Perfectly Imperfect

Perfectly Imperfect

By Elizabeth Richardson Rau


Best friends often don’t come in the prettiest packages. The true friends I have made are like me, willing to show dents, battle wounds and flaws. 


In 2011 my world imploded when I left my husband. The decision was the right one; the fallout nothing short of apocalyptic. It was during this time that I learned that friends of substance run towards the burning rubble that life can become while most others flee. This friendship culling, much like that of a spring garden, is laborious and painful but necessary so as to make room for more sturdy roots to thrive. During times of crisis it feels devastating, but, as one of those fleer-friends once told me: God sometimes draws straight with crooked lines. You will get where you are meant to be with the right people standing beside you, even if the journey there doesn’t look like you expected it. This was the friend who, after three decades of friendship, told me she needed space and a break from the drama; an understandable request. That break is going on over three years now and I haven’t heard a word from her since; she is now on my ex-husbands friendship roster.

Years later, with lots of therapy under my belt and a much better understanding of who I was as a woman, I landed happily on the friendship isle of misfits, among others who are unashamed to admit the imperfections of their lives, of themselves. I suppose we are social outcasts to some degree. Unlike years ago, my circle of friends is no longer made up purely of tidy, socially embraced Jack Rogers wearing, Coach bag sporting, SUV driving stereotypes. One is a recovering addict who is physically compromised from an illness that kills most people, and prefers jeans and plaid button-downs to capris and cardigans. Another, despite criticism, waited out her husband’s affair to save what is now one of the strongest, most admirable unions I’ve ever seen. And the friend who endured not one, but two, children’s battles with substance abuse. We are the women others whisper about — the ones who have the courage to show scars without apology. This does not come without a price of course. Gone are the invitations to book clubs, cookie swaps and wine tastings. Also gone, though, is judgment, comparison to others and the unspoken need to conform.

My daughter is now navigating the complicated ‘tween’ friendship labyrinth as she enters middle school. The complexities of her relationships are really no different than mine. Society teaches us that having popular friends is something to strive for from a very young age. Even Barbie has a bestie, Midge. One of the most successful sitcoms of all times was devoted entirely to the subject of…Friends. I learned, though, that popular doesn’t necessarily mean healthier. The friendship circles of my past included those who would be considered popular: they drove the right cars, wore the right clothes and had wealthy husbands. They sipped lattes on the sidelines at Saturday morning soccer practice, wore skinny jeans instead of yoga pants and gave fake air kisses instead touching lip to cheek. In these circles, though, publicly-perceived perfection was not only a goal but a requirement. The messiness of real life was simply too unpleasant for anyone with a hyphenated last name. Then I met the runners.

I joined the morning running group at the encouragement of a friend (who does not drink latte) which was not an easy feat for this night owl. I went religiously, however, after learning it was formed to support a woman who was experiencing unimaginable grief: the death of a child. I roused myself each morning at 5:30 with the stern reminder that if she could get out of bed in the dark to run, then I had absolutely no excuse. What happened on those runs changed my life. I found women who were honest about their life struggles and I, too, was completely honest about my unpleasant life’s circumstances: that my children’s father was more interested in destroying me financially and emotionally and protecting his bottom line than he was in being a father to his two children. That I, a Master’s educated woman, had taken to cleaning houses when I could not find a professional job. The final straw was at the gas pump on a Friday morning when my debit card was declined and I had been driving on fumes and prayers for a day and a half. My child support deposit hadn’t been made. I sat in the car and cried, feeling hopeless and helpless. So I did something I hadn’t ever done — I told these new friends, women I had known for mere weeks, the truth. Within days I had a frenzy of support around me. I had a fridge full of food, gas in my car and bills that were paid. My daughter had enough back-to-school clothes when her father refused to help, declaring “that’s what child support is for.” These women had not shunned or scolded me for “making my bed and having to lay in it” the way others had; they saw a friend in need and immediately took action to help. I had finally found women who were like me: imperfect and hurting, each in her own way, but loving, loyal and generous. They taught me to believe in myself the way they believed in me.  

The book of my friendship life has not been a romance novel. Nor has it been a tragedy. I have learned that best friends often don’t come in the prettiest packages. The true friends I have made are like me, willing to show dents, battle wounds and flaws. We might not win any contests around town for having it all together, but what we do have is authenticity.

Elizabeth Richardson Rau is a single mother of two children living in central Connecticut. She earned her B.A. In communications from Simmons College and her M.F.A. in creative and professional writing from Western Connecticut State University. She is a freelance writer and a certified domestic violence victims advocate.

Photo: Melissa Askew


On Friendship

On Friendship

By Sarah Kilch Gaffney

2014-07-29 14.11.27

They are so much of why you are back on your feet, of how you are able to continue moving through life.

Great friends are thrilled for you when you go from the least likely of the bunch to settle down to all-out smitten and engaged in the span of fifteen months. They wonder a little about this fellow you met in the middle of the woods and how you’re only 22, but then they meet him and no one has any questions, just joy.

They agree to hike four miles round-trip to watch you get married in your favorite hiking pants (with a veil thrown in for good measure) on the mountain closest to both your hearts, and then help to remove the blowdowns from the “altar” before the ceremony starts.

Even when most of them are doing more productive things with their lives, they don’t judge you when you decide to put off graduate school for a while to spend too much time in the woods and hang out by the sea.

They are thus super impressed when you adopt a dog, buy your first house, and decide to actually apply for graduate school.

A week after they find a lemon-sized tumor in your 27-year-old husband’s brain, they approach your car in the parking lot after work and hand you a half-gallon jug of homemade “apple pie” comprised of spices, apple cider, and most importantly, 100-proof-liquor. Also included is an offer to make more.

They ask what you need and they mean it.

They don’t doubt you for a second when you decide to become parents and they offer to babysit after the little one arrives.

They mow your lawn, plow your driveway, and take your trash to the transfer station.

They take your daughter overnight when it’s time for the second brain surgery and then drive her down to the hospital when he’s out of the woods; they pick her up from daycare when the chemo treatments run late or you have to travel out-of-state; they take her for a few hours here and there so you can try and juggle nursing school on top of everything else.

They call and it is like no time has passed at all.

They fly a thousand miles to help you survive school and take care of your family like their own, and then accept it despite their effort when you leave school a few weeks later when your husband can no longer safely stay home alone.

They start a fundraiser for your family to use to take a vacation, then for alternative treatments, then for just anything because sometimes that’s how quickly it goes.

No matter how inopportune the timing, they meet you at the local emergency department every time.

Knowing your daughter needs as much love as humanly possible, they give, give, give.

After the oncologist tells you there is nothing left to be done, they fill the house with visitors and love.

When your husband starts hospice two weeks before your daughter’s 3rd birthday, they arrange an enormous, spectacular party for her where all you have to do is show up and try not to cry.

When he becomes home-bound, they come visit with incredible spreads of food and booze, to play with your daughter for hours on end, and with enough meals for the freezer so that you won’t have to cook for months.

After the hospice nurse says hours to days, they stand at your side until family arrives; they hold his hand and say goodbye; they put Patty Griffin on in the background, every album repeating; they shake their heads right alongside you in disbelief that this is actually happening.

They meet you at the funeral home to fill out the cremation paperwork and tentatively look at urns.  When you find a little slate one with a golden tree and say you’re not going to buy it just yet, but look at this, they completely agree.

When he dies, they shower the world with tributes of his good spirit, love for teaching everyone about the woods, and how much confidence, humor, and knowledge he brought to their lives.

They help plan his celebration of life and spill into your neighbors’ house to fill it with love and laughter and stories.

When you turn 30 just over two months after his death, they take you out to a coastal town for dinner and drinks and the comforting smells of diesel fuel and the sea.

They hike 12 emotionally and physically grueling miles with you up your mountain to spread his ashes where they need to be; at the summit they all dip their hands and join you in setting him free.

When you return to nursing school that fall, they are there to support you through and through; when you find that you are miserable and leave the program six months later, all they want is for you to be happy.

As the horror of that first Christmas approaches, they entertain and distract.

They house/pet/chicken-sit so that you can travel for the first time in half a decade.

As the one-year mark nears, they gather with you at his favorite pub to reminisce and love.

When you start to date again, they want to know EVERY. LAST. DETAIL.

Your life is what it is in great part because of these friends, these friends who kept you afloat through the best and worst years of your life, through thick and thin, through marriage, birth, death, and life again.

Oftentimes, especially early in the morning with your first cup of coffee, you wonder where you would be without your friends. You breathe deeply, slowly, gratefully for all they have done, all they have sacrificed and loved. They are so much of why you are back on your feet, of how you are able to continue moving through life. You hope they never experience anything even remotely similar, but because of them you’re there: ready, strong as hell, and by their sides to rally, protect, love, and provide anything they might ever need.

Sarah Kilch Gaffney lives in rural Maine with her daughter. Read more from Sarah at:




Pink Champagne

Pink Champagne

Black and white photograph for background, tourist girl in swimsuit standing with happiness on the beach and sea at Koh Miang Island, Mu Ko Similan National Park, Phang Nga province, Thailand

By Harriet Heydemann

“Let’s send her picture to Dr. Doom and Gloom,” her father said every birthday. That’s what we called the doctor who told us she wouldn’t live past the age of five or ten, or maybe, if she was lucky, she’d make it to fifteen. The doctor’s prognosis was the worst we had heard. Most of the experts we consulted scratched their heads. Ariela never sat up, or crawled, or walked. No one knew what was wrong or why she was the way she was.

“Look how well she’s doing.” We said this every birthday past fifteen, knowing we were being smug, knowing we might be jinxing her luck. We laughed about Dr. Doom and Gloom. “She doesn’t know Ariela,” we said. “Ariela’s a trouper.” Sometimes we used the word “miracle.”

Every birthday, I relived her birth, just as my mother did with me. “What was it like the day I was born?” I’d ask my mother. She would tell me the story. How she was sedated. When she woke up, she had a baby.

“No sedation,” I said to my doctor who told me to take Lamaze classes. But the Lamaze teacher never said, “In and out of distress” and “No progress.” After hours that felt like days, I was rushed to the OR for an emergency

C-section. I couldn’t feel a thing or watch her birth.

