I mentioned that I ate the Pocky I was bringing to the hostess of the playgroup on Tuesday, right? Well, it's not like I brought it and chose not to give it to her. I just didn't go.
The day was sunny and beautiful, and by the time we were passing the park Josephine was tired of being in the stroller and I had a head ache. So we stopped and played, and on the way home I beat myself up mentally for succumbing to my apathy. And then I got over it.
In post, I mentioned how I was feeling insecure about having to present myself yet again to another group of mothers whom I knew nothing about except that they have children around Josephine's age. The responses were encouraging, and yet did nothing to alleviate my agonizing even after we survived the play date. I wrote this comment, in response to this really interesting post over at Mother In Chief, which referenced this really interesting post (and I use the words interest- and post again, and it definitely had some spelling errors when I posted it):
"Well, I'm so glad to have found this after following you here from your comment on my post! Thank you for your kind wishes. I'm hoping to spend more time here later, because you have a lot to say that I'm interested in. Especially this post.
It's timely, because this afternoon we're off to our second play date with the new group. They're very involved as a group, with a name, a Yahoo newsgroup, a recipe book and frequent mini-gatherings. I was talking about this with a close friend, and she summed it up perfectly by saying "It's just like getting ten new verybestfriends, isn't it?". That's not what I was looking for - I wanted just a little connection and consistency for Josephine. That is something foreign to me in my pre-parent life, and I have to work at it.
Perhaps this is just a symptom of my reluctance to embrace every aspect of parenthood. I still want to pick and choose. Maintaining my old definition of friendship may be difficult. There needs to be a greater variety of words for friends or acquaintances - like the Inuits' forty words for snow.
The loosely grouped "tiers" I have in "friendship" to date: (vaguely) the bosom buddies, the casuals, the socials, etc. all have to do more with me than with motherhood. The commonality was choice - we found something in each other that enables us to converse and enjoy each other however briefly or frequently or intimately as happens. A friendship based on appointment and situation doesn't seem like a friendship to me - yet? Are they any less genuine for having been fostered or nurtured? I don't have the experience to know. My intention is not to diminish the potential, or anyone else's existing just because it's foreign to me.
In time, I may connect with one or more of these people, but as yet, there have been none of the immediate sparks that have identified the beginnings of great friendships as I know them. I am still invisible to the people in these mothers groups because I am not me in them."
AND YET I BLEW IT OFF! Really. How unlike me. Not. I mean, NOT to say so up front.
Now, if you know me, you'll have heard me say at least once, only partly facetiously "I have better things to do with people I really like." That was my pat response when asked by co-workers if I wanted to participate in an extra curricular activity or have a beer after work. When I was younger and cuter, I could get away with saying that. Now I'm old and bedraggled and it's maybe not so adorable. But I still mean it. I do not have enough time to see the people who mean the most to me, let alone vacuum cous cous off the kitchen floor. Mainly due to scheduling and energy problems, respectively. But mainly because becoming friends with people by default or convenience is not how I want to have friends. I'm selfish that way.
I beg to differ with the notion that adult friendships requirements change when you become parents. That reliability is a strong enough force with which to begin building trust. It's an idea. I can see how one could go with it. No, for me the test of trust is not administered except in the case of emergency. I trust that any adult would stop my child from eating dried dog poop in the park, even though I know an adult let it lie there. I trust that if I should need anything - someone to admit my haircut is bad, someone to bring me just the right kind of absorbent lady needs pads and cupcakes after giving birth, someone who can spend an hour on the phone with me weekly but not see me for months, someone to just do their best with Josephine while I stand on the front porch and try not to hear the screaming - that need will be met by the people who already know me best. In a group setting, there is not that intimacy, not even after ten visits. Perhaps, if I were feeling like not caging my words, I'd say it's settling. Initially, because things do change. When does it stop being initial? But it's settling. Perhaps this will happen to me, some day, and I'll have to eat my words. Which, I will do. Just the words pertaining to, printed out - not the whole post. Perhaps I should try brevity. Hmmm. No.
It's not that I don't need new friends. My very newest friend "got" me in an instant. It's serendipitous and spooky and delicious. It is just as real as if I met her at Starbucks and she liked my daughter's T-shirt and I liked how she said so, and then a conversation began. Is it wrong to want that when I walk into a group of mommies - to find a kindred spirit in an instant and take it from there? Well, it didn't happen either time. I give up. It's not about someone recognizing me- it's got to be mutual. It may happen some day, but we're not there yet.
My dear friends are each very different from me - so that is no excuse. Just as much as any member of a playgroup would be at first. Yet, in each case, an irresistible force met an immovable object and it WAS witchcraft how we managed to make it work. These are relationships that vary in age from twenty-two years to fifteen to eight to five, or months. A friendship begun now has a serious handicap unless there's that immediate "I GET YOU". And there's all that backtracking. Sheesh. Who wants to spend a lot of time covering old baggage. Um...er...well anyways...
The impetus for trying another playgroup was to find some consistency and companionship for Josephine. In all probability she'll be an only child and I need to pay more attention to her needs and abilities involving friendship. I've read that children don't really "play" with others until closer to two years. It seems at this point that truly it's all about grabbing toys and pushing. Gee, I really need the the Mother of All Toddler Books, don't I? It's not that I don't want her to turn out like me - because I'm fine. Really. I mean it. It's not all about me, despite the sheer volume of I's and me's in this post. I'm looking just as hard as I'm hoping to be discovered. I just want Josephine to have a healthy attitude about meeting people, and the opportunities to do so. Just not in ways aggressively contrived by her mother.
