When Violet tells me she has no friends, which she does often, I have told her I don’t have any either and I know what that feels like. It is, alas, the default of both my daughter and me to feel friendless. The truth is she does have friends and they’re lovely. I adore her friends and so does she. She makes at least one good one everywhere she goes, which has most recently been school, after school, and winter break camp. I actually have friends too, of course, but it’s just so damned hard to find the time and make the effort to get together. People’s lives are full of commitments, or our kids don’t get along, or we’re just lazy and frazzled, but I wish I had a good pal to hang out with now and then.
I realized yesterday, long after the fact, that I should not tell my eight year old children that I have no friends. It isn’t true, for one, and it isn’t something two eight year olds need to hear. They don’t need to bear the brunt of what I find difficult or lonely about being the only adult in the house and they certainly should hear fewer, if any, of the sad stories I dredge up from my childhood to illustrate, say, what it’s like when a parent really prefers one child over the other.
I remember at times feeling like my mother was more like a friend than a mom and I wished for her to just be a mom. Aren’t parents supposed to rise above the hurt their kids can hurl at them? Aren’t they responsible for supplying and extending the olive branch? Shouldn’t they be careful about what they say? I thought so, but now I see it isn’t so easy and I’ve been doing a shit job of it all. Ugh. I’m slow to realize the harm in what I’m doing when it isn’t something obviously bad like yelling, but somehow yesterday in the midst of a particularly self-pitying morning something changed.
It’s February. It has been brutally cold and we’ve had way too much snow. I’m almost always alone in the office these days on the two mornings I actually go in, and I seem to have run through what remained of the friends I used to get together with for lunch. Of course I am lonely. I know myself well enough to know that this will pass. Maybe even tomorrow. Maybe even today. The black moods don’t linger and the sun will shine. The warmth will melt the snow and the flowers will bloom. If a parent is only as happy as their happiest child, a child is certainly not going to flourish with a parent who has been in the kind of mood I’ve been in. No more droopy sad mommy!
I decided to be singsong-y and positive. I have a lot of undoing to do. I picked my children up from after school last night and told them that I’d had such a good day! Nana had given me a writing assignment and I wrote seven pages and she loved what I wrote! I thought of a way to speed up the switching around of rooms so they no longer have to share! I was excited because I had lunch plans with two friends this week! As much as I could, I chirped and chirped bits of happy news. I exaggerated it all just a bit and I think it worked. We had a pretty nice night and we were all happy this morning.
On the drive to school I often engage in monologues which I know they listen to with at least half an ear. This morning I reiterated my chirpy excitement about my lunch plans and added that I was feeling hopeful that I’d make some new friends soon.
I’ve been actively trying to visualize just what I’d like in a friend because it worked so perfectly with our dog. I envisioned a calm, older, well-trained, hypo-allergenic, un-neurotic dog who would be happy to accompany us here and there but would also be fine alone in our apartment for a couple of hours at a time. A tall order, to be sure, but she’s here at my feet. Lily is as perfect a match for us as I could ever have dreamed up. I did dream her up. True serendipity brought her into our lives, well… luck and a kind woman who needed to find a home for her beloved girl and chose us. Lily is lovely and patient. Calm and zen. Silly and funny. Playful and quiet. She loves to play fetch and my children have even taught her to snuggle in the three months we’ve had her. She sleeps in a big heap in the family bed each night, nestled in as close as she can get. We are all smitten. She is a seven year old poodle. A big, fluffy, soft, cream-colored poodle. She follows me wherever I go, happily flopping down on even the coldest tile floor in our bathroom if that’s where I happen to be.
My ideal friend would be someone with whom it is absolutely effortless to hang out; someone like Lily but without all the fur. Someone with whom the conversation just flows. Someone who has known darkness but carries light. Someone who thinks, reads, talks openly and can listen too. Someone with a good healthy range of emotions. Someone I really like who will like me back.
My mom has counseled me to join a writing group but it’s the last thing I want to do. Our family therapist asks if he should try to find me a support group for parents having a hard time with their kids, but I hate groups. There always seems to be the know-it-all; the steamroller; the clown; and a bunch of wallflowers. I am never comfortable sitting around a table with a bunch of people in the same predicament and I don’t always like what comes out of my mouth under those circumstances. I prefer just one person at a time.
I dropped my kids off in front of their school and called my mom as I drove to work this morning. I parked and Lily and I walked to the nearby schoolyard where we play fetch. My mom started to tell me what I should do to the piece I wrote yesterday. Two women appeared with their dogs and I got off the phone. I didn’t want to be a rude jabberer talking on my cell and I’m always hoping to find a dog Lily will run with, if only for ten minutes.
One of the women walked by with nary a greeting but the other one and I started talking. We talked and talked and talked. Everything she said felt so familiar, honest and real. Eventually she said she was cold and asked if I’d like to come over for a cup of coffee. I was due at work but I said yes and we had a lovely time. She is interesting and smart. She has kids and a husband and lives a few blocks away. Her book just came out and it’s getting tremendously good reviews. I loved what they have on their walls and the way their house felt. I liked her very much. We’re going to get together again.
Our family therapist came by tonight and I told him what had happened: that I had changed my attitude and with it my demeanor. I lightened it way the fuck up for my kids and it worked like a charm for all of us. I even may have made a new friend.
Fake it ’til you make it is what my sister says. Joel said that’s actually, more or less, the laymen’s term for the predominant theory among therapists of what works best for people these days. It’s what CBT is all about. I did it myself with a little help from my friends who, in this case, happen to be my mother and our therapist. Thank goodness for friends, in whatever form they happen to appear.