I admit. I spoiled Ariela. After all, she was an only child. Ariela could have just about anything she wanted any day of the year. It was a challenge to make her birthday special.

At least a month before her birthday, she would decide what kind of event she wanted, who would be on her guest list, what food to serve. Whether she’d have a chocolate, white or carrot cake. But that’s where her power ended. She had little control over anything that mattered. She held court over her party from the seat of her wheelchair. She smiled and laughed with her friends and understood everything they said. But she was never able to speak. We read her facial expressions and her body language. She answered our questions with “yes” and “no” cards or a blink of an eye. By her eighth birthday, she used a computer with a digitized voice, a child’s version of Stephen Hawking’s device.

There would be more than one celebration. If her birthday fell in the middle of the week, she’d have a few close friends over for cake. On the weekend, another cake and another party for a larger group. Then, because her birthday came right before Thanksgiving, we’d celebrate when family came into town for the holiday. She liked being the center of attention, all her friends surrounding her, singing “Happy Birthday.” They filled our home with constant banter, interspersed with squeals of laughter and whispered secrets.

By the time Ariela turned sixteen, she could no longer eat the cake or anything else. Her food, a nutritional supplement, went into her stomach by way of a long, skinny tube. Sometimes I put the tiniest taste of strawberry jam in her cheek, washed down with a few drops of pink champagne, her favorite drink. We celebrated every year, like this year would be the best, like she would live forever.

I wanted all her parties to be perfect; the kind that linger in your memory for days after, where everything goes smoothly and no one wants to leave. Her friends still talk about her twenty-first birthday in a downtown nightclub. But the last one, a bowling party, was far from ideal. I chose a Sunday instead of a Saturday, and a few of her friends couldn’t come. The street was dark, and people couldn’t find the place. Almost everyone was late. The music was too loud. The bowling alley was slow serving the pizza. The strobe lights gave Ariela a headache. Her bowling ramp and lucky pink shirt, both previous birthday gifts, didn’t bring the usual show of strikes. I should have checked out the place beforehand. She looked at me with an expression that I knew too well. Roughly translated, “You really fucked up this time.”

“You’ll have a better party next year,” I promised.

As Jews, we mark the anniversary of a death, but what about a birthday? Is a birthday sacred? Or does only a mother hold that day sacred? My mother used to tell me, “You may not know the father, but you know the mother.” Sedated, anesthetized or awake, the mother was there.

My missing her is the same lonely, painful, deep hole every day. Her birthday is not different, except it is. It feels strange not to have a party, and feels even stranger to have one. We can’t have a cake with candles, and we can’t sing “Happy Birthday.” I worry that her birthday will become just another day. It’s a challenge to make the day special.

Her friends text and email, prodding me to do something. On the day of her birthday, about a dozen young women congregate in our house and reminisce.

Many of Ariela’s friends came into her life as caregivers, attendants to help with her personal needs and accompany her to medical appointments, classes, movies, concerts, bars, wherever she needed or wanted to go. For the last seven or eight years, she hired millennials, women close to her in age. Over time, their relationships evolved into friendships. Her friends went on to become physical therapists, nurses, speech pathologists, social workers, and teachers.

“I imagine her sitting in her chair next to the couch.

She’s grinning along with them.

This was the first birthday party she missed.

She would have been twenty-seven.”


“She changed my life, the way I think about disability and ability,” one friend says.

“She inspires me everyday,” says another.

“She didn’t want to be an inspiration. She made fun of people who patronized her.” They all nod at this.

“She made me laugh.”

We eat pizza and drink pink champagne. We gather around the TV and watch a video, a photomontage of Ariela’s life. Her friends point to themselves in the group shots.

“We’re at the Embarcadero in that one. We went to watch a flash mob.”

“That one’s from her trip to Israel. Dig the hottie she’s sitting with.”

Everyone laughs at Ariela dressed as a zombie, her eyes blackened, mouth smeared a bloody red, her Halloween costume two years ago.

The sounds of young women laughing, joking, teasing fill our home. I imagine her sitting in her chair next to the couch. She’s grinning along with them. This was the first birthday party she missed. She would have been twenty-seven. So there, Dr. Doom and Gloom. She beat your prediction by over eleven years.

Surrounded by Ariela’s friends, I understand why she said the “L” in her name stood for “lucky.” I think of the lasting impressions she made on their lives, and I know her birthday will not be forgotten.

I mark her friends’ birthdays in my calendar. I’m not crazy about pink champagne, but I raise a glass to all of them.

Harriet Heydemann’s work has been published in The Big Roundtable, Huffington Post, and A Cup Of Comfort for Parents of Children With Special Needs.

Things No One Told Me About Grief

Things No One Told Me About Grief

By Rachel Pieh Jones


C.S. Lewis wrote, “No one ever told me grief felt so like fear.”


No one ever told me grief was so physical. I feel it in my bones, they ache. I feel it in my muscles, they are sore, as though I’ve run a marathon. The few times I have tried to run, I struggle to see the ground through my tears and my legs feel weak, my pace slow but my body screaming that I’m trying as hard as I can. I’m dehydrated from crying, from forgetting to drink enough water. I’m hungry but can’t eat, nothing looks appetizing. I haven’t slept all the way through the night since the day my daughter’s friend fell.

What is it for anyway? Who cares if I’m in shape or strong or feel the wind in my face? The child of my friend is gone, my daughter’s friend is gone. My 5k pace is irrelevant, sleep a luxury repeatedly interrupted by damp cheeks and a runny nose. Grief forms in a lump in my throat and lodges there, moving in uninvited. It fades and comes back and it is hard to swallow food, to force sustenance past the sorrow.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “No one ever told me grief felt so like fear.” No one ever told me that, either. Fear of how to respond, fear of how things will change, fear of fragility, fear of how to respond to my daughter’s grief while facing my own.

No one ever told me grief was something you owned (or does it own you?), something that settles in and takes up residence like the lump in my throat and the dampness around my eyes.

No one purposefully neglected to tell me these things about grief. Loss, pain, sorrow, heartbreak, they are all simply topics that aren’t discussed in depth and that are experienced in both unique and universal ways. To say: this is how you will experience grief robs it of the unique, yet to say: this is how we mortals experience grief is to give the gift of not being alone. How do we talk about things for which there are no words, in any language that can capture the whole of it? The pain of tragedy burns so deeply and transformatively that we pander around in art, movies, poetry, flowers, songs, essays, trying to grasp the unfathomable. That’s what tears are for, they are the words of the utterly crushed.

But now I have to talk with my children about grief, about endings, about things that cannot be changed. There are so many difficulties in life but the only thing that cannot, ever, be changed is death. For those with faith, there is hope of life after death but this is not the hope of a miraculous physical resurrection in the days before the funeral, before the burial. Death is final, the last word before eternity.

How do I talk with my daughter about her friend? She hasn’t wanted to talk about what happened or what she is feeling and thinking. She resorts to action in place of words and so I’ve been letting her light candles and stare at them, her eyes full of wonder, confusion, and sadness. She taped photos to her bedroom walls and filled the first pages of her Christmas journal with cutouts from the memorial service bulletin and notes on what their friendship meant to her. She found a small bag of gifts her friend had given her and buried it deep in her dresser drawer. She showed me some selfies they took together.

I’ve told her about how my body is reacting to this sadness, she knows. She sees me crying while I do the dishes or yawning in the middle of the afternoon after a sleepless night. She hears me talk about the messages passed between the adults involved. We share memories of her friend, pictures, words that feel both full and far too empty. I don’t know if, as my daughter grows and faces more loss, she will remember these discussions or her current sadness, she is only ten. She struggles to articulate what she is feeling. Later, she might feel like no one ever told her grief would be so physical, so close to fear, so inconvenient, so exhausting.

Though I don’t know exactly how to talk with her about grief and loss, we still talk. I tell her about the accident, I answer her questions. How is a body transported internationally? What happens at a funeral? What does her friend look like now? I don’t know how to answer all her questions but that’s what I say. “I don’t know.” This is one thing I want my daughter to know. When she experiences sorrow, now and in the future, it is okay to not know everything. It is okay to be surprised by what sadness feels like, or doesn’t feel like.

The friend who died lived in a different country and one day my daughter said, “I don’t miss her today because I didn’t see her every day. But when I go there to visit and she is gone, I think I will feel sad again.” The words had a question mark in them. I think she was asking, “Is that okay? To not feel sad now but to feel sad in a couple of weeks?”

This is another thing no one told me about grief but it is something we all know. There is no timeline, no proper moment to start or end the mourning. It becomes part of our days, woven into the sunrise and the dirty dishes and the photos on our computer screensavers.

C.S. Lewis also said, “To love is to be vulnerable.”

It is scary to raise my daughter to love, hoping she will stay tender and vulnerable, in other words able to be wounded. But this wounding love is also what makes us strong. In love we build friendships and communities and when grief takes our breath away, these connections step in and become our strength. We are so easily broken but when there is no strength to stand, the communities that love us move closer, tenderly gather the shattered pieces, and hold us.

No one ever told me that explicitly, either, but I think I’ve known it all along. That love both breaks and heals. Walking through loss with my daughter and sharing our grief is strengthening our relationship. Even though it won’t miraculously heal scars or close up black holes of loss, shared grief is what love looks like.

Rachel Pieh Jones lives in Djibouti with her husband and three children: 14-year old twins and a 9-year old who feel most at home when they are in Africa. Her work has been published in the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, FamilyFun, Babble, and Running Times. Visit her at: Djibouti Jones, her Facebook page or on Twitter @rachelpiehjones.

Teaching Our Children About the Meaning of Friendship

Teaching Our Children About the Meaning of Friendship

By Meagan Schultz

“See, bud, THIS is what friends do.” I tell him, returning to the conversation we started earlier. “Friends do nice things for each other, to make each other feel better.”


“Augie is my friend,” Silas says proudly one morning as we’re eating breakfast at the kitchen table that straddles the french doors to our back deck.

“Lucky you,” I say.

