Monday, August 29, 2011

Me, myself & I

I spend an extraordinary amount of time with just my almost-7-year-old-daughter.  This is a lot like being around a very small dictator (without possibility of a coup) or being in a well-appointed detention center in which you have no control over the TV.  These are not necessarily bad things (wine helps) but it does mean that many times, the only adult conversation in my house is the one in my own head.

I’m certainly around other adults at work – my work friends are great and do qualify as grown-ups. Most of the time.  At school drop off and pick up, I may exchange a rushed or tired nod with other parents or a quick hello with the before/after care counselors.  Sometimes, I even speak to an adult neighbor during our evening walk with the dog.  But, outside of work, most of my conversations involve fairies, Wizards of Waverly Place, homework, Phineas & Ferb and wiping yourself. I’m sadly well-versed on Good Luck Charlie, Taylor Swift, Soul Surfer, unicorns and ponies. And you wonder why I love a nice glass of wine.

When my mother was still living, I called her daily. Okay, let’s be real. We talked 2-3 times a day. By choice. She used to joke that I called her in the morning just to be sure she was still alive.  Not true, well, not entirely. But, it really was so nice to talk to someone who truly liked hearing from me.  We talked every.single.night.

I would also talk to M usually after she did her nightly call to her mother.  We certainly call out of our deep friendship but as single parents, you really just need to talk to another adult who can appreciate your life, listen to you bitch and talk about your day. Someone to share ideas or just ask “is that normal?” or “Can you believe that?”  For me, that connection with another adult was like a lifeline.

Now that mom is gone, M and I still talk but it’s often quick (okay, quick for us is 30-minutes) as we’re faced with homework (our kids and our own), demanding pets, chores and daily life upkeep.  And, then, silence. I’m alone with the laundry, those unfinished house projects that mock me, a lizard-eating cat and a dog with a severe under bite and anxiety.  No wonder I started a blog.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I treasure the amazing time I spend with my daughter and overall, feel super lucky to do work I enjoy. But at the end of a long day, when I’m tired of being at the beck and call of a whole slew of people that I get paid to beck and call back or a bossy 2nd grader, it sure would be nice to talk to another adult who can commiserate.  I’m lucky to have great friends and value the time I spend with them, but most weeknights and during chunks of the weekend my only company is either too little to ride in the front seat or has four legs and pees in the yard. 

A couple times this weekend, the house was quiet – all the things that needed to be done were still sitting right there – waiting to be done. But, what I really wanted to do was hang with a friend. But, it was late and I didn’t have a sitter. The logistics alone can make an impromptu get-together worthy of seasoned event planner.  It was the first time in a very long time that I was alone and a tad bit lonely.  I have never believed that being alone was the same as being lonely and most nights, I relish that time right after my daughter goes to bed.  For me, the knowledge that we are safe and sound in our home – a home that I alone I provided for my daughter – gives me immense satisfaction.  But sometimes – just sometimes – you want some company.

That lonely feeling lasted just a moment. Not so long that I felt the need to dial up a friend for a virtual pity party. Just long enough for me to remember to enjoy the friend that was around.  So, I found something that had to be done that didn’t completely annoy me. I put on some completely banal television show, poured myself a glass of wine and enjoyed my own company.

Would laundry and organizing my home office have been more fun with a friend? Absolutely. Would it have been great to be sitting with friends and talking about grown up things (or making fun of people) and sipping grown up drinks? You bet.  But then I wouldn’t have found those old pictures that made me laugh. I wouldn’t have felt that sense of accomplishment over what I did all by myself. 

If I have learned nothing else from being a single adult – and then single parent – it’s that you better like yourself and enjoy your own company.  I’d like to think that I’m a better friend because of those things – that my friendships are not borne of desperation or fear of being alone but out of a real desire to know that person and spend time with them.

I would not venture to say that I am my own best friend. That just sounds downright creepy (and frankly, a wee bit pervy.) But, I can safely safe that I’m pretty cool to hang around with - even if I’m the only one who thinks so.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Strength and grace aka Appearances are deceiving

The past few months have been trying for some of my friends – including my three Big Susans.  Now, I’m not talking about regular hectic times like big project at work, visits from family or crazy ass summer social calendar. I’m talking about really big, life-changing, often really scary stuff.

