Growing outside yourself

I take pride in the fact that I can point to several nearly life-long friendships. My best friend and I, for example, met on the school bus when we were in Kindergarten. That was 27 years ago. Another incredibly fantastic friend and I met when we were in Brownies together. A smattering of individuals from various stages of my life still play a role in my little section of the universe today.

And then there is my friend N - we met in High School. We were in Western Civ together and passed notes back and forth making fun of our teacher. Truly he was asking for it. The man wore a paper clip on his tie because he was too cheap to buy a tie-clip and too paranoid about getting his tie caught in the engine of his car should he ever need to lean over the open hood of his vehicle. I know this because he told us about it every now and again.

Our friendship had been fairly casual up until our Senior Prom. N had no date. Her 'best friend' had promised to fix her up with a friend of her boyfriend's so N could still go without feeling awkward about going alone. Her best friend failed to produce on the promise. She was heartbroken. I felt awful. I called a male friend of mine and asked him if he'd take her - "I'm not fixing you up. I'm not looking for a blind date. I just want her to get to go. Please?" He agreed. She agreed. We shared a limo.

We spent a lot of time together that summer. We grew closer than we had really ever been throughout our four-year acquaintance. I left for college and she stayed home to commute to the 4-year school she had chosen. We kept in touch. Lots of phone calls and letters. Email was fairly new and neither of us were what you'd call "early adopters."

Sometime during those college years, N met her soul mate. She broke 'dates' with me for last minute dates with him. Her mother urged her to ditch the girlfriends if need be because you don't find a decent man that often. I was hurt by it, but I understood that her approach to the dating world was different than mine. We drifted a part a bit as our lives took different paths. They got engaged. I was asked to be Maid of Honor.

She urged me to bring a date to her wedding. I had no one. She urged me to ask the guy from my office that I talked about all the time. I told her he was too old. She chastised me for it. She got my mom and her mom to gang up on me. I asked him. He agreed to go. We started dating a month before N got married and a year later we were engaged.

With Bruce and I firmly ensconced in couplehood, my friendship seemed on solid ground again. I was ok to go out with because clearly I was no threat of whisking her away to some singles bar - although, if you must know, I don't think I ever set foot in a singles bar...at least not knowingly. Three years into her marriage, one year into mine, N had her daughter. We had just begun trying to start our family. I couldn't image myself that far behind her.

For N, motherhood was something that once again put us into different camps. Her daughter was 10 months old before we met up to go out. That lunch was almost uncomfortable. We didn't seem to have the same ease between us that we once did. She would still come over when we had friends gather for dinner, but we rarely talked.

She got pregnant with her second child. Shortly after she announced her pregnancy, we discovered Logan was on his way. Her son was born in March. Logan arrived in June. Built-in playgroup. We have photos of the boys together from almost birth. In fact, if you ask Logan who his best friend is, he'll tell you its N's daughter and son.

Shortly after we learned I was pregnant for the second time, N discovered she was expecting her third. We'd again give birth within months of each other. Megan arrived in September; N welcomed another son in October. Logan declared little J Meg's baby friend. It all seemed almost too good to be true.

Last week we got together for a playdate/mom time. And as I watched the afternoon unfold it occured to me that perhaps it *is* too good to be true. Big J (the boy that is Logan's age) is incredibly shy. He's almost painfully introverted. It's the same story every time we get together. We arrive at their house and Logan makes his way to J's room to dive into toys that are new to him. Meanwhile J makes his way to the couch to watch TV or to N's side. He won't play unless N or his sister plays. He won't interact. Logan spends much of his time there asking me or N to play with him. And now, playing with Meg.

When they come to our house, J stays glued to his mom. Logan begs him to play - coming up with every conceivable option he can muster. If big sister is around, then perhaps the three of them will disappear and dive into some crazy game of "house." But big sister is quite big now and so very disinterested in playing with two 3 year olds. Who can blame her. And so, J sits by either sister or mother and talks about being tired and not feeling well. N will shrug and mutter something about how excited he'd been to come, just to have it dissipate at the door. I know she's telling the truth. J has answered the phone when I've called before and has asked me if I can bring Logan over to play - the thing is, when we do, he just won't.