“And Finn, and Shay, and Ivy, and Matilde … ” he goes on, listing every kid he can remember in his nursery school.

“And what do friends do?” I ask him.

“Friends give hugs.”

“Oh,” I say.

“Friends kiss.”

I try to imagine him kissing all of these kids and my mind moves quickly to the email the school sent last week about the case of lice going around. I shudder.

He returns to his granola and berries, staring down at his bowl, determined to get the fruit on his Elmo spoon without using his fingers. He’s a righty, and today he props his left elbow on the table next to the bowl, resting his head on his knuckles. He’s half playing, half eating, and keeps glancing towards the family room where his train set still covers the floor from last night.

The doorbell rings and I leave him at the table to answer it. I return with a delivery from UPS.

“For me, Mama?” He asks, sing-songing the mama, as he does when he is excited. He expects all packages are for him after his birthday last month.

“Nope, this time it’s for me buddy.”

“No, MINE.” He bangs his little fist on the table, nearly knocking his bowl over, and shouts through clenched teeth.

“Oooooh, but look what’s inside,” I say, trying to distract his disappointment.

And it works. Suddenly his face softens into a smile, his dimples return. He lifts his eyebrows and his neck to see over the top of the box I’ve just set on the table next to him. He’s forgotten that it’s not his gift and sweet Silas is back.

“Look Mama, a cardinal,” he says, and points to a speck of red on the telephone wire that runs across the backyard and above the garage. And then he turns his attention back to the box.

I pull out a beautiful flowered gift bag with purple tissue paper hanging over the edge and read the card. His eyes focus first on the bag and then follow my hands as I open the envelope. It’s a care package from one of my best friends, someone I only talk to a few times a year, who lives across the country, but who knew I had been grieving. Two weeks earlier, I’d suffered yet another miscarriage, my sixth. This one came at twelve weeks after a miserable morning in the ER and a D&C that followed.

“Oh my goodness,” I say. “I can’t believe this. This is so NICE,” I say, my voice inflecting and emphasizing the ‘nice.’

He watches me quietly while I open each little tissue-wrapped gift inside the bag.

“See, bud, THIS is what friends do.” I tell him, returning to the conversation we started earlier. “Friends do nice things for each other, to make each other feel better.”

I realize I have a captive audience here; he’s put both elbows on the table now and is holding his head in his hands. So I slow down, unwrapping with wide-eyes and gasps as if—with each gift—I’ve discovered an oyster pearl the size of a golf ball. Socks, a bracelet, a candle, a notebook, a mug. He watches me silently, but opens his mouth slightly with each “oooh” and “ahhh,” mimicking my expressions.

When I’m finished, he slides out of his chair and onto the bench next to me, his little hands reaching for the candle, pulling it to his nose for three quick and shallow sniffs, looking a little like a hamster. I doubt he smelled the ollaliberry and tangerine, but he is satisfied and moves on to fondle the mug, intrigued by the heart shaped handle.

He spends the next half hour in the family room focused on rebuilding his train tracks. I know he is working hard because I can hear him breathing. I sit at the kitchen table with my coffee, finishing the morning paper. He talks to himself while he plays, in the high-pitched voices he uses for the stuffed friends he takes to bed each night. Every so often, I look up to find him staring at the bag on the table. I quickly look away.

“That’s SO nice,” he squeals, delighted with himself.

“OHMYGOODNESS, that was so NICE of you.”

“Thank you so MUCH.”

He’s trying out patterns, giving weight and prominence to the different syllables of gratitude.

He’s copying the melodramatic exaggerations he heard earlier.

He’s practicing for when it’s his turn to be a friend.
Originally from California, Meagan Schultz lives in Milwaukee Wisconsin with her husband and two young boys. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming on Write On, Mamas, Literary Mama, and Mamalode.

Photo: Getty Images

Moms Night Out

Moms Night Out

By Susan Buttenwieser


You don’t know these other Moms very well, haven’t gotten past the small talk phase of friendship during late afternoon pick-up, when everyone just wants to get home. You’d been hoping that socializing with them might produce kindred spirits, maybe somewhat of a support network even.


The Moms from Toddler Room A have the night off. They are letting loose at the back table in a T.G.I.F. knock-off.

“Get your husbands to baby sit,” the email from Cruise Director Mom instructed earlier. She’s the self-designated organizer of the monthly snack schedule, teacher thank-you gifts, and lice outbreak alerts. “Because tonight is MOM’S NIGHT OUT!!!!”

Immediately, the Reply Alls started rolling in.

Compara-Mom was the first to rsvp. “So TOTALLY psyched!! Can already taste the salt on my margarita! I am ready to PAR-TAY!” Her main reason for getting out of bed each morning is to display her vastly superior child-rearing skills.

Cheery-Bitter Mom chimed in. “Literally cannot wait! Stuck at home all week with two sick kids and they are driving me crazy! Let’s get this PAR-TAY started!” She makes baby food from scratch, sews all her children’s clothing, and loathes them.

“Just wish we could start the PAR-TAY right now!” Overly-Aerobicized Mom signed off with her signature yellow smiley-faced emoticon.

Now here you all are in this brightly lit restaurant with no discernable cuisine. It is mostly empty except for a few happy-hourers anchored to the bar. The Moms pound umbrella drinks and nibble at nachos smothered in cheese and hot chilies. Nearby speakers blare that one Edie Brickell hit that gets Cheery-Bitter bouncing in her chair.

At first everyone is giddy and the conversation is easy. It is seven p.m. and you are in a bar. Not home navigating baths or bedtime stories or scraping barely touched chicken nuggets into the trash. So giddy that everyone is able to overlook the fact that the Cruise Director chose a place that is subpar to an airport lounge.

You discuss the preschool teachers where you all know each other from. How hard it is to find something to wear that feels remotely flattering. How hard it is to find time to exercise. How hard it is to find time to do anything for yourselves. How lucky you all are that the Cruise Director organized this.

But then that first sheen of excitement wears off and an awkward lull washes over the table. You are missing the social crutch of attending to your children’s constant needs in the confines of the playground or the pre-school hallways. The Cruise Director tries to flag down the waitress for another round. Compara-Mom tells Cheery Bitter that she looks like she’s lost weight. Overly Aerobicized agrees. And then there is more awkwardness.

So the Moms turn to the one subject that comes so easily: husband hatred.

Compara Mom won’t let her husband buy groceries. The Cruise Director can’t trust her husband to take their kids to the playground because he doesn’t provide “appropriate supervision.” Cheery Bitter’s husband always fucks up the laundry and Overly-Aerobicized’s can’t cook.

“He still hasn’t figured out how to put a diaper on!”

“He won’t get up with the kids in the mornings. Not even on Mother’s Day!”

“He thinks cereal is a suitable option for dinner. Sugar cereal!”

“He has no idea what he’s doing!”

Another round of umbrella drinks arrive along with baskets of Buffalo wings and fried mozzarella sticks. One Eagles’ song after another plays, followed by a Randy Newman double shot. The fluorescent lights beat down on as the grievances fly around the table.

“He never even thinks about buying wipes.”

“Oh don’t get me started on wipes.”

“They think the wipes somehow appear mysteriously in the apartment by themselves.”

“He won’t do anything about a routine.”

“He’s let’s the kids watch TV whenever they feel like it.”

It is hard to get a word in edgewise as the outpouring of vitriol grows louder and more vicious. Then Overly-Aerobicized over-shares about sexual problems.

A long silence follows. Finally the Cruise Director comes up with a lighter topic.

“Do you remember right before you gave birth? Those last few days of freedom,” she slurs. “What is your favorite memory from The Before?”

The Moms clamor to share their memories: getting breakfast in bed, foot massages, candlelit dinners.  

You decide to keep yours quiet. The week before your daughter was born, you and some friends went to a strip club in your neighborhood, which has since been shut down and turned into a bagel cafe. It was a no frills dive, a rarity in the city now. A small stage lined the whole of one mirrored wall with the bar directly opposite it. At one point during the long evening, the dancers all gathered around you, placing their hands on your outstretched belly, squealing whenever they felt movement. “Bless this baby,” the women said a few times, in between quietly complaining about the lousy tips they were getting that night.

You don’t feel like these Moms would understand how at that particular moment, right on the edge of motherhood, it was just the boost you so desperately needed. The dancers’ collective excitement at your huge belly was like having your own personal alternative cheerleading squad.

Remembering this right now only widens the chasm you have been feeling all evening. You don’t know these other Moms very well, haven’t gotten past the small talk phase of friendship during late afternoon pick-up, when everyone just wants to get home. You’d been hoping that socializing with them might produce kindred spirits, maybe somewhat of a support network even.  

Instead, after making up an excuse about needing to get back home you leave some money on the table and start gathering your things. When you stand up to leave and push your chair in, the Moms seem to barely even notice your imminent departure. As if you hadn’t really been there in the first place. 

Susan Buttenwieser’s writing has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and appeared in  Women’s Media Center Features and other publications. She teaches writing in New York City public schools and with incarcerated women. This piece is part of a collection that is being developed with the artist/illustrator Sujean Rim.

Photo: Patrick Schöpflin

Braving the Impossible Together

Braving the Impossible Together

By Lexi Behrndt

Lexi and Charlie

We are made to carry one another when we’re too weak to go on. This is community. This is survival through the pain.


We met on the 11th floor of the children’s hospital. It was in the summer, I remember but not because of the weather. It could have been storming or blazing hot outside, but we never would have known the difference. Our entire worlds were wrapped up in those tiny, sterile rooms with the rock-hard, pull-out sofas, monitors beeping at all hours, and the sticky hospital floors. Our children were both inpatient, receiving treatment and care for complications surrounding congenital heart disease. Our “home” was the pediatric cardiac unit.

When it came to other parents, I generally kept to myself. It’s not that I wasn’t friendly; I like to think of myself as a generally extroverted and warm person. But it got old after four months of seeing so many families come and go, sick babies in, generally healthy babies out, all while my infant son lay in the same bed and only moved as far as from floor 10, the ICU, to floor 11, the recovery floor. My friends were the staff. They were the constants I had and held onto, as they cared for my son Charlie; they popped in to visit and check on us day after day.

