a note to all my mama friends

One late spring evening a couple of months ago, I met my friend, let’s call her Anne, for dinner at one of our favorite spots in Pittsburgh. Privately, I often think of Anne as my beautiful friend, not only because she’s physically gorgeous and not only because she cultivates a beautiful life, but because she has the biggest heart of nearly anyone I know – she is a beautiful person inside and out. After I had my daughter she was the first friend I spent time with outside of the house because she was willing to join me for breakfast in between my marathon nursing sessions. She is also one of the few friends I’ve really gotten a tad wild with in my thirties – a bus driver once threatening to abandon us miles from our homes because we were laughing too loudly after too many glasses of wine at dinner. Because she is so physically attractive and because she has financial resources a lot of people don’t, I know a handful of people whose jealousy has overridden their better selves, and they have failed to get to know her the way I have. The fact is I didn’t beginthinking of her as my beautiful friend – it is what she became to me over the many years we’ve spent time together.

So one late spring evening a couple of months ago, when the sun still dared to shine in Pittsburgh, I met my friend Anne for dinner at one of our favorite spots. I had squeezed a workout in as I am likely to do whenever Sam is home with the kids and our dinner plans don’t start until seven, and I was still squeezing chlorine from the pool out of my ponytail as I sat next to Anne at the bar. I leaned in to hug her and almost started to launch into some thought or idea I had had since last we met when she held up her hand.

“Before we get to all of that I just want to tell you – I’m fine now, totally fine – but I wanted you to know I had a miscarriage. I had a miscarriage, and I’m fine.”

I sat there, silenced. Stunned. How many times had I canceled our plans to meet, awash and overwhelmed as I was with my small children? Multiple times. I had canceled on my beautiful friend multiple times, for Evangeline’s earache, an unexpected business trip of Sam’s and who knows what other reasons. How long had she been waiting to tell me this? I felt horrified by my own actions (the earache had been treated easily with children’s Motrin, and I have a hardy list of qualified, wonderful babysitters) while terribly sad for Anne.

One late spring evening a couple of months ago, when the sun still dared to shine in Pittsburgh, I met my friend Anne for dinner at one of our favorite spots and she told me she had had a miscarriage and all I could think of was actions I hadn’t taken. Fortunately I retained the smallest amount of common sense and good will and didn’t start to apologize for my own inadequacies – instead, I listened to her. Her pregnancy had been ectopic, and dangerous. She was on the other side of it physically, but barely processing it emotionally, and we talked around and about it for a couple of hours. A few weeks later I came across a list of the top ten things to never say to someone who had a miscarriage (among them – miscarriages are so common! You just need to try again right away! and it happened for a reason. I had said at least half of the trite, unhelpful phrases to her and because we have a friendship like we do, I frantically texted her apologizing for the error, brought to light by the Huffington Post or Reddit or similar outfit.

I can’t remember exactly what she texted back, but it was along the lines of girl, please.

I have a lot of mama friends, all with varying availability and willingness to hang out in person. Those that work traditional office hours are generally the most willing to meet for lunch or even an evening out because they have systems in place to provide some flexibility, while my stay at home mama friends struggle sometimes because routine childcare isn’t a part of their life. With some of these women, our relationship is mainly conducted via text chains (and, I need to take a moment here to say I have a whole post coming about these text chains!), while others are conducted regularly and in person, over hectic brunches while we try and talk over our respective brood’s din. It doesn’t really matter – the support is there, never much farther away than the tips of my fingers. But my friends without kids? Well, I guess I understand why one of the chief complaints of those who don’t have children is that those who do tend to disappear. It’s so easy to continuously prioritize your young family over your valuable friendships – the needs of children are so immediate and physical. But that doesn’t mean the needs of your friends aren’t important – and it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be a good friend anymore, either. There are things happening with your friends – job loss (or new jobs to be celebrated) and aging parents and difficulty with spouses and to miss out on that is to miss out on their lives, and that is terrible.

