Saturday, April 18, 2009

Spring Cleaning



What defines a good friendship? Like all relationships, some are healthier than others. So how do you know if a friendship is good for you?

I read once that the way to assess a friendship is to evaluate how you feel – physically and emotionally – right after you’ve spent time with someone. If you’re drained, resentful, defeated, hurt, or anything on the negative end of the spectrum, it might be time to look at the merits of the relationship.

Over the past two years, I’ve thought about where I am invested. Like any busy mom, carving out time away from my kids is difficult enough. Wasting time with the wrong people is futile.

With great thought and care, I conducted a spring cleaning. I took a look at each friend the way some people look at a shirt to determine whether it still fits, and plucked a few from my friendship wardrobe. I don’t mean to imply that this was a simple, overnight endeavor. It was anything but.

I’m one of those married types who loves and needs my girlfriends. As much as I adore my husband, I cannot survive on his level of relating. We are two very different trains; me, the turbo tram and him, the early model steam engine that takes a long time reaching its destination.

What my husband wants from me is less talk. Bullet points. Background info, not necessary.

What I want from him are details. And that's not going to happen

So this is why I need my girlfriends. We have no problem filling time and space. We make those chicks on The View look afraid to speak up.

The process of ending my friendship with Christa (not her real name) took years. I couldn’t seem to let go yet I had no reason to hold on. I got to a place where I lost respect for myself. I became pathetic.

We had all the things that, from 30,000 feet, seem to make for a good friendship. We made each other laugh. We were always game for fun. Had similar issues with our kids. Same age, socio-economic background, political affiliation, and a love of travel and music and food. It took me a long time to see the cracks in the foundation.

I’ve often thought there are some friends that we shouldn’t get to know better. If we stayed on the surface, it would still be fun. Once you venture into anyone’s “basement,” you will undoubtedly find something you don’t like. And they will find something rusting in yours as well.

My problem is an inability to stay on the surface. I think it’s common for women; we yearn to connect. We want to know more about each other. But the knowing more has the potential to strengthen or weaken the bond.

There was something about Christa that always made me feel less than good when I drove away from her house. She had a broad circle of friends, neighbors that communed with each other almost daily and a social life that brimmed with concerts and parties and weekends away. But it wasn’t envy that got the best of me. It was the subtle nose-rubbing on her part. She knew many of my friends lived out of the area. She knew my neighbors recognize my car more than my face. She knew my weekends revolved around my kids’ sports and an occasional date with my husband. She knew.

Her phone rang incessantly. Taking that call was always important. I spent most of our gatherings waiting for her to hang up. When the phone wasn’t ringing, we were bumping into someone she knew. Someone she had to chat with while I waited.

Why she continued to seek my companionship is still a question mark in my head. But the bigger question is: why did I go along for the ride? For more than four years, we took our kids to the playground, the beach and amusement parks. We shared birthdays and spent weekends in San Francisco and Las Vegas.

One day, we made plans to meet at her community pool. The kids and I arrived at 12:30, the agreed-upon time. They splashed in the pool, asking every few minutes where they were. I reassured them they’d be there soon. At 1:00, she called to say she’d be there in a matter of minutes. At 2:15, my kids were chlorinated prunes and wanted to go home. They were wrapped in towels as she breezed through the gate.

I’m embarrassed to say that I ran to get her a chaise lounge.

She said, “Oh, don’t bother, I have work to do.”

“Work?”

“Ya, I have wine charms to put on these glasses that I bought for a party I’m going to.”

She sat behind me at a table making the charms while chatting to a man who lived a few doors down from her. I sat there seething with anger. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I get up and go home? Why couldn’t I confront her?

I never said a word about it. She didn’t either.

I didn’t see her for almost a year after that. She didn’t seem to notice that I had pulled away.

There we were, one summer later sitting side-by-side at the beach. Our kids played merrily in the surf. We made small talk. Suddenly, an acquaintance of hers yelled to say hello from across the sand. Christa invited her to join us. The two of them chatted the afternoon away while I stared blankly at my magazine.

That was the last time I saw her. She called two months later. I didn’t return the call. Her Christmas card said, “Let’s get together soon!” No indication that she knew anything was wrong.

The silent, unresolved ending of our friendship revealed the truth about our connection. She didn’t care either way.

So what’s the take-away? I have learned to pay attention to how I feel in a friendship – especially in the beginning when the getting out is easier. My inner voice has always been my compass. The difference is, now I’m taking direction.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Teach Your Parents Well


One morning this week, Jack’s hair dried in a wind-swept fashion that gave him a real mod look. Like a stage mom, I ran to fetch the gel to enhance the style. As I was tugging on the pointed wisps that fanned out against his cheek, Jack asked, “Why are you putting gel in my hair?”

Me: Because your hair looks very cool today. You look like Zac Efron.

Jack: Everyone has that look at school.

Me: I know, and it looks really cute on you.

Jack: Ya, but I don’t want to look like everybody else. I want to look like me. Don’t you want me to look like myself?

Me: Of course I do.

I stopped the primping and felt a lump in my throat. Since he was a toddler, my husband and I have been talking the talk:

“Be true to yourself.”
“Stand up for what you believe in even if it’s not popular.”
“Be an individual.”
“Listen to your own voice.”

There I was trying to bend him into the mold. And it wasn’t the first time.

Up until this year, I picked out his clothes every morning. I thought the horror of mismatched clothes would be perceived by school personnel as neglectful parenting.

One day he said, “I don’t like the clothes you pick for me. You always try to make me look fancy.”

Me: Fancy?

Jack: Ya. I want to wear t-shirts, not polo shirts. Just plain t-shirts. Is that okay?

What was I doing? Why was I robbing him of the opportunity to be himself?

When I was growing up, I perceived the world as a tunnel of thorns. Everything was personal. I realize now, most of it wasn't.

Jack, on the other hand, has comment repellent built into his skin. One day, some boys called out to him from a tree they were climbing.

“Hey Retard!”

Jack looked up.

“Ya, you, Retard!”

Jack: Ha! That is funny! [started laughing]

Boys: We’re talking about YOU!

Jack: I know. You are really funny! [continued to laugh]

Unable to bother to him, they moved on to taunt other kids.

When I picked him up, he recounted the story. I was ready to hug him and wipe his tears. But his voice was normal -- upbeat and unshaken.

Me: Why didn’t it bother you that they said that to you?

Jack: Because that’s what they think. It’s not what I think about myself.

These are the moments when the paradigm shifts. I realize I am the student and one of my greatest teachers is sitting right next to me in the front seat.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Dead Funny

My son makes me laugh every day. But he isn’t trying to be funny. If anything, he’s dead serious most of the time, which makes him even funnier.

He’s been a diabetic since he was six. One day I was getting out his insulin and syringe. I handed him an alcohol pad.

Me: Hold this and don’t put it in your mouth.

Jack: Mom, children cannot drink alcohol. It’s against the law. Unless you’re from France.