One morning, my social worker asked me if I would be willing to reach out to another parent on the floor. I had picked up my home, which was two hours away, and relocated to live next to the hospital, so that even when my son was well and discharged, he would be close enough in case of emergency. This mom, with a three-year-old who was a “frequent flier” at the hospital, was in the process of doing the same. I hesitantly agreed to meet her, and she came down to my son’s room.

She walked into his hospital room, and it was like looking in a mirror. Hair thrown in a disheveled ponytail, sweatshirt and yoga pants, dark rims beneath her eyes, and a mixture of ease and exhaustion. Like me, she was young, and like me, she had spent enough time in the hospital to have grown accustomed to the environment. Her name was Makenzie. Her little three-year-old, Jaedyn, a feisty red head, would eventually need a heart transplant. It could be years, but it was her airway issues that were causing her frequent hospital admissions.

Makenzie and I talked that day, and we bumped into each other a couple more times as we met over the community coffee pot in the early mornings, desperate for friendly conversation and caffeine. Jaedyn was discharged a couple weeks later, and they made their way back to their current home in South Dakota to tie up ends for relocation. Meanwhile, my Charlie stayed. Two weeks later, he moved from the recovery floor back down to the Pediatric Cardio Thoracic ICU where there he stayed.

The months went on, and sometime in mid-October, I parked my old minivan in the hospital parking garage. On my walk to the elevators, I ran into Makenzie and Jaedyn, who were leaving after a quick appointment. We talked briefly and casually, completely unaware of what the coming days and months would hold in store. Neither of us understood the weight of those days. We do now.

A quick conversation in passing, and we had no idea the significance it would hold. Charlie passed away the next Monday morning.

Jaedyn was readmitted to the hospital and put on the transplant list in February. Makenzie and I had lost contact, all except for casual conversation through social media. We had never talked much to begin with, besides friendly conversation over morning coffee, but the death of Charlie only created more distance. We were living in two different worlds, she was fighting for her child’s life, and I was aching to have mine back in my arms. She may have reminded me of what I still could have, and I may have reminded her of what she could lose. But when I learned through Facebook that Jaedyn’s condition worsened, and she became critical, I lost it. I texted Makenzie, called her, and I did whatever I could to support her, because Charlie died, but Jaedyn wasn’t supposed to. And I knew the pain, the deep, deep pain, and I did not want Makenzie to feel it. Ever.

I could barely think. It put me right back in Charlie’s hospital room, standing over my child, oscillator running, barely able to hear my own thoughts. ECMO (life support) on, blood being pumped through his body by a machine, oxygenating and giving life and beating his little heart.

And when Jaedyn died, I was there— not there with her physically— but I was jolted right back to the room where I held Charlie for seven hours after he died. I couldn’t let go. I knew Makenzie couldn’t either.

And it was in those moments, after losing Charlie, after supporting Makenzie through losing Jaedyn, that I made a vow. We couldn’t have our babies, but we sure as hell had to make sure the other made it out alive. She was stuck with me. The bond we shared is a bond of pain and loss and heartache, and I vowed to never let her face it alone.

We are made to carry one another when we’re too weak to go on. This is community. This is survival through the pain. This is the bond between grieving mothers—the soul tie exchanged between moms who have to kiss their babies goodbye, who have to give them back, who have to walk away, who have to live with the constant ache. We don’t have to face the impossible alone. I’ve seen that with so many strangers who have become sisters along the way, and I’ve seen it especially with Makenzie, the mom I met on the 11th floor.

We stood together on the side of life, while both our children lay in hospital beds, three rooms apart. And now we move forward together, with ashes, memories, slightly morbid senses of humor, and broken hearts, clinging to hope, and holding just enough joy to share with one another when it’s too hard to go on alone.
Lexi Behrndt is a single mom of two boys (one in heaven), a writer at Scribbles and Crumbs, and a communications director. Connect with her on Facebook.




By Sarah Layden

My brain is a box of wires.
Some connect to appropriate
portals, some fray at both ends.
I sort the tenth tragic email update from a friend
to the folder marked Baby. I begin to reply but draw
a blank, I type a few words then backspace the screen
clean. My own souvenir ultrasound picture is taped
to the monitor, little ghost in the machine. Some
machines work better than others. Mine was
broken, then fixed. Now this me-chine provides
sugar and fuel and god knows what else, fuel I
needed but expelled last night, a great
heaving, & I had the presence of mind
to clip back my hair. They say puking
while pregnant is a good sign. It feels
like being poisoned but it’s a good sign.
Best not to think of the emails left
unanswered, the failings of friendship
stretched thin by grief.
This is a moment of being
unwired, unhinged,
to anything but flesh,
to a baby technically
connected to me.
I am the host,
the server, and
the plug
only works
one way.

Back to November 2015 Issue

My Son Lived

My Son Lived

By Nicole Scobie


We are cancer moms. We didn’t break down, at least not in front of each other. Those are tears that, once begun, can’t stop.


Most mom friendships are formed because of a shared mutual experience, like two kids in the same daycare, the same class, or team. The moms get to know each other, first exchanging a few words at drop-off or pick-up, then warming up over a cup of coffee. Over time, they become friends. The shared experience of their children’s similar activity creates a bond that can last for years, as the moms watch their kids grow up together.

Natalie and I met that way, when my son Elliot was 5 and her daughter Zoé was 4 years old.

Our kids had shared the experience of cancer.

Elliot was diagnosed two weeks after starting school. A 6-inch tumor in his abdomen, multiple smaller tumors all over his lungs, making it stage 4. Zoé’s was in her bone marrow, requiring high intensity treatments.

Almost a full year of some of the hardest days (and nights). I held my son’s hand as he asked why this was happening. I talked to him about life and death, telling him how brave he was, while I was shaking with fear inside.

Friendships between two moms born this way are like no other — there are so many things that fall away when you’ve seen each other at your worst, at your angriest, at your most anxious and at your most relieved.

Bizarrely, despite the horrific situation we found ourselves in, the thing that drew us closest was laughing together. Nothing beats watching your child squirt a syringe of liquid at the doctor with another cancer mom there to witness it and laugh hysterically with you later. Laughing is great — I actually think laughter might just be the antonym of fear.

The downside of these friendships is that you now worry for another child. The burden is huge — knowing just how serious the situation is, feeling the fear because it is so bitterly familiar.

And then, the magic word: remission. No cancer left. Clear scans.

Both our kids entered the world of “normal,” where they could play outside with other kids again, where their hair started to grow back, where they, and we, were free of the hospital except for the regular three month checkups.

Natalie and I founded a non-profit organization together, to raise funds for research and help other families. One out of four children with cancer will die — we wanted to change that. We worked endless hours at it but still laughed at some of the ridiculous situations we found ourselves in. Speaking in front of large groups, for example, something we both hated, became a regular thing. What a strange path our lives had taken.

And meanwhile, there were always those three month checkups, to make sure the cancer hadn’t come back. The stress of watching Elliot lying on that table, me standing nearby with a heavy lead vest on. The technician telling him over the intercom, “Ok now lie very still.” The table sliding through the scanner. “Now take a deep breath and hold it.” The table sliding back through the scanner. “Ok now breathe.” I’d exhale. “Now we’ll do it again, lie very still…”

And the wait until days later, when my husband and I would be escorted into the oncologist’s office to get the results. Scanning the face of the doctor and nurse for some sign. Relief streaming out of me like hot air from a kettle after finding out all is clear. No relapse. We were free to go, back in three months.

First thing out of the meeting with the oncologist, as we walked down the hallway and before we got to the hospital elevator, I texted Natalie. We were both thrilled, relieved.

And then, a few months later, I got Natalie’s message, when she was in the hallway of the hospital.

But it was not good news this time.

Zoé had relapsed.

The cancer was back.

You are expecting me to write that we cried together and supported each other, like close friends do in the movies. But we didn’t. We are cancer moms. We didn’t break down, at least not in front of each other. Those are tears that, once begun, can’t stop. And won’t help anyone get through what happens next.

We didn’t cry. We fought back. We rallied. We researched and learned about this cancer, about the treatments. When one treatment failed we were ready for the next. Up until that last day when Zoé had bravely endured a brand new promising treatment and her parents went in for the results to see if this time, it had finally worked.

And I got the message from Natalie. I can’t say what I felt. Empty, I think.

The cancer was still there. The scan showed a little 4-year-old body, full, from head to toe, with cancer cells.

We knew even before the oncologist officially said it that there would be no more treatments.

Zoé died in her mother’s arms two weeks after that text message. I spoke at her ceremony. I couldn’t face the audience so instead I turned and spoke to the big, poster size photo of Zoé on the altar next to the flowers and toys placed there. I thanked her for what she had given me, the chance to have known her, the friendship with her mom, and I thanked her for her laughter. Zoé laughed a lot too.

My son lived. Her daughter died. There was no logical reason for it to turn out that way. It just did. We got lucky with one and unlucky with the other. Despite it all, we are still close friends.   

Almost two years have passed. Elliot has checkups every six months now. I text Natalie right away, and she’s relieved.   

Our non-profit has grown and now funds critical research, and supports families while their child is in treatment. It’s what we always wanted. Even though things didn’t turn out how we wanted.

Nicole Scobie, mom to three great kids, one of whom is luckily in remission from stage 4 cancer of the kidney.

Author’s Note: Nicole and Natalie now run, the non-profit organization that supports kids with cancer and their families.

Photo: Samuel Zeller

Our Friendship Blog Series

Friends2 w gray

2014-07-29 14.11.27

On Friendship

By Sarah Kilch Gaffney

They are so much of why you are back on your feet, of how you are able to continue moving through life. 





One of the Girls

By Dawn S. Davies

I appreciate the importance of friendship, but I’ve not been the kind of woman who has a posse of besties who meet on Thursday nights for cocktails. 





The Rise and Fall of the Single Moms Club

By Stephanie Sprenger

I struggle to shake off the unrealistic notion that all friendships I form during adulthood should be “forever friendships.” 