One late spring evening a couple of months ago, when the sun still dared to shine in Pittsburgh, I met my friend Anne for dinner at one of our favorite spots. I almost canceled because who knows why but I didn’t, and that one small act of showing up has changed the way I approach my friendships. I show up, not just when it’s easy or convenient or affordable for me and my kids – no, I show up, sometimes with a spit-up stain on my dress I didn’t notice before or the echoes of my daughter’s temper tantrum, thrown solely because I was leaving her with her other parent, in my ears, and I be the person my friends deserve. The thing of it is – life is only going to grow more complex, with bigger and deeper issues to tackle – and I want to do it with friends like Anne by my side every step of the way.

Life After Life

I can clearly recall the first time I experienced the feeling of deja vu. It happened during the extraordinarily hot summer after my second grade year on a day most of my extended family was in town. Our gathering was somewhat desultory, wilting beneath the heat as we we were, and when my parents learned it was at least ten degrees cooler in Presque Isle, a town just a short drive north of us, we made a caravan and relocated our party to a breezy stretch of Lake Huron for the day’s duration. In the late afternoon I went for a walk with one of my uncles to get ice cream, and as we walked back along the beach I was overcome with the idea that I had been there before – that I had done this exact thing with these exact people just as the sun was setting just so – before. It was incredibly anxiety-producing and when I tried to describe it to my parents the term they provided – deja vu – and their explanation of it – only mildly calmed my anxiousness. I only knew I did NOT want it to happen again.

But of course, it did – a fleeting moment talking to a friend, rocking Duncan late into the evening, on a hike with my father, cooking a meal side by side with Sam – it’s always disconcerting and often powerful enough to make me question my religious faith – maybe the Indian religions are on to something, and life just begins again and again in new body. Frankly, it’s as appealing to me as Heaven – I know this world and am in awe of how broken and beautiful it is at the same time.

I’d read about Kate Atkinson’s Life After Lifearound the blogosphere but it came out while Duncan was a newborn and for several months I didn’t feel like I had the brain space to tackle it, despite my devotion to her Jackson Brodie series. My dad brought me his copy on a recent visit after he finished it for a book club he resents joining. He generally has an unique way of trying to interest people in the books he appreciates, and this one was no different.

“We complain about terrorists threats but let me tell you – read this book and you’ll learn what real terrorism is – try London during World War II,” he said, handing me his battered copy of Life After Life. “That was terrorism.”

Which, you know. I learned a LOT about the European side of WWII from reading this book, but I am not sure that would be Atkinson’s ideal introduction.

This book – I loved it, actually. At first I thought the premise was a little trite for Atkinson but as the book grew and the characters grew, I found it fascinating to think through how a single choice here or a different action there affected Ursula’s life. And (spoiler alert at this point, in case you haven’t read the book) I found it especially fascinating how Ursula continued to learn subconsciously from her past. Like so much of Atkinson’s work, the character development propelled the book – she always manages to create characters I could spend endless amounts of time with. And I did learn so much about what people in London and Berlin went through during World War II – I never realized how prejudice my reading about that particular war was until reading this book. That said, I felt like there were two different ideas explored in the book. First of all, the idea of reincarnation, and second of all, the whole “what would happen if someone had killed Hitler” thing, which frankly, I could have done without. Compared to the rest of the novel, which was heartbreaking, stunning and generally intriguing, the Hitler assassination felt like an unnecessary diversion – fun for the author to finally explore but ultimately not necessary to the overall set up of the novel. I honestly think if her marriage to the (at first) unassuming Nazi and time spent with Eva Braun had been the some total of Ursula’s life spent in Nazi Germany, the book actually would have been more powerful. I also didn’t like particularly how that part of Ursula’s story was positioned at the beginning of the novel, so the entire time, as a reader, I was waiting for it, when so much else was happening in the book.

Overall, though, I thought the book was brilliant and I look forward reading her follow up – God in Ruins this fall sometime. Even when I’m not sure what to make of Atkinson, her work is always, always worth reading.