Monday, December 2, 2013

On Marching to the Beat of Your Own Jamboree

I was lucky I met Nicole when I did. I moved to Brooklyn without a clue as to the neighborhood, the local parents list-serv, the playgroups, the playground situation.

(Although I used to think of myself as pretty organized, the move was not the first time I just jumped into something with two clueless left feet. See also: my brash entrance into the world of blogging.)

Nicole had arrived in our neighborhood only a month earlier, but she was already an expert on the Brooklyn mommiverse. She is the type of person who always has an extra snack packed in case someone named Deb forgets one for her child. She is also that person whom everyone thinks is her best friend, although the adjective "best" obviously rules out her having more than one. In any case, she is definitely my closest friend in the neighborhood. She is everyone's closest friend in the neighborhood. Without putting too fine a point on it, I would not have any friends in the neighborhood if it weren't for Nicole.

I am not particularly social, nor have I ever been. Some of my earliest memories include my mother forcing me out the door to play kickball with the neighborhood kids. But I would have been just as happy continuing to read or write in my room alone.

Being alone does not make me feel sad or lonely. Like the true definition of an introvert, I recharge my batteries in solitude.

My son, by nature and nurture, has my tendencies. As a baby, he played for long stretches on his own. I was home with him exclusively for the first 15 months of his life, and I could not be with him every second of every day. I wrote a lot during the afternoon, and he would sit in his Baby Fun Zone (prior to the pooping incident) and play. He is perfectly fine entertaining himself, something I should be -- and am -- happy about.

I used to joke with Rayne that if I stopped entertaining him for two minutes, he would pick up his cell phone and start checking email. (Oh, did I say "joke"? I meant "argue.") But I have come to understand that my husband needs social interaction to recharge. He loves parties. I do not. This is not to say I do not have friends. I have them, but my friendships are singular and deep, not group-based nor particularly forgiving.

This quirk of my personality makes me terrible on the playground. Not only do I find pushing the swing interminably boring, but the social interaction I crave -- sitting with one or two people and having a real conversation -- does not lend itself well to a playground setting, especially when you have a runner and people leave the gate doors open. I can barely finish a sentence let alone a thought.

As a result of all of this, Henry has one friend in the neighborhood: Nicole's daughter. Granted, they are hilariously cute together and invariably in "time out" on the couch trying not to giggle whenever I go pick him up from our Monday babysitter share.

But Henry's second birthday is right around the corner (my complex emotions about which are fodder for another post), and I fear that his neighborhood friends -- who are really, for the most part, Nicole's friends' children -- will not come. Kiddie parties are tiresome, both physically and intellectually, and holiday parties abound in mid-December.

Right now, Henry does not know any better. But soon he will.


A couple weeks ago I went to a meeting for a new indoor playgroup starting up for the winter. It is difficult to express how reluctant I was to go to this meeting. Why did we even need to meet? To my mind, the thing went like this: Who wants to join this playgroup? 60 people? Okay, we're having it on these three days at this location, here is the cost. Send a check.

But nooooooooooooo, not in Brooklyn. In Brooklyn we do things the 3D way: democratic, discussion-based and difficult. So there was a meeting at 11 o'clock in the morning on a Saturday to determine the answers to the above-listed questions, which the woman running the meeting knew the answers to anyway.

I almost didn't go. I was feeling sick and especially exhausted.

But I went. I went, and I signed Henry up for the playgroup, which meets Monday, Wednesday and Thursday until Christmas. 

I only asked one slightly exasperated question designed to get the facts straight just so I could write my check and escape. Nicole was there, too. She runs a different playgroup in the neighborhood that has a waiting list. That's how cool she is. I'm not that cool. But I'm trying. I realize that my own circumscribed social needs may not be sufficient for Henry. It is not fair for me to place that burden on him. I need to give him the opportunity to find his own way when it comes to friendship.


The thoughts about friendship swirling around my head have come at an opportune time. I am pleased to announce the launch of a new anthology to which I contributed: The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendship.

The HerStories Project was founded by two sharp writers (and friends): Jessica Smock (School of Smock) and Stephanie Sprenger (Mommy, For Real). If you have been following me on social media at all, you know I can't get enough of these ladies.

I devoured my advance copy of the book while on the west coast for Thanksgiving this past weekend. I adored the piece from Kate Hall (Can I Get Another Bottle of Whine) about the unbreakable bond with her younger sister, something I related to strongly. One of my favorite writers, Lauren Apfel (omnimom), wrote about a conversation with a "child-free" friend that left me thinking for a good long while about the nature of motherhood and friendships.

Then there were a few stories that captured the loneliness of those first months of mothering, especially when you move to a new place as I did. Stories by Kathy Radigan (My Dishwasher's Possessed), Christine Woodruff (A Fly on Our Chicken Coop Wall) and Alexandra Rosas (Good Day, Regular People) had me nodding along.

But the section that had me in tears was the last one, "What's Lost: Friendship Break-ups and Losses." Anne-Marie Lindsay (Do Not Faint) said it best when she noted in her essay how few friend break-up stories are out there, even in a "Blog Everything world."

Perhaps it is because these stories cut deep yet do not fall under a sanctioned class of loss in which it is acceptable to grieve deeply. Instead, we grieve our lost friendships privately, wondering, perhaps, what we could have done better or differently or why our friend acted the way he or she did. I have a few of these unresolved stories floating around in my head, which is why I think I was struck by the stories in this section, particularly those by Jill Smokler (Scary Mommy) in the foreword, Dani Ryan (Cloudy With a Chance of Wine), Samantha Brinn Merel (This Heart of Mine), Erica Heller and Kristi Rieger Campbell (Finding Ninee).

As for me, I wrote an uplifting story called The Transoceanic Gift about my Swedish friend Alexandra, a person who knew me before I became myself. To read more, you'll have to purchase the book!

Alex surprising me in New York for my bachelorette party.

I really hope you will consider purchasing this incredible collection on Kindle or in paperback for a friend, a loved one or yourself.