Perfectly Imperfect

By Elizabeth Richardson Rau

Best friends often don’t come in the prettiest packages. The true friends I have made are like me, willing to show dents, battle wounds and flaws. 





The Girl From Anthropologie

By Juli Fraga

Like many childhood relationships, my friendship with Abby had simply run its course.




Friends picTen Thoughts on Being a Mom Friend

By Karen Dempsey

Friendships can be temporary and still rich and authentic. When it stops working, whatever the reason, give yourself and your (now-fading) friend a break. It’s part of life. Move on – and remember what you gave to each other while it worked.



Illustration by Christine Juneau

5 Ways Living Abroad Changed My Parenting

5 Ways Living Abroad Changed My Parenting

By Rachel Pieh Jones


I realize that ‘home’ for us essentially means family, and anywhere that we are all together.


I moved abroad with 2 ½ year old twins and gave birth to our third child in Africa. They are now 15, 15, and 10. This means I’ve spent most of my parenting years not in my home country. So I don’t really know what kind of mother I would be in Minnesota. But I can make some assumptions about ways that living abroad has changed the way I parent and here are some of them.

Community. When the twins were born I somehow had the idea that I needed to be everything for them. I was the mom and so I should be able to do it all: twins, 22-years old, c-section and natural delivery, and all. Turns out I couldn’t do it all alone but it took some dark days in the mire of postpartum depression to acknowledge it. But in Djibouti I quickly figured out that few of the women around me parented alone. They had house helpers and nannies and multiple live-in relatives. And all these people invested in, loved, and trained their children. Pride had kept me from asking for help when I most needed it but as I watched these communities of women raise children, I saw that I could let go of that pride and it would be better for my kids. Because, guess what? I’m not perfect and I don’t have all the resources or character traits my kids need. I don’t have all the creativity or skills that could benefit them. A variety of input is invaluable for kids. And, I discovered that when I am willing to ask for help and am able to graciously receive it, there is a huge bonus – more people to love my kids.

Friendship over fear. There aren’t fewer things to be afraid of in Djibouti and in some ways there are more things to fear because we lack a decent hospital and we are surrounded by countries like Yemen, Eritrea, and Somalia, but the people around me don’t live in fear of day-to-day activities. Like sending a child across the street by himself or letting a kid use a sharp knife to slice watermelon. Fear is contagious and the parents I relate with in Djibouti don’t seem to be afraid of letting their children explore and experiment. My own kids have flown internationally alone before they were teenagers. Kids use knives and light fires and explore volcanic crevasses and they are learning to navigate life with courage, adventure, and confidence. Of course, I’m still afraid of choking, car accidents, playground injuries, bullies…parents are probably never entirely free of fear. But fear won’t rule my parenting. As one friend said, after the Westgate Mall terrorist attack in Nairobi, Kenya when her daughter was invited to a different mall, “We will chose friendship over fear.”

Conversation topics. I can’t avoid challenging discussion topics: race, poverty, religion. We are the white, Christian, middle class family in a black, Muslim, developing-world community and I have to help my kids navigate and understand their world. I have to give them words to use as they wrestle with how to respond to the beggar who is the same age but a foot shorter from malnutrition, is illiterate, and has never set foot inside an air conditioned building. Refugees, diplomats, people of other religions, a variety of skin colors and language and values, these are the realities that braid themselves through our every day, mundane activities. When we talk about these topics, it isn’t in theory or because of a news story. It is because my fourth grader’s friend moved back to Paris and lived across the street from the Charlie Hebdo offices. It is because our next door neighbors are a Yemeni refugee family. It is because people want to know what arm hair feels like or what blond hair feels like. I’m giving the kids words for framing their experience and helping them process.

Experiences and people above stuff. We can’t always get the fancy gifts or even the practical tennis shoes that we’d like to give our children for Christmas or birthdays. But we can hike down into an active volcano or kayak around Turtle Island where sea turtles swarm and flying fish jump into the kayaks. We’ve learned that while grandparents do send fabulous packages, they are not about gifts and things but about the way they meet us at the airport with signs and hugs, the way they play and listen and feel to our grandparent-starved hands. We see family and close friends once a year, sometimes once every two years. Those times are about flesh and blood and hugs and time together is precious.

Gratitude. We have had to make painful choices while living abroad – about education, housing, finances. And we’ve endured things that are difficult to be thankful for from emergency evacuations to the preventable deaths of friends. We could complain (and sometimes we do) but we’ve also learned that there is always something to be thankful for and this has become inseparable from my parenting. I think (hope) the kids are picking up on it. Once on the most epic-fail airplane journey we’ve ever experienced (endless airplane delays meant it took us five days to get back to Africa), my son said, upon arrival, “That was exhausting and awful. But we made some really great memories and I’m thankful we are finally home.”

When I realize that ‘home’ for us essentially means family, and anywhere that we are all together, I also realized that his words pretty much sum up my attitude about parenting.

Let’s make some good memories. Let’s be thankful to be home.

Rachel Pieh Jones lives in Djibouti with her husband and three children: 14-year old twins and a 9-year old who feel most at home when they are in Africa. Her work has been published in the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, FamilyFun, Babble, and Running Times. Visit her at: Djibouti Jones, her Facebook page or on Twitter @rachelpiehjones.

10 Thoughts On Being a Mom-Friend

10 Thoughts On Being a Mom-Friend

Friends pic

Friendships can be temporary and still rich and authentic. When it stops working, whatever the reason, give yourself and your (now-fading) friend a break. It’s part of life. Move on – and remember what you gave to each other while it worked.


When I had my first baby, over a decade ago now, I wondered how I’d strike up solid friendships with other new moms.

Looking back now, I realize how lucky I’ve been. Here are some gestures, big and small, that can go a long way toward building a real friendship. 

1. Be honest about the hard stuff. We all benefit from being real about how tough it is to be alone with a baby and find time to just use the bathroom. Don’t gloss over the lowlights.

2. But don’t be toxic. Envy, anger, and endless complaining are easy to fall into but bad for both of you. And besides, little ears are listening. 

3. Make her laugh. And hope she’ll do the same for you. Having someone to laugh with is even more important when you are sleep-deprived and full of self-doubt and generally just finding your way.

4. Listen. Put your phone away. Those snippets of real-life conversations will carry you through the hours when you don’t have adult company.

5. Snap a picture of her with her kid. We can’t have enough candids of ourselves with our kids. Take one when she doesn’t know you’re watching and send it to her. Even better, print it out and stick in an envelope before your next play date. 

6. Share your hand-me-downs. But only if it’s something you don’t need back. No one needs the added stress of trying to keep track of your onesies or get spit-up out of your favorite overalls.

7. Ask about her pre-parenthood life. And tell her about yours. 

8. Keep money in mind. We’re all on a different budget. You might need to realize that pricey lunch spot won’t work for her – or learn to put your own constraints, graciously, on the table. 

9. Remember that it’s not always about you. When she doesn’t return a few texts and you’re feeling left out or forgotten, she may have stuff going on that has nothing to do with you. 

10. Strike a balance when it comes to favors. Be willing to offer help and be able to ask for it. Be generous, but not to the point where you become resentful. Remember that she’s not your built-in babysitter and you’re not hers.

Finally, know that friendships can be temporary and still rich and authentic. When it stops working, whatever the reason, give yourself and your (now-fading) friend a break. It’s part of life. Move on – and remember what you gave to each other while it worked.

Karen Dempsey is a Brain, Child contributing blogger. She has written for the New York Times Motherlode blog, Babble, and Brain, Child. She lives in Massachusetts. Read her work at or follow her on Twitter.

One of the Girls

One of the Girls

By Dawn S. Davies


I appreciate the importance of friendship, but I’ve not been the kind of woman who has a posse of besties who meet on Thursday nights for cocktails. 


I don’t have any girlfriends.

I want to, I think. I’ve certainly tried over the years to have some. I suspect I’m missing out on something fundamental by not having them, and it’s not that I would be a bad friend, either, or that I am incapable in some way. I’m intensely loyal. I care, in a theoretical way, about other people’s lives. I hate to see people struggle. I have dropped everything to help someone in need, and I understand the importance of knowing another person to the core: the good, the bad, the embarrassing. Of carrying the weight of the shared experience, and of loving someone through both the swells of life and the tedium. But I don’t have those kinds of relationships with women.

I appreciate the importance of friendship, but I’ve not been the kind of woman who has a posse of besties who meet on Thursday nights for cocktails. I don’t have anyone to go with on a girl’s getaway weekend. I don’t belong to a social sorority and I certainly didn’t join one in college. I don’t play Bunco, and candle parties and jewelry parties and spa days make we want to shriek. When life gives me lemons, I call my husband and we lament and make the lemonade together, but at the same time, I question what is wrong with me that I don’t have close friendships with women, like all the other women I know.

The most obvious answer is that I’m an asshole. I can’t chat. I don’t like to share my thoughts. I can’t abide hearing a report about the actual minutiae of anyone’s life, although I do like to write about it. I will listen to someone for a while, feigning interest, mimicking body language, adopting an empathetic face complete with the subtle, quick nod and raised eyebrows, but then my foot starts shaking and I begin to sigh deeply and check the time. Assholianism may be my issue.

The second most obvious answer is that I have interests that many women don’t have, and I am unable get excited about the bountiful wellspring of themes women are traditionally drawn to. I like transportation. I love cars, actually. I like classic cars, new cars, watching the way that different models of cars evolve over time, and TV shows about cars. I like to reminisce about cars I have owned. I like other kinds of transportation, too, such as boats, and motorcycles, and mountain bikes and road bikes. With the exception of trains, which, Lord love him, my husband can talk about until I fall in a coma, I could be happy talking about cars for the duration of a standard house party.

I also like sports. I like following leagues, teams, coaching decisions, player trades. Fantasy football. March Madness. MMA. Pro basketball. World Cup. I think 30 for 30 is one of the most fascinating shows on television, and I believe that sports analysts are secret geniuses.