I have tried, really hard, to reach out to these amazing women more often but really, M and I talk at least once a day; T and I at least a couple times a week and L and I at least once a week but email often.  Quantity of communication isn’t an issue.  We talk about whatever “it” is but more importantly, we talk about regular stuff. Work, kids, family bitching – the kind of things we always talk about. Because, sometimes – just being normal (using that word loosely – very loosely) matters more.

For T, the crisis was quick – relatively speaking - but felt like forever.  The whispered conversation full of fear; the analytical talks about what if and rationalization of why things happen and finally, the unadulterated joy of good news. I cried when she called and had to call her back later to cry some more. I smiled like crazy all afternoon.

With L, life changes have equaled an upheaval of everything routine.  I’m so proud of how far she has come - a testament to her personal determination to improve things for herself and her children.  I want to check in all the time – giving advice and telling her what to do. But really, I just want to hear her voice or read her words and recognize the person I’ve known for so long that is finally coming into her own.

Today, I worried about M. It really started yesterday though.  Worrying inside, I put on a calm front.  I remained positive but was afraid.  Just after 7 tonight, the news was awesome and all is well. I breathed a sigh of relief and though I wasn’t able to speak with her, I at least called her mom since that was as close as I could get.

Watching my friends go through harrowing times is so hard. Fear of losing them, seeing them hurt – both physically and/or emotionally – is deeply painful.  I know what it means to lose a friend and all of those emotions I felt when Rona died were simmering in the background during some of these trying times.  I never shared that with my friends – they had enough on their plates and how selfish of me to just think about how this may affect my life.

What these three amazing women have in common is strength and grace.  You would have never known what was going on if you spoke with them, sat with them in a meeting or grabbed a quick drink.  If you didn’t know them really well, you wouldn’t hear the fear, exhaustion or anxiety in their voice.  If you asked them, they would say they were fine.

Appearances are deceiving.  Be patient with your friends. Even if they aren’t telling you what is going on, just being a friend and letting them know you care can make a difference.  Just grabbing coffee, a quick email or chat about nothing in particular can be a real breath of fresh air.  I know that I will be more patient with my friends. I won’t push to know (oh alright, I’ll only push a little or at least less than usual) and will be content that just keeping it light doesn’t diminish anything or make me less of friend.

I feel so blessed that I know the truth about my Big Susans.  I know that while we can have those hard conversations, our friendships are such that we can also talk about the benign things – listening between the lines and knowing that what is not being said may be I’m afraid, thanks, and I love you.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Don't ask me that you moron

I just read an article titled, “5 ways to be a better friend,” written by assorted “experts” including a 9-year old girl (who I consider the most qualified.)  Nothing really new here – honestly, felt like more of a space filler but the number one thing really caught my eye.

1.    Stop giving advice

This nugget of wisdom is from a psychologist who suggests just responding by asking, “That sounds difficult. How do you feel about it?”  (He is also pushing a book about narcissism and don’t get me started on the irony of a psychologist writing a book on that topic.)

All I can say is, “Are you fucking kidding me?” That is exactly the kind of lame ass response a psychologist gives but not the kind of candid and honest feedback you want from friends.  I count on my friends for mass amounts of both solicited and unsolicited advice. But, it’s often the latter that is more important because sometimes you can’t see that a.) you’re being a jackass b.) those pants do nothing for your ass c.) you’re in too deep to see something clearly or d) you’re (God forbid) wrong.

When I talk to my friends, sometimes it's clear that I need to vent and lots of crap spews forth. Work, family, parenting and stupid people are common topics.  My friends commiserate, share a similar experience, offer advice and make me feel less alone or at least less like a serial killer.  Other times, our conversations are clearly a dialogue about something one of us is facing.