And that's become a worry to me. Logan, for now, does notice but doesn't care. To him, J is still his best friend, even if they only high five on the way out the door. But, Logan is also energetic and active and social...albeit with the ability to be shy when he wants to.

When we got into the car this last time, Logan said rather sadly, "Why won't J play with me?" I didn't know what to say and so I just said "I don't know." Then I added, "Maybe he's not feeling well."

And Logan said "He never feels well."

It's happening, I think. Now that Logan is in preschool he's making his own friends. He talks endlessly about the little girl A and the boy R in his class. He missed school last Tuesday and when we arrived on Thursday he was on the look out for both. He couldn't wait to see them again. We're moving to the point his life where I won't be able to make his friends for him any more.

It's not that there is anything wrong with J. He's a delightful, but shy, little boy. He's funny when he feels like letting down his guard. He's empathetic in his own three-year old way. But as they begin to mature, I start to see that he's not someone Logan is connecting to in the way that self-made friendships require.

And with our boys, I fear, so goes our friendship. I anticipate a day when Logan gives me "Oh, Mom! Do we HAVE to go there?" A time when he'd rather be with his friends than with the one I made for him. I remember having 'forced' friends as a child. Kids of my parent's friends - kids I'd not talk to if I didn't have to. We'd play and socialize when our Mom's got together for tea, but if we passed in school it was a polite nod and a "see you around."

I'd like to think that it wouldn't effect the friendship N and I have; but I fear that it will. I look back over our history together and I see those spots where our differences put walls up between us. I see writing on the wall that I'm sad to see.

What hurts about it really, is that those other long-term friendships have endured so many different life choices. Certainly there are friends who I don't see as often as I did back when we were 17-year-old, new drivers with little else to do outside of school and minimum-wage jobs. Yet when we do get together, when we do connect, its as if time hasn't lapsed between us.

My friend from Brownies (Hi Sil! I know you're reading!) has traveled down a different path than I. We don't get together nearly enough between my "mom" status and her "really long commute!" status. We email. We get together now and again. And yet it still seems so natural when we're together, at least for me. It still feels like that perfect pair of old jeans that has been broken in and worn to that unique perfect fit for you.

My friend from Kindergarten lives 5 or 6 hours away. We haven't seen each other in person in over 3 years. We email. We do the occasional phone call. We've got similar roads we travel in life, yet no where near identical. Yet when I need that person to talk to, when I'm ready for a good old fashioned "someone that really gets me" cry or I need to spill a "I can't hold it in anymore!" secret, I call her. I know that even with that distance and that physical absence she's still the best at understanding me.

I had, truth be told, taken N's friendship as something similar even after that little "I've got a man and you don't" hiccup. And then again after the "I'm a mom and you're not" hiatus. Yet now, when I watch the differences in our boys, I start to think that our friendship may not survive the loss of their toddler buddy-dom.

I had expected to make and lose "Mommy-friends." People that you connect with only because you have kids the same age. As your children grow apart, so do you. When I think of it, I can see several that I expect to fall into that group today.

There are others (and you know who you are) that I met through Mom-related stuff but who transcend "my kid plays with your kid." Even if our children decide they would rather eat hot coals than be faced with an afternoon together, we, as women, will remain friends. We're friends that just happen to have children the same age, not women with kids the same age who happen to act like friends.

What makes me sad is that I never expected a existing friend to fall into that first camp. And maybe she won't. We're growing. Our children are growing. And as they continue to grow apart, I'm not confident that the divide won't come between us. I hope I'm proven wrong. Sometimes, I like being wrong.


Melessa said...

I have no thoughtful or insightful comments here, I just wanted to say I really like your 'Halloween decorations.'
It's funny you mention this though, Natalie was born within a few months of two other little girls she went to church with. There are pictures of the three of them from babyhood and up, but now that they are at the same school; they don't play together. I'm still friends with their moms, though. But that's how those friendships started. (See? Told ya there was no profound wisdom here.)


I am not eating hot coals, so they will have to be friends regardless!!!!