I love working out, and workout theories, muscle building and body sculpting, and trends in exercise and fitness, but I don’t care about diets. Actually, I don’t care about your diet. I care very much about mine, but I don’t like to talk about it, or lament aspects of it, or share pounds lost or pounds gained, because I don’t find diet struggle an interesting topic of conversation. If you want to lose weight, eat a shit ton of vegetables and a little fruit, some nice starches, and some decent organic protein. Lift weights. Don’t snack. Don’t eat packaged foods. Don’t drink a bottle of wine a night. Don’t eat your kids’ leftovers. Just stop talking about it and get it done.

I also don’t like to get too personal with people, and perhaps this is what is revealing. Perhaps I’m fundamentally damaged by the loss of several close girlfriends when I was a child. Perhaps I have a deep-rooted psychological injury. There was Mia, who died of leukemia when we were eight. There was Danielle two years later, whom I left, and Michelle, two years after that, and because we never made it three years in one place before we moved, I was constantly severing friendships, forced to make increasingly feeble attempts to replace much loved girlfriends in another city or in another state. Maybe all of that got old.

Or maybe it’s an identity problem, because I am six feet tall and find no joy in clothes shopping and I don’t look good in most feminine clothes. Shoe shopping, about as enjoyable for me as a kidney stone, is even worse. Nothing fits my size 10 1/2 feet, and the two times in my life I wore heels it caused people to gawk and make insulting comments to where my evening was ruined. I buy my shoes online when I get holes in my old ones. Not that I am reducing women in general to talking about clothing, but it is often a common ground, where women, even strangers, can meet. But talking about clothes and designers, and deals bores me to weeping silt from my eyes, and I can’t. I just can’t.

Prescriptive things I’ve tried: a women’s book group—oh gawd, it didn’t work—they didn’t talk about the author’s craft or the structure of the book, or noticeable literary elements; they talked about how the book made them feel—candle parties, jewelry parties—the obligation of purchase only slightly less painful than the girl talk I had to stumble through. I tried bible study groups for moms and wives, and meeting other moms for coffee, and talking about our kids. I adore kids, but frankly, I don’t like hearing about yours for very long and I don’t like talking about mine. I’ll do it, but I can’t bring myself to schedule a meeting and do it a second time. I joined a women’s quilting group once. We made quilts for sick people. Noble and good of concept it was, with a promise of sitting head to head, glasses perched on noses, the parts in our hair visible in the circle, talking about sensible things, our children, perhaps, or spouses, or maybe world peace. But it wasn’t like that. All these women talked about was who had what cancer and how long they had left, and how many young children they were leaving behind, and  if I didn’t go in the room a hypochondriac (I did, actually), I came out one, in full medical panic attack that kept me from sleeping.

None of these group activities worked, likely because I was required to show up more than once and execute a repeat social performance, and these activities were filled with so much weight. So much vulnerability, and worry, switched up with insignificant details and pointless, yet likely therapeutic, chatter and then more weight. The women in these groups could navigate the switching of that effortlessly, like piloting a boat through a treacherous pass without a single dash against the rocks. But I couldn’t balance the weightier parts with the chat, because I couldn’t relate to the chat, and at the end of each event, I left feeling unattached, and a little bit like an asshole for not caring.

Not long ago, at a back-to-school event at my new university, I was introduced to a group of women in my department, the Languages, Literature, and Composition department, which in olden times would have been called “The English Department.” Five or six accomplished and lovely women were sitting at a round banquet table that fit twelve, leaning in to talk to each other. All of them had PhDs. I was intimidated by them and excited to meet them at the same time. They welcomed me and I sat down and smiled, and then they turned back to their conversation. Recipes. Cooking. Their children. Their children cooking. Their children growing up. Their children growing up too fast. Where they bought the dresses they were wearing. Where all the time was going. Department changes. Highlights and lowlights. Tenure. More cooking. What I’m not saying here is that there is anything wrong with these women or their topics of conversation. They are perfectly fine, intelligent, powerful women, replete in their abilities to have children and PhDs at the same time, and to be able to speak the magical language of women everywhere, and to be nice to each other besides. What I’m trying to convey is that for some reason, I don’t speak this language, even though I am supposed to. I have to fake it. Make the mad eye contact with raised, interested eyebrows, nod my head and ask clarifying questions so they think I am not a jerk, but secretly, I would rather be over in the corner with the men in the department, talking about cars and traffic and sports, although it makes me look like a traitor, or a hussy. I am sure there are other women like me in the world, but I haven’t found them.

I recognize that this flaw is within me, and not within other women, who are beautifully complex, verbally weaving the fiber of their lives together, laying their lives out for each other to hold for a while, to try on, to rub between their fingers, to help each other mend. The depth to which they connect, the intimacy, the intensity: I don’t have that. I wish I cared about those things so I could be on the inside. So I could speak the language and care about the meaning of it. So I could be one of the girls.

Dawn S. Davies lives in the South. She is the mother of a blended family of five kids. Her work can be found in River Styx, Ninth Letter, Fourth Genre, Green Mountains Review, Chautauqua and elsewhere. Read more at:

Should Parents Be “Friends”  With Their Teenagers?

Should Parents Be “Friends” With Their Teenagers?


By Marcelle Soviero

79394216When my oldest daughter turned fourteen, she fought every rule I made, and acted out considerably and dangerously. I knew something had to change if she was going to stay safe, make better choices, and if we were ever going to sit in the same room together again.

Because I only had control over my own behavior, that’s what I changed. I chose to be my daughter’s friend, to cut down on the naysaying and rule-setting. And when my monologues eventually grew into discussions, my punishments into compassion, I knew I had somehow pivoted onto the right parenting path—at least the path that was right for us. Some might say choosing to be friends with my teenager is a path of permissiveness, but being friends doesn’t mean I let my daughter do anything she wants. Others might say kids crave boundaries, limits, and structure, but I say the teenage years call more for empathy and friendship.

For the most part, friendship with my friends or my daughter means being a really good listener—I don’t overshare with anybody and I certainly don’t think a teenager needs to hear the details of my personal life. Like my friends, though, my daughter fascinates me. I admire her “I don’t care what people think” attitude and her wild streak of non-conformity. Her intense loyalty and constant compassion are qualities I look for in my closest friends. In changing the nature of our relationship, I wanted to model these qualities for her, instead of modeling an authoritative rule-setter. I had been her rule-setter for fourteen years, and it wasn’t working anymore, thank you very much.

I stopped my incessant talk about grades, and I stopped all my questions about why she smelled like smoke and where she was every second. Instead I practiced trust, figuring if I raised her right, she would now be someone I trusted.

Choosing not to join in the quintessential adolescent power struggles—and understanding that I wasn’t always right—has made way for friendship, often a rocky one, but a friendship nonetheless. Together my daughter and I became mutual learners of her growing up and my growing older. As she told me more and more about her life, I did not judge, or criticize, or tell her what she should do. I listened.

So we talked, set goals, and shared dreams. She veered off her path and the path I had hoped for her, but when she did we talked some more, because I promised I would not punish her for telling me the truth. And this is what happened: Instead of sneaking around, my daughter told me what was going on in her life. If she stayed out late, she told the truth when she came home.

Becoming more of a friend to my daughter by playing less of a parental role, I stopped comparing her to girls who seemed perfect, girls who were on a tight path toward college, with mothers who planned every footstep and blocked any falls. In the end, though not fairly, I felt those mothers knew nothing real about their daughters. Seventeen now, I have not pressured my daughter about college, but she knows my preferences and she has her own.

Yes, she has smoked, and experimented with boys, drugs, and alcohol. But we talked about it and I guided her as best as I could, just as I would a friend. And while those talks were not easy, I had to believe she was learning. I know now that she would have done all these things whether I chose to be a rigid rule-setter or a friend. Better that she felt comfortable confiding in me.

With only a few exceptions, I have enjoyed my daughter’s teenage years. I am proud that we did not spend her senior year shouting and sulking and I am proud she is off on her next adventure—one of her own choosing. Of course, I have made a million mistakes as a mother and as a friend to my daughter, but I don’t regret my change in parenting style. She often tells me that when she leaves she will miss me most, that I am her best friend. And for me, that is exactly how it is supposed to be.

Marcelle Soviero is the Editor-in-Chief of Brain, Child, and author of An Iridescent Life: Essays on Motherhood.



By Alexandra Rosas

175535016I had a neighbor who used to say, “I am my children’s friend first, their parent second.”

She knew I felt strongly about not being “friends” with my own kids, and she would make remarks about how they would never confide in me on these terms. She didn’t consider her mother a friend and, as a result, she never told her anything personal. She felt that I was short-changing my children, closing myself off to them, by not creating a relationship akin to friendship.

My neighbor is misguided, but I understand where she is coming from. She sees my parenting style as old-fashioned, heavy on the discipline, and one hundred percent authoritarian—similar to what she experienced as a child.

Old-fashioned or not, I won’t be friends with my kids because parenting comes with obligations and responsibilities. I draw a line between myself and my children, and friendship does not fit in the grid. But it’s not as my neighbor imagined—I don’t miss out on the opportunities for intimacy with my children that friendship provides. It’s just that we share a different, healthier sort of closeness.

True friendship involves both parties confiding in each other. I don’t think this is appropriate for a parent. As a teen, my mother treated me as her friend. It never felt right as I listened to her emotional and financial struggles. What I wanted then was to be mentored, advised, to see an example of a role model in action, and to learn from her.

A parent is responsible for her children and, ideally, a secure environment is created when the child feels cared for and supported. In my circumstance, I was asked to meet my mother’s own emotional needs for support and companionship. I was pulled into decisions about my siblings, asked to help with discipline, and regaled with the frustrations of her personal life. I had been asked to play an inappropriate role.

There was not enough separation between us for my mother to do her job right. I don’t want that for my children. I can’t be a true mentor and a guide to them if I am their friend. The word ‘friend’ implies equal footing, and I have much more to give my children beyond what equality can offer. I have a lifetime of experience and lessons learned that I want to share with them. I am there for them, but my support comes as a parent enforcing the rules I have taken care to set, not as a buddy bending them.
When we aim to be friends with our children, the line between responsibility and companionship becomes fuzzy, especially during the teen years. Teenagers need the assurance of consistent boundaries and of someone they can count on to enforce them. I know firsthand that the waters of adolescence can be especially choppy. As somebody who has always worn the “parent” shoes, I am grateful that I didn’t have to change my relationship with my children suddenly in order to give them the discipline they need during these difficult years.

