to. Shannon is a friend who brings out my sense of joy, a friend that I laugh with more than almost any other person, and a friend who isn’t afraid to get muddy wading around in the depths of our own psyches.

    She is not my fellow mom friend, nor is she a friend of convenience. We have to work hard and put forth a lot of effort to make time for each other. Shannon is the proof that some friendships, the ones that are truly meant to be, can survive a break-up and emerge even stronger.

  • 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.

  • The Miles Between Us

    I am so excited about today’s guest essay. It comes from one of my “real life friends” Erica; even more noteworthy, she is the friend featured in the very first HerStories friendship essay! My story of our friendship, which began during a time of shared loss, inspired Erica to add her own essay, a poignant narrative of a friendship and its deterioration. Erica was unsure about contributing to the series, as she does not consider herself to be a “writer.” After you read The Miles Between Us, I think you may have to respectfully disagree with her. -Stephanie

     

    My good friend Erica (left) and me at a girls' night out.

     

    Mandy and I met just once before we became roommates. A mutual friend suggested we move in together since neither of us could afford a one bedroom in the pricey college town to which we were both relocating. We secured a two bedroom apartment online, left for separate summers, and arrived in town a week before our graduate classes began.

    As a logic-driven, athletic, assertive person, I don’t click with a lot of women – it seems they find me overly direct and not gentle enough. The first week Mandy and I circled each other gingerly, but began sharing strategies for the transition we were both making: directions to the DMV, where to find a cheap, tasty burrito. We quickly found that we made excellent roommates, and had many quirky similarities in our personal histories. As an engineer, Mandy also operates from a predominantly logical mind frame, so our communication was easy and natural. As we each began to get a few social invitations, we shared those, too. Finally, we tried running together, and found we were well matched in stride, pace and distance – eureka!

    Before long, Mandy and I were nearly inseparable. We cooked dinner together most nights, had the same social circle, and developed a hundred inside jokes. We both settled in and got quite busy but we often made a point to schedule our run together. We giggled even as we huffed along, talked about being bridesmaids in each others’ weddings, and eventually shared the most painful, raw parts of ourselves. I haven’t had a friendship quite like it since middle school; full of shared discovery, with the intensity of a romance. If I were to repeat some of what she told me about herself, you might understand more of what happened later, but I won’t, not ever. The sharing that happens when you’re that intimate is sacred, even if the sanctuary crumbles.

    Mandy met one of my mountaineering buddies, Ben. He’s a warm, affectionate person who flirted casually with most women until the moment he met Mandy. Instantly, she was the sun and the moon to him. It only took a few weeks before she felt the same about him. I was thrilled; it was fun to be in the glow of their giddy love, and I was crazy about both of them so I had no problem with the fact that he spent a huge amount of time at our place. But as we were about to finish our degrees, Mandy began to pull away. I asked her why, and eventually she let me know I’d transgressed an important boundary: I’d used her special nickname for Ben as if it were mine, too. I was taken aback, as we’d shared every little expression and gesture for two years, but it made perfect sense that they needed separateness in their relationship. I apologized, and never did it again, but she continued to treat me as a third wheel when they were at our place. It started to get annoying, but we all were under the pressure of finishing up so I let it slide.

    We all graduated, moved out, and I rambled around Asia for several months. I figured that when I got back Mandy and Ben’s relationship would be settled in and she and I would continue being best friends without the enmeshment. After a fun initial reunion, I called every few days, but Mandy put me off saying how busy she was. I fell back to our old strategy: I offered to join her for a run, knowing she always made time for her daily workout. When that took weeks, I knew something was up. Once we were finally on the trail hitting a good stride, I asked her what had I done? How could I fix it?

    Mandy said she just wasn’t comfortable any more with how people had seen us as a unit. She referenced her typical pattern of keeping her close female friends in distinct social groups. She’d made some new friends through Ben and she didn’t want me to meet them. But she assured me I hadn’t done anything wrong for which I should – or could – make amends. It was basically the age-old, It’s not you, it’s me. She suggested we spend “less” time together. Since we’d previously had daily contact that seemed easy to achieve within a healthy friendship. But after several months in which my regular invitations yielded two stilted visits and no reciprocation, I felt frustrated and hurt. I said, It’s too weird begging to be around you. I was explicit: I’ll give you some space, I won’t call you, but please, call me as soon as you’re ready. That was eleven years ago. She hasn’t called.

    Initially, when we saw each other at gatherings it was intensely painful for me, and more so that she seemed unaffected. I hoped for her call, but there was nothing for months until an invitation to her out-of-state wedding showed up in the mail. I had a rush of hope that she was also inviting me back into her life. I reached out cautiously by email with something leading like, I got the invitation, thank you! The venue sounds great, I’m curious to hear more about it. How are you? Mandy replied, I’m good but very busy. I hope you’re doing well. It would be great if you can make it. Ouch. I realized it was Ben who wanted to include me. Still, I waited until the day of the deadline before I checked “Regretfully Declines” on the RSVP.

    I may have burned a bridge by not going, but I’m pretty sure it was already destroyed. Seriously, would it have made sense to travel all that way to stand wistfully watching Mandy in a crowd of people, while knowing that she had no intention of seeing me in the town where we both lived? I had a final cry-myself-to-sleep over it during the weekend of her wedding, and then resolved to make my peace with our distance.

    After a couple of years, I could see her without getting a lump in my throat. When I ran into her a week before the birth of her first child, I knew what to say to make her feel ok, and she thanked me, and it felt good to be able to do something small but positive with our old intimacy. The last time I saw Mandy was at a party when her daughter was a few months old. I toted the baby around for a while, giving Mandy and Ben a chance to mingle. Our interactions felt lighthearted, if superficial. I felt healed.

    I had my first child, a son, several years later. My husband and I chose a classic but uncommon name, Miles, as a tribute to his paternal grandmother, Millie. Miles was not an easy baby, but he’s the apple of my eye. When Miles was about five months old, a friend called to gently tell me some news: Mandy and Ben just had their baby boy. And, well, I thought you should know… they named him Miles. When our surprised mutual friend asked if she’d heard the news and name of my son, Mandy reportedly said vaguely, Hmm, yeah, I think I did hear that.

    I was amazed that the anger and grief I thought was gone came rushing back that day, and stayed with me for several months whenever I thought about it. For me, Mandy’s choice of a name for her son encapsulated everything about her and me: How much we’re alike, how far she pushed us apart, and how completely she shed any feeling of connection to me. That quirky little sameness in our mothering further hints at another layer of loss; of what we might have been to each other as support through the challenges of transitioning from our efficient, active pre-child selves into the milky, sleep-deprived terrain of motherhood. Then again, had we stayed friends, only one of us could have used the name since it would have been too darn confusing when we called out to our two little boys scampering together up the trail… As it is, despite my strong initial reaction, Mandy is right: the fact that our sons have the same name simply doesn’t matter. It’s been nearly four years since her son was born, and we’ve never even met each other’s Miles.

     

  • 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.