By Jessica Edelen
It was nearing summer some ten years ago and I was a new and petrified mother of one. My grand plan of easing into my new role with grace and enthusiasm (and nary a lifestyle change – “We’ll just take him camping with us!”) was coming to a screeching halt and I was living out the baby blues most days of the week. Acting on the advice of a coworker who told me that she’d read somewhere that the happiest new mothers are those that have a support network, i.e. a mothers’ group, I promptly joined my local chapter. And with bleary eyes and a willingness to do whatever it took to feel normal again, I followed the email instructions to meet at Mom #1’s house that Friday morning.
And so it went, with a bit of reluctance and a lot of caffeine, we met each and every week, discussing our woes and joys, and encouraging our little ones to smile, crawl, and maybe even sleep through the night. But more than the focus on our children, we indulged our own whims, fears, and desperate desire to feel included and somewhat social again. We laughed, we gossiped, and we shared our notorious “husband” stories. Friendships formed. And grew.
Over time, particular pairs and threesomes emerged, as is natural in a group. I was close with all the women, but in particular, one mom and I seemed to connect in a way that I hadn’t in a long while. Vulnerable and raw from the emotional toll a baby takes, I was reluctant to let anyone in. I’m cautious when it comes to friendship and while I was comfortable with a group, taking a one-on-one friendship to the next level felt shaky to me, and I was a bit skeptical.
But we had so much in common, and it was so easy to call her when I needed a break, or an extra hand. And she’d just as soon call me with a witty tale or to vent about the judgmental woman at the grocery store. And soon our lives were enmeshed. More days than not, we’d meet at the park, the children’s museum, or for dinner when our husbands were out of town. Our children became (without much choice on their parts) the best of friends. Even our husbands eased into the role of casual comrades, and we began to venture out into the real world as a foursome – restaurants (without kids!), holiday parties, and summer barbecues. She and I cried tears of joy when our seconds were born, weeks apart. We supported one another in ways I can look back and say I needed. While I treasured my tried and true friends from high school and college, many of them had yet to become parents, and there’s something about a fellow mom who can be at your doorstep in minutes with a casserole and a bottle of wine.
Time, of course, passed, and the crazed lifestyle of two and then three children made our days busier and our lives more full, but my friend and I kept up our bond, for the most part. Naturally, we each made other friends, yet returned to one another at the end of the day, like a cozy blanket that is tattered and worn, yet so beloved.
Looking back, I suppose I could see the cracks forming. My friend had some health problems that she downplayed, yet I think were beyond the scope of what my open heart and homemade cookies could heal. And there were slips in loyalty here and there, and her attempts to mask these weaknesses made me stop and hesitate. Yet not for long. She was always returning, reassuring me (and herself) that she was happy and stable – and forever my friend.
Three years ago, my husband I took the leap and bought a new house – bigger kitchen, bigger yard. Exciting. I shared the details with my friend with great enthusiasm. She reveled in my joy and as always, made me feel good about my decision. It was one month later, on the eve of my moving date, when I texted her about a possible summer party at our new home. She said, “Well, I’m not sure we’ll be able to attend. We just had our offer accepted on a house in X.” X is a town not too far, but far enough. Another suburb, another county, miles away. Water, and so much more, would divide us. My stomach dropped. I went to bed without responding and couldn’t sleep a wink.
I think what hurt most was the surprise. Why hadn’t she told me about this? Why hadn’t she shared the details? A move is a big deal – even if it’s across town. Later I learned that she and her husband had house hunted several weekends in the last year. They had had numerous long talks about the move. All I could think was: Why didn’t you talk to me? And: Why are you leaving me? Part of my identity was wrapped up in her. She was my other half, my link to my life here, my babies, my role as mother. And she was betraying me. That’s how I felt. Yet, I kept my mouth shut and my feelings to myself.
It’s with new clarity that I write this. At the time, I was so confused and the feelings I had – anger and betrayal, confused me even more. I wasn’t used to these feelings. I’ve kept my friends close my whole life. I make a few friends with every new life passage – high school, college, first job, and now, motherhood. But they are a small and fiercely loyal group. And no one had ever just up and left. Now, I realize this sounds dramatic. She was moving 45 miles, not 4,000 miles. But our kinship was based on intimacy and physical closeness. I knew in the way you know something with absolute certainty: it wouldn’t be the same.
And it wasn’t. She left. And my words – “I’m sad you’re leaving, but so happy you and your family are making the move you feel right for you” betrayed every ounce of my heart and soul. And while she set up camp in a new suburb with a new set of mom friends, I took the high road and checked in, sent her children birthday gifts, and invited them to our new home a few months later.
It was awkward, and yet there were glimmers of our old ways – we laughed, we reminisced, but what also emerged was a new realization of her true struggles – socially, mentally, and physically. She had been feeling desperate for a change, and so she made it, without feeling the need for my advice or support. She also had a deep and searing hatred for almost everything about our town … except me. I can say that with confidence. It wasn’t about me. If you are hearing echoes of a romantic breakup, you aren’t far off. That’s how it felt, and that’s how I knew that time would heal this wound, as it does all others.
We moved on, but saw each other on various occasions. While her efforts wavered in the beginning, she came through solidly in the later months and now, years. With every giggle and thank you note written, we’ve managed to salvage some of what was lost.
The other night, we met as couples for dinner. The conversation flowed as easily as the wine, but somehow there was a layer missing; an intimacy that used to be part of who we were. Something was gone, and yet, I wasn’t so sad. I realized, with a bit of a start, that maybe I don’t need her any more. The hurt does not bear so heavily on my heart, the weaknesses that she was determined to hide are her demons, not mine, and perhaps I’m a little better off not trying to slay them for her. My children are older; they are busier than ever, and hence, so am I. But more than that, I am ready. I have new confidence, I’ve come so far beyond those first days of raw motherhood and I can now embrace new ideas, work, creative outlets, and yes, friendships. I’ve learned to let people in a bit more. My heart still hurts a little for what will never be, but I also believe more than ever that things happen for a reason – and also PEOPLE. People happen for a reason.
My friend and I will always be friends. We’ll have the incredible memories of young mothers learning to navigate stormy waters. And we’ll have the gift of a friendship that can be left off or picked up when we see fit. But for now, it’s onward and upward. And it feels good.