I made the decision to mother as a parent, not a friend, because I fell back on what I wished for as a teen: someone to help me define and reach my dreams, with no ambiguity about our relationship. I want my children to feel the security and comfort of having a parent who will say the hard things when they need to be said, to set the strict curfew, to refuse the late night out. I want them to trust me in a way that is possible only when a partnership is unequal.

My children have the promise that I am overseeing the details of their lives until they are adults, and that I am accountable for providing them with what they need to flourish.

Refusing to be friends with my teenagers doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy my company or confide in me. But it does mean that the boundaries between us are always clear. I am confident that being a parent to them right now will lay a firm foundation, one that will allow our relationship to grow into a true friendship when they are adults.

Alexandra Rosas is a writer and online content contributor. You can follow her on her blog and on Twitter @gdrpempress.

Photos: Getty Images

Perks and Perils of the FaceTime Playdate

Perks and Perils of the FaceTime Playdate



Would the FaceTime friend feel left out because she was only virtually connected? Would the live friend think that she was getting dissed?


I stepped into the basement playroom where nine-year-old Liddy sat hunched on the floor, arranging freshly sharpened pencils alongside crisp white sheets of paper.

“Hey Liddy? Five minutes ’til dinner.”

“Okay,” she said.

“Hi, Liddy’s mom!” said a little voice behind me.

I swung around to see her friend’s smiling face, reduced to a small, smiling rectangle propped on the desk.

“Oh, Bessie! Hi.” I laughed, immediately grateful that I hadn’t walked in wearing a towel or yelling about something I didn’t need Bessie’s family, hidden somewhere in the background of that screenshot, to overhear.

I made a mental note to add another guideline to the list: I needed to know when Liddy had guests, whether virtual or in person.

For the first few months Liddy owned an iPod touch, she’d used it only sporadically, to listen to Meghan Trainor, play “Virtual Family,” and send me goofy texts filled with panda emojis. But when Bessie changed schools unexpectedly, Liddy was heartbroken, and it seemed like a small comfort to have the girls exchange contact information so they could text.

Then Liddy’s iPod trilled out a FaceTime invite one evening and my husband and I locked eyes in that flash of parental cognition that we’d failed to think something through to its logical conclusion. What kind of slippery slope have we stepped out on? Was this a great idea, or a very, very bad one? What’s the emoji for “Oh, crap. Now what have we done?”

Flash forward a few months and now there are five little girls, with freshly minted iPods, engaging in semi-regular virtual playdates. There have been some sticking points along the way — like what it means when Liddy is hanging out with one friend in person and wants include another via FaceTime. Would the FaceTime friend feel left out because she was only virtually connected? Would the live friend think that she was getting dissed?

Fortunately, so far, those fears have been unfounded. I know because I check in and remind Liddy to be aware of the possibility, but also because I can hear them all whooping it up and laughing — in person and through the iPod speaker, with its volume cranked as high as it will go.

And these playdates are much more interactive than I would have imagined. Liddy runs through the house holding her iPod aloft, banging a song out on the piano while a friend joins in from several blocks away. They show off art projects they are each working on, or write silly poems together, or even play virtual family — with humans. And they still get plenty of face-to-face time along with the FaceTime. Electronic get-togethers have not replaced the real-world ones.

I’m reminded again that the questions I mistakenly believe our generation of parents faces for the first time are not so far off from the ones my own parents wrangled with in the era when I’d spend half the afternoon dialing a friend, hearing a busy signal, then hanging up and dialing another friend to try to figure out who was talking on the phone without me.

And I recently realized that I was Liddy’s same age when my fourth grade science book promised a future of moving sidewalks, computers that talked, and phones that had video feeds. Those ideas seemed outlandish to a ten-year-old in 1982. Outlandish, and totally awesome.

Excerpt: Don’t Tell Her to Relax

Excerpt: Don’t Tell Her to Relax

BMP- Don;t tell her to relax

By Zahie El Kouri

Chapter 3: Empathize with Your Infertile Loved One’s Sense of Urgency

While many women won’t want to discuss their infertility, some will eventually confide in close friends or relatives, and others will be open about their difficulties with getting pregnant from the first sign of trouble.

If you know your ILO is having trouble getting pregnant, whether she has told you or you just suspect, it may be very tempting to tell her to relax. You are not alone. As a society we seem to have decided that, “Just relax and you’ll get pregnant,” should be the automatic response to a confession of infertility.

Variations on the theme include, “If you go on a vacation, I just know you will get pregnant.”

Or, “If you start the adoption process, you will get pregnant.”

Or, “The minute you stop trying to get pregnant, you will get pregnant for sure.” All of these statements sound fine in the abstract.

It’s true that many women get pregnant while waiting to be placed with a child through adoption. It’s true that relaxation is key to good health, and good health is important for the reproductive system. It’s true that vacations are generally excellent, and your ILO probably deserves one.

But the reality is that true infertility is a medical condition, and relaxation will not cure any of the underlying physiological problems that cause it. Adoption is a long process, and some women will get pregnant while waiting to be placed with a child just because of how long it takes. But if your ILO has primary ovarian insufficiency (formerly known as premature ovarian failure), no amount of relaxation or adoption paperwork will help her conceive a child.

Even if your ILO knows you mean well, try to hold off from offering this kind of advice. It can sound flippant and smug, even if you don’t mean it that way. And even if relaxation would help, your directive will not help your ILO relax at all, and will probably make her feel as though you don’t understand her sense of urgency and panic about having a child, in turn making her feel less supported rather than more supported in her situation.

Takeaway Tip: Never say, “Just relax, and you’ll get pregnant.” Concentrate on other aspects of your relationship, or gently ask, “Do you want to talk about your fertility treatments?” You can always remind your ILO of the following: “I want you to know that I am not bringing up babies because I don’t want to be nosy, but if you ever want to talk about them, I’m here for you.”

Headshot Zahie El KouriRead our Q&A with the author.

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Lifelong Friends

Lifelong Friends

By Jennifer Palmer


Mom is still someone in flux, someone continually being refined by life, by experience, by motherhood itself.


China, two years after the end of World War II. Two American couples, husbands both pilots for the Marine Corps, wives both new mothers. A shared love of flying, a shared enjoyment of golf. A shared language, not to be disregarded in a foreign land far from home. Superficial things on which to build anything lasting, perhaps, but these were the foundation for a lifelong friendship, one that spanned six decades and more.

It’s a bit of family lore now, the meeting in China, the friendship that bloomed there. John and Gloria—my husband’s paternal grandparents—spoke long and often about Roy and Shirley, about their shared history. Though they were well into their adult lives when they met, already parents and spouses, theirs was a friendship for the ages, of the type you only ever expect to find in fiction. Even when the Marine Corps sent them to Southern California and they returned to the familiar sights and sounds of the States, they chose to remain close to each other, sharing meals and stories and life.

When Roy died flying one of the planes he loved so much, John and Gloria were the support Shirley needed as she and her young sons picked up the pieces, providing love and advice and help during her darkest days. Later, she remarried, and John and Gloria celebrated with her, and welcomed her new husband into their lives.

Shirley remained in Southern California for the rest of her life; John and Gloria did not. When Uncle Sam sent John to Korea, Gloria returned to her native Missouri, and after retirement the couple finally settled in Northern California. Still, even when time and distance separated them, Shirley and Gloria found a way to maintain their friendship; until Shirley’s deteriorating health would no longer permit it, the two women spoke on the phone every day.

I never knew Shirley, but there were days when I felt as though I did. Gloria never failed to mention her at our weekly lunches, never failed to share some anecdote from their shared past. It hit her hard when her dear friend passed away; though it was not unexpected, it is no small thing to lose a companion of more than sixty years. When Gloria lost Shirley, she lost more than a gabbing partner. She lost a treasured friend, the one who understood her better than most everyone else.

Those of us who knew Shirley or Gloria think of them as lifelong friends, and, indeed, they were. It is nearly impossible to picture one of them without the other, to imagine what their lives would have been had they never met. And yet this struck me recently, as I looked into the face of my own sleeping infant: Shirley and Gloria met after they were married, after their boys were born, at a time when they were well into their adult lives. Their lifelong friendship, the relationship that came to define them in so many ways, wasn’t formed until they were mothers, until they were in a place in life that looked pretty similar to where I am now.

It is hard to wrap my mind around this concept, for I have lived thirty years on this earth, in all likelihood a full third of my life. To a large extent, my identity and character are established. I have likes and interests and friends and hobbies that have nothing to do with the fact that so much of my time and energy is wrapped up in keeping a small human alive and thriving. Though I know that, in the eyes of that small human and in the eyes of any who may come after her, I will be “Mom,” first and foremost, always and forever, my life and my identity precede children.

What I realize when I contemplate Gloria and Shirley, however, is this: “Mom” is still someone in flux, someone continually being refined by life, by experience, by motherhood itself. I may meet somebody tomorrow, or next week, or next year, who will become integral in my children’s lives, who will shape and mold me to the point that my kids will be unable to picture me without her. Some person or lesson or experience may yet come my way which will change me profoundly, leave me a different woman from the one I am today.

This idea inspires me, for it reminds me that even now, as an adult and a wife and a mother, my life is not static. I have the room and the opportunity to grow and to change and to learn. Who I will be in my daughter’s eyes, the woman she will remember when she is grown with children of her own, is yet to be defined.

More than that, though, Gloria and Shirley’s example shows me that it is not too late for me to form lasting new friendships or to rekindle old ones, that it is not too late to invest time in meaningful relationships with other women. This truth seems to contradict my everyday experience; even in the modern world of Facebook and email and Skype, these early days of motherhood are often quite lonely, and making time for friendships sometimes seems impossible. Gloria and Shirley demonstrated otherwise. Their friendship did not happen by accident; though they had young boys at home, they found a way to spend their hours and their days together, to build a lasting relationship. Their families and their lives were better for it.

Jennifer Palmer worked as an electrical engineer until her daughter was born, but has always been a writer at heart. She now scribbles in her journal between diaper changes, composes prose in her head as she rocks a baby to sleep, and blogs about finding the beauty in everyday life at She lives with her husband and daughter in the forested foothills of the Sierra Nevadas in Northern California.


Just Between Friends

Just Between Friends

By L. Bo Roth

justbetweenfriendsThe noisy school gymnasium held dozens of women in their underwear, kicking boxes around with their feet. “Welcome to the Endless Knot Warehouse Sale” read a sign over the door. In the dim light, it took me a minute to adjust. Lining the periphery of the room were rows of clothing racks—roughly organized by color—filled with long dresses in rayon and silk, big blowsy caftan tops, and flowing pants in bright prints.

The empty cardboard boxes in the center of the gym, I gathered, were used to push around the floor to collect all the discounted clothes you wanted to buy. People were in this for the volume, clearly. Prices were slashed, and deals were to be had all for the price of ridding yourself of a little vanity while you stripped in front of three dozen women you’d never met, shoving them aside for some face time in one of the mirrors.

I’d just left my dance class and was still sweaty, but this didn’t seem to deter anyone else—at least not the folks from my class who waved me in from across the room. “Come on, there’s great stuff here!” they yelled. It was a bit of a stretch to think of summer caftans with winter rain pelting down, but I gave it a go. I’d just lost 50 pounds and had very few summer clothes that fit. After a bit of digging, I had three shirts in my hand and was heading to the back when I heard a familiar voice.

“Laurieeee!” she yelled.

I looked. I stared. I had absolutely no idea who she was.

“Laurie. It’s me. Greta!

Oh. My. God. “Greta? Is it you? I…didn’t recognize you!”

And I didn’t. The woman standing there bore so little resemblance to my old friend that I stood there, stupified.

“Well, that’s because I’m so fat!” she said with her hearty and familiar chuckle. She spat the word and it cracked like a whip.

It stung.

Greta, whom I hadn’t laid eyes on in years, was almost twice her previous size, which was never small to begin with. Greta, who’d made my kids dozens of macaroni and cheese “cocktails,” who’d giggled with me through endless Weight Watchers meetings, and snuck me out early so we could power-walk the lake, this same Greta was now zaftig. She looked like a completely different person.

I was at a loss for words, which is saying something. If we were still close, I might joke, “Hey baby, you’ve taken another step towards Goddess-hood!” But what I really would have said in the old days was more along the lines of, “You? How about me? I’m over the top!

Except that I wasn’t. And I didn’t know her that well anymore. She was huge and I wasn’t. Not anymore.

I spoke carefully. “That’s not it,” I said, with what I hoped sounded like surprise. “It’s your hair. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you with long hair.” True fact. She always had what her husband once lamely called “butch hair” (boy, that was a memorable dinner party) and now it was shoulder length and straight. She looked incredibly tired and kind of washed out.

“But look at you!” she shouted, smiling. “You’re so skinny! Tell me. How’d you do it?”

I had met Greta ten years ago, back when we joined a playgroup for moms of toddlers. These were also, as it happened, the Weight Watchers years for both of us, when she was the one who lost 50 pounds (and I, instead, got pregnant). Days when she invited me over for fabulous lunches of soup and grilled eggplant sandwiches with goat cheese. (“And only four points! Do I rock or what?”) while our kids chased each other around the backyard. Years of last minute dinner-parties, always at her house, always with plenty of wine and where our gang of toddlers were easily lured to the upstairs playroom with endless refills of fish crackers and juice. She was the Martha Stewart of our tribe: crafty, helpful, a wizard with handmade gifts and fabulous baked goods at a time when some of us—okay, me—struggled to put out generic cheddar and saltines for playgroup.

Once I came to her house the night before Halloween, frantic beyond measure—me, anxious, gulping tea—while she calmly sewed my daughter a costume. She decorated sugar cubes for my baby shower with petal-pink flowers of liquid candy. She made chocolate-covered strawberries for playgroup, and often greeted me at the door with a pan of hot homemade scones when I was having a bad mom day.

When my second-born died from complications of heart surgery, the whole world sent me nice condolence cards and offered to help, but Greta showed up on my porch with a wooden box she’d painted red and decorated with gold stars and charms of baby booties and angels. “For memories,” she said. “It’s a memory box to put things in.” She brought scones, then, too.

People said they wanted to help, but it was Greta who came over with food, or walked me around the lake, who took care of things when grief overwhelmed me. And when I finally, after several miscarriages, got pregnant again and was about to give birth, she came along as labor nanny, playing card games in the birthing room with my eldest daughter, and then took what seemed like hundreds of hideous crotch shots as my son’s giant head came out, went back in and out and in again in an endless drama of childbirth hokey pokey. At 3:30 a.m., she picked up my sleeping daughter and held her up like a rag doll. “Your brother is about to be born! Watch, watch!”

I’d say we were close.

But seven years later, that baby boy is eight and I hardly know Greta anymore. I have this jumble of things I still know about her. Things that I don’t really know what to do with. Things that hang in the air when we meet like this, unexpectedly. That her husband drinks too much. That her daughter is mean. That her mother is meaner and finally died a few years ago. That she remodeled their house into a palace I’ve never seen. That she loves red wine and heavy dark beer, that she can cook anything without a recipe, and can throw a dinner party at a moment’s notice, with food it would take me a week and three cookbooks to plan.

Remembering the good times comes easily, like the summer day she made ginger carrot soup and we slurped it up on the wide concrete stairs of her front porch. When we laughed till we cried when her daughter cut her own hair with dull scissors, making her look like a tiny Edward Scissorhands. And Greta, frantic on that stoop when that same toddler decided to dump scouring powder in the VCR and put broken glass in her sister’s bed, all in the same afternoon. (Like I said, that girl was a challenging one.)

For the years we were in playgroup together, I hugged her children, and wiped their snotty noses without a second thought. I held her hand when her husband was cruel, I told her she looked beautiful in red because it was true, and praised her cooking like it was manna from heaven. We traded clothes and made each other laugh with snarky jokes only mothers of toddlers could appreciate, and she made me believe I was entirely fun. I offered pep talks and silly laughter over late afternoon beers if that was called for. And I told her, whenever you need me, just call.

But she stopped calling. I can’t pinpoint the exact day and time Greta began to pull away, but pull away she did.

Maybe it’s human nature to deny the truth, or maybe I was just determined to keep my friend, but it’s tricky to read the signs what with chasing toddlers, or running to the store for more of those orange fish crackers our children survived on. Each time she put me off, I told myself she was just busier than usual, or that maybe her phone machine was on the blink, since mine had recently gasped its last. On the other hand, on the hand I refused to look at, I’d lost most of friends after my baby’s death—my grief was too much for them, or maybe their fear was too much, they admitted six months (or two years) later—but Greta was one of the loyal holdouts; she stepped up when so many others dealt with it by avoiding me altogether.

I loved her. I couldn’t imagine losing her.

But still, she turned away. I invited her to my son’s first birthday party—a simple afternoon on a picnic blanket under the lilacs—but despite my pleading, she begged off. Not long after, she agreed to take a walk with me, when I asked point blank, what was going on. “Can you tell me what’s wrong? Did I do or say something?” She looked away and avoided my eyes. “I’m fine,” she said, picking up the pace. “We’re fine. I just don’t like to talk about all that emotional stuff like you do, okay? Can we just leave it?”

And so for a while, I left it. I let her set the rules and tried to follow them, sweating it out to stay fun because, after all, Greta was one of the few who knew where I’d been and the road I’d traveled. She knew what was hard, and she knew why. Even if she wouldn’t talk about it.

So I stopped calling so often. First I’d let a week or two go by. Then a month. I stopped by her house once to give back a dish, and she stood there at the door, lovely as ever, but never invited me in. (Back in the day, I’d let myself in and flop on the couch.) I could smell stew cooking on the stove, bread baking in the oven, and the smell was heavenly, and I told her so. She dismissed it with a wave of her hand as ‘just dinner,’ but we both knew company was coming and I was no longer on the guest list.

The second time this happened I decided stopping by wasn’t such a good idea, and moved on to emails, each one shorter and sweeter, each one ending with an invitation. “Lunch sometime?”

I’d say. “A quick walk around the lake? I’d love to see you.”

In some ways, losing a friend is harder than bearing a death, because when someone you love dies, they’re not down the street cooking dinner for someone else, or shopping in your local supermarket, or laughing with their new friends as they walk the lake, just like you used to do.

Somehow, years went by. It seems inconceivable, now, that I could move on without this friend whom I’d leaned on through the hardest days of motherhood, whom I’d laughed with, changed diapers with, traded horror stories with, cried with. I moved on because I had to, because I had no choice.

She just wasn’t that into me. And she wouldn’t tell me why.

Eventually, I fell into a pattern of checking in with Greta about once a year just for old times’ sake. I’d write and tell her I missed her, because it was true. I’d tell her something funny, tell her I thought I saw her car at the co-op the other day, does it still have that dent in the back left fender? And how are you these days?

And yet here she was, years later, in the flesh at the mobbed mumu sale, miles from home even though we only live a few blocks from each other, asking me—with a big friendly smile—how I’d managed to lose weight. Her face was smiling, open, receptive, like she really wanted to know. As though all that time hadn’t passed at all.

The irony was not lost on me. Yes, we’d spent years sharing the most difficult challenges of mothering, but then we spent more years where she never once picked up the phone. And here she was, out of the blue, wanting my secret to weight loss success. Waiting for my answer.

“Um….Atkins?” I stammered. “You know, very low carb. Lots of broccoli. No sugar and no alcohol, can you believe it?” (Wine had, after all, been our secret sauce for surviving toddlers.)

We gamely updated each other on our kids and their stats, but it felt perfunctory. The hole of those years felt too big, like it could swallow me in one gulp. Because in all those years, as the rhythm of a life filled with her laughter and Martha Stewart moments faded, I’d been forced to find my own rhythm. I had learned to live without those dinner parties and giggly