What I'm saying, is that I'm trying to keep the door open for Josephine. And a window open for myself. We will be in a position where we will be both looking for friendship and hoping it will find us. But spontaneously. These orchestrated friendships still feel too much like work to me. And I want her to know friendship in its best and most wonderfully natural state.
Should you ever meet my mother, it will not be more than forty-three minutes before you hear this story (it comes after the "slept all night at six weeks" and before the "got a mohawk the day before her grandparents' fiftieth wedding anniversary party"):
"When Marla was in kindergarten, the teacher called me in because she would not play with everybody. She wanted to pick and choose her own friends."
The teacher was irritated, and my mother, to her credit, defended my right to do so. It is one thing that I am everlastingly grateful for. I don't think adults should make children play with everyone just because they think they should, no matter how awkward that sentence is. I'm all for manners and being polite and sociable. At one point I had something incredibly difficult to say to a woman regarding my views on friendship, and I'd forgotten about it until now. I meant it then and I mean it now.
I'm going to excuse myself from this playgroup. Aside from the ten to fifteen emails each day; aside from the feeling that I think they use the group for a consensus opinion way too often - and at times when instead of requesting personal experience or opinions they should seek expert or professional help. Or instead of calling just one good friend. Or for promoting causes. And CRIPES! A serious safety issue came up, and I was compelled to research for days, because one person's seemingly easy solution left me envisioning a bunch of toddlers falling out of their cribs in flammable sleep sacks - rather like a sack of potatoes falling over the side of a pick up truck. Or like a sack of kittens. And then the truck driver throws a lighted cigarette out the window, and it's a crapshoot whether the bag catches fire. Any way you look at it, it's disturbing. And it will probably continue, despite references up the wazooo and expert opinions sought and weighed in, and Paranoid Patty over here bombarding them with even more information about the legalities of flammable sleepwear.
(For the record, and as brief as I'll ever be: FIRST, when children first can climb out a crib, or are between 32 - 35 inches - they are top heavy and can sustain serious injury from a fall of that height. It is time to give up the convenience of a crib, and move to a bed. SECOND, putting the mobile child in a sleep sack is not a safe preventative for climbing out of a crib. Hence the imagery described above. THIRD, found in the course of researching the initial query, but even more relevent: sleep sacks are not regarded as sleepwear, but as bedding. They are NOT regulated by law for flammability standards. FOURTH, polyester is the only material that is naturally flame retardant. Cotton, unless treated, ignites quickly and burns hot and is responsible for over 200 reported sleepwear burn injuries a year in the US (Canadian stats not available easily, and I spent the past three days on this!). Pajamas should be tight because it's the air trapped between the skin and cloth that can feed the flames; loose material can also come into contact with the flames. FIFTH, after ten washings flame retardant material is compromised. The use of dryer sheets and fabric softeners can cause a flashover effect on any fabric. Don't use them on the clothing of children or the elderly. It's scary. SIXTH. There's more, but I'm done with this. Okay - it's that the flammability requirements are indeed in case of accidents - but also to protect a child when escaping from a burning building, GODFORBID. But despite all of this information and four or five naptimes spent compiling it initially with an unbiased objective, some people are going to follow their own course. I tried. (Ring. Ring. Hello? Catcher in the Cheerios?)There is is.
If I were at the park, the same one we all use often, and might meet one of them independent of the group, and that one of them happened to strike up a conversation, and then I joined; I'd feel better or different. It was nice of the mommy in my old group to recognize that I could use a new support network and make the introduction. But I'm a big girl, and I think I can find a way to do this differently for Josephine's sake and mine. She and I are going to be "One Wolf"'s together (that was a Lenny and Squiggy reference, if you didn't get it and do you know how much there is to sort through on their obsessive fan sites just to get a link? Forget about it.).
I think the term friendship should be used more carefully. I'm going to stick to what I know, and use my definitions. I even checked the history of the word FRIEND, and I loved it. For me, a friend must provide an element of love and peace - not mere presence; and the trust is there and contingent upon those first two qualities rather than the third.
Acquaintances, playmates, co-workers, companions, we can be friendly, but not necessarily friends. Friends, I'll know you when I see you. Or read you.
And for any little kids who are out there and might befriend my daughter some day - you shall know how special and important and awesome she is the minute you see her.
Keep your eyes open for us. We're around - just not by appointment.
Word History: A friend is a lover, literally. The relationship between Latin amcus “friend” and am “I love” is clear, as is the relationship between Greek philos “friend” and phile “I love.” In English, though, we have to go back a millennium before we see the verb related to friend. At that time, frond, the Old English word for “friend,” was simply the present participle of the verb fron, “to love.” The Germanic root behind this verb is *fr-, which meant “to like, love, be friendly to.” Closely linked to these concepts is that of “peace,” and in fact Germanic made a noun from this root, *frithu-, meaning exactly that. Ultimately descended from this noun are the personal names Frederick, “peaceful ruler,” and Siegfried, ”victory peace.” The root also shows up in the name of the Germanic deity Frigg, the goddess of love, who lives on today in the word Friday, “day of Frigg,” from an ancient translation of Latin Veneris dis, “day of Venus.”