Friday, March 25, 2011

unconditional friendship

"Love is the unconditional support of imperfect human beings."

My MIL put this as her FB status this morning, and it got me thinking. Of course, I was already thinking, you might say overthinking. At some point, I'd really love to stop overthinking, but that would require a level of engagement in some project or other, and outside of the day to day, and the fact that in five weeks I'll be a mother for the second time, I have nothing going on. I've been inspired to write again after a long hiatus because of an incident that occurred the day before yesterday.

One of my first impulses was to write a story or maybe a screenplay, something like "Mean Girls" but based on a group of stay at home moms in Berkeley. Then I wanted to write an essay, something like, "SAHM: The Failed Experiment." But then I thought, I haven't blogged much since I quit my job, moved to Berkeley and decided to stay at home full time. Living began to take up a lot more time than it used to, downtime became scarce, and I had less and less time for reflection. This past Christmas I bought a new journal, but soon reflective writing gave way to grocery lists, budget spreadsheets, in short, necessary, but unfeeling things. In the meantime, my thoughts have built up to dangerous levels, and now at this crossroads, I find myself on the verge of emotional eruption.

So what happened? Well, a friend of mine (and I use that word loosely now) after several weeks of being MIA from my life (begging out of playdates, avoiding me in social circles, etc.) wrote me an email saying she was cutting off our friendship, as we are "incompatible, playdate-wise." She cited no specific instances, but said she has the impression that I feel her sons are too rowdy to hang with my daughter, and she feels that I don't like her older son. She feels I am an overprotective parent, and she feels the need to be overly controlling of her boys when spending time with us; basically, being with us isn't fun anymore, and she's done.

I defended myself in my reply the best I could, having nothing really to go on but her general feelings. One of her boys is two years older than my daughter, and he's very physical. But during our playdates, he tends to ignore my daughter and play with his older friends. Her younger son is my daughter's age, and in general, they've gotten along very well. So I really don't know what she's talking about.

Maybe I did something(s) to offend her, but I don't know what I did, so I can't explain myself. She doesn't want to give me the opportunity to defend myself, she simply doesn't want to spend time with me or my daughter anymore. To make this more confusing, she says she's enjoyed spending time with me in an "adult setting," that our friendship was real, but wasn't meant to last. This playdate incompatibility seems to be a deal-breaker for her.

So where does this leave me? Well, at first, I must admit I was devastated. Not because she was such a close friend, but I did care about her, and never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd be on the receiving end of any unkindness from her. I felt a keen sense of loss, but I soon realized the depth and complexity of my feelings were triggered by the email, but in fact, had very little to do with it or the friendship.

My hurt was compounded by the fact that my feelings of isolation are mounting as my pregnancy comes to a close and I get ready to embark on this new chapter in my life. My postpartum period after my daughter was born was one of the loneliest times I can remember, and I'm anxious about having to go through it again. Not a great time for someone to give me a detailed account of why they don't want to be around me.

And then, there are my particular insecurities. Pretty much since I've been a mom, I have feared being judged by my "mom friends." My little girl is extraordinary in many ways, but she's also very challenging. She has almost no fear of new situations or people, even kids that are overtly unkind to her. She is extremely willful and is only beginning now to be at all concerned about her own physical safety. I try not to shadow her, but I'm often afraid for her, and I struggle between trying to keep her safe and not seem like a "helicopter" parent. The few times I've really pulled back and been less than vigilant (usually in a social settings with other moms), she's been hurt or frightened, and I've felt nearly destroyed with guilt because I've let other's opinions of me as a parent interfere with what I know my child needs. The fact is, what I think is best for my daughter may make me unpopular, and I need to be OK with that. No one knows her better than I do or loves her more, which is why I made the decision to stay home with her in the first place.

The last time I blogged in the fall of '09, I was going to the park every day on my own, sometimes having nice conversations with other moms, but mostly feeling frustrated. Not long after, I met several women through a friend. We hit it off, and I was invited to join their playgroup. This became a weekly meeting, and led to other activities. As I widened my circle of friends in Berkeley, my confidence in my new stay at home life grew. I had a routine, new friends for my daughter, a full calendar, people to talk to. None of it was perfect, and I often felt I was a part of these new groups "on approval," but I was determined to make my new friendships work.

Now it's a year and half later, and the last nine months have been especially turbulent. My more difficult, stressful and exhausting second pregnancy coincided with a ramping up of my toddler's challenging behavior. She began running away from me (often into a street or parking lot), defying me, throwing dangerous, frightening tantrums, hitting, kicking, biting, etc., etc., etc. One of these tantrums landed us in the emergency room a few days before Christmas. When/if we got out of the house each day, it was only after a protracted struggle that left me feeling frustrated and helpless. I began to avoid playdates farther from home, or that might involve crowds my wayward child might get lost in. Not being able to run or pick her up added to the potential stress of many scenarios.

At the same time, the connections I'd made in the past year began to unravel, for different reasons, which added to my feelings of stress and isolation. People moved, or their children started school, or their children's nap schedules changed, or their activities. It was around this time, I guess, that I offended my friend, and she began to disappear from my day to day too. No wonder, I think, looking back. When I'm that stressed out, I tend to forget to try to be the most pleasing version of myself. It's hard to see anything else but my own strain.

So now what? Well, thankfully, I didn't move to Berkeley bereft of friends, they were just far flung at the time, and we've made serious efforts to bridge time and space and stay connected. The night of the dreaded email, I called one of them (who's now a mom of a toddler herself and moved to Berkeley last year) in a panic. I'd been in a nasty mood during our last playdate and I was afraid, irrationally afraid, that she was nursing some grudge against me, too. She talked me down, and told me a few things I should know, but desperately needed to hear. Firstly, she had no problem with me. Secondly, she said, if she did, she would tell me and we would work it out or she would give me the benefit of the doubt and let it go. Because our friendship isn't about convenience or playdate compatibility, as so many of my newer friendships have been (although, thank God, her son and my daughter are crazy about each other), it's about something deeper and it's worth something to her in a long-term way. Perhaps no friendship is unconditional, but the best friendships can stand some wear and tear. Those that can't aren't meant to last.

There's another lesson to take from this, too. While I don't want to close myself off to new friends and experiences, there's something to be said for working on the friendships I already have. I have a deep need for adult connection, and really need to get to know people as the people they are, not just the parents they've become. Often it's not possible to do this when I'm connecting with someone around our kids, and when I try, I can't connect or parent effectively, so it's a lose/lose. The groundwork has already been done with my old friends, and so I don't need to be as "on my game." They're less likely to judge, less likely to misunderstand me, more likely to want to work through any misunderstandings.

I'm starting grad school in the fall, so I'm hoping I can get my needs met there. If I can, my time with my kids will be more about them, not about gaining ground with a new group or trying to impress anyone. I'll also be a lot happier, which can only make me a better parent in the long run. This is the completion of a cycle. Through it, I've learned a great deal about myself. And as painful as this ending has been, there are beginnings around the corner, and I can only be grateful to get yet another fresh start, as a mom and as the woman I'm still becoming.


Aduladi' said...

Good to see you again! When I logged on to my RSS reader, I was happy to see your blog in bold!

I wish I could fly the 3000 miles to CA and give you a hug. I know how you feel, I have walked in similar shoes when we moved to PA from MD. I also found it hard to find friends that fit into the "adult friend", "family friend" and "kid compatible friend" category. But they are out there and I promise, you will find them.

Much love from the east coast!

Jenn said...

So great to hear from you! Thanks for the support; it's amazing how many people start having the same thoughts, feelings and experiences once they have kids. Hope all is well, and I look forward to catching up on your blog!