If I’m really mad about something and talking to a friend, who responded, “How do you feel about it?” I would respond, “I’m fucking pissed you moron, I just said so.”  Offer me a different perspective, agree with me, disagree with me, advise me – but don’t ask about me how I feel. We’re friends and I just told you.

Now T can be the Switzerland of advice while M is the Queen of Logic.  L is the ball of emotion that I can virtually always count on to go the exact same emotion I am feeling.  It’s really a great mix and to give credit to each – they can and do often fill different roles.  M talked me through when I realized I needed to move away from CA – she offered logic and concrete suggestions. T supported my decisions, asked good questions and confirmed my approach was sound.  L was just thrilled I was going to meet some personal goals.

To be clear, there are many times when a friend vents to me and I respond with a neutral, “I’m so sorry. Is there anything I can do?”  But, it’s because that is the most appropriate response and I honestly want to do something if I can.  But, if a better response is, “Are you doing this or have your tried that?” and that will generate better conversation and maybe help a friend through a challenging time, you bet your ass I’m gonna do that. I expect them to do the same.

You know, I think I’ll stick with the 9-year’s advice from this article, which was number 5 on the list and was:  Act like a 9-year old.  And what she means is to work harder at seeing your friends.  Her advice sounds a whole lot better.  Smart girl.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

In the closet with friends

I just cleaned my closet. I know, BFD, right? Wrong, so very wrong. You see, normally, my Big Susan, T has that responsibility. Yes, I’m a grown woman who has to have her closet cleaned by a friend because I occasionally have brain farts when it comes to what should be kept, what can be donated and what should be burned.

T has helped me clean my closet as long as I can remember. Usually, it’s during one our visits and she sits on my bed while I go through and show her. She nods, shakes her head, rolls her eyes or makes gagging sounds. I can be a tough sell though. I had a hard time letting go of a denim overall jumper/dress that I wore pre-pregnancy, through my entire HUGE pregnancy and wanted to wear again. I simply couldn’t understand that perhaps a dress that fit me when I was carrying a giant baby would best be given to others after that baby is born.  T helped me see the light and when I refused to open my eyes to it, she yanked it from my hands and put it in the bag.

Sometimes, just sometimes, she’ll throw me a bone and let me keep something that she would never, in a million years, wear.  You see, T, is just about the most fashionable person I know.  She has a style. My style is “it’s clean and comfy.” I shop in Target, Old Navy, Macy’s – Nordstroms is a big deal. T is a regular at Neimans.  She knows when they have a sale and doesn’t have to rely on the Sunday circular to find out.

T believes I should have at least a couple of white blouses in my closet, claiming, “You can wear them with anything.”  I pandered to her and bought a couple (yep, she was with me and insisted they looked fab). I never – and I mean never – wore them. White blouses and my boobs are not friends – I would drip something before I even left the house. I ultimately gave them away to someone who would appreciate them more than I did. Someone with smaller boobs.

I have some questionable shoes in my closet. I have shoes I have never worn and ones I even forgot I had (but really, those brown slingbacks I found hiding in the back are fab.)  T helps me sort through these, too. I had a pair of tan and white backless loafers – bought at a time when things like that were “in.”  They were very cool and I remember feeling positively hip when I wore them. She told me they made me look like a pimp.

It gets better. She can clean the closet from a distance, too. I swear, I can call her, describe an item of clothing and tell what face she is making by the silence on the phone.  Her admonishment is just as stern from another state.

Now as stylish as T is –she has business attire down to a fine art – she stays in her comfort zone as much as I stay I mine. Girlfriend loves, and I mean loves, a black cashmere turtleneck. I joke that every time she goes out  she likely has a black turtleneck, jeans and boots (casually speaking - she would never wear this to work even on a business casual day.) I am always right – at least 99.9% of the time.  Getting her to wear color is a personal goal – of mine.

We send each other pictures of things we want to buy and things we bought. I just sent her a pic of a pair of Ivanka Trump shoes that I covet but can’t bring myself to buy. She said they looked like me (this is absolutely the only thing Ivanka and I have in common.)  She shares my embarrassment over my Jessica Simpson tote bag (really - the logo is so tiny it’s not noticeable.) I remember feeling absolutely giddy when she sent me a pic of a new cocktail dress she bought that had actual color in it. She picked it out and paid for it but I felt like it was my personal victory.

So now, my closet is cleaned. Sort of. I tell T it’s still in pretty bad shape so she needs to visit soon and exorcise it of bad taste.  And, next time I visit T I’m getting into her closet. She’ll put up a good fight but at least one black turtleneck is going in the bag.

Disclaimer: T proofs all of my blog posts. So, if this one sucks and/or you hate it, I blame her completely.

Friday, August 12, 2011

I need more hours in every day aka Finding time for friends

It’s the beginning of the school year, busy times at work and the High Holidays are right around the corner.  Quickly followed by Jillian’s birthday, Thanksgiving and the Winter celebrations. I haven't even figured in Brownies, riding lessons and the assorted school activities that suck the energy fill our evenings and weekends. The lazy days of summer are certainly over.  Needless to say, I’m feeling a wee bit harried and as a result, really disconnected from friends. They are all in the same boat – in some way, shape or form.

In our hyper connected times, it can be amazingly hard to stay connected in a real and meaningful way.  A Facebook status update doesn’t count. I’m talking about actually getting together with a friend – a drink, movie, a meal or just a quick cup of coffee. A real conversation with complete sentences.  How do we find the time and what do we sacrifice in order to make that happen?

For me, grabbing drinks or dinner and a movie with friends involves outside help. I know for others, logistics are just as crazy as they juggle multiple social calendars, work schedules and things that just have to happen – uh, like laundry and grocery shopping and if you’re lucky a shower and bathroom break.

Last weekend, I was able to catch up with J during a birthday party.  We did our best but well, you know, between running them to the bathroom, fetching food, and applying sunscreen we were lucky to finish a sentence.  Being in the pool was a bit better but again, we have to at least pretend to keep one eye on our kids as they sputter and splash. I was actually watching one kid swim in the pool when I realized it wasn’t mine – and mine was across the pool at the water slide. There goes my mom of the year award – but at least J and I were able to finish a complete thought.  Sort of.

Another friend just asked if I wanted to go see a movie – and I do (and will) but this means finding a night and hoping a sitter is available at the same time. And, since I already need a sitter one night this coming week for back-to-school night, it’ll be a double whammy. But, this is a friend who I haven’t really spent much time with. I really admire her and know it will be a nice evening and I’ll be glad I went.  I know it will be worth it.  (By the way, back in the day when I babysat, I got $1 per hour – that’s right, $1. I now pay sitters between $9-$15. WTF?? Half the time my kid is asleep and almost always have a pizza delivered for them)

J and I were talking that we’d like to schedule a monthly Shabbat dinner. Not that we will be offering services around our table (we’re lucky if we can get all kids sitting at one time and no one’s hair catches fire during the candle lighting) but more as a way to re-connect, feel a little faith and have a relaxing end to the week. Pizza and wine are just bonuses – it’s really the company that counts (okay, and the wine.) Sadly, we realized we couldn’t even consider this until after the High Holidays because, well – we’re swamped. I sure hope God understands.

Another friend and I talk repeatedly about dinner (and drinks, who are we kidding) after school one night – even tried to make it happen on the first day of school. But, kids with strong opinions and general life chaos didn’t let that happen. But we still talk about it.

My good friend, K and I, are thinking of taking our girls away for a long weekend – one last beach getaway before the weather changes. And yes, we will yank them out of school (more mom of the year awards for us!) because, well, it will be a learning experience (right?) and we get a chance to really hang out, relax and spend time together – the grownups and the kids.

Friendship, like everything else, takes time and energy.  Good friendships don’t need to be demanding – they will grow with wee bits of love and attention but we grow more as people when we take the time to nurture ourselves through these amazing relationships.  Time with friends – just doing anything – is a chance to re-charge and remind ourselves who we are and who and what matters to us.

So this weekend, I’m going to try and schedule that movie, put the Shabbat dinner on my calendar and see what I can do to make that that beach trip happen. My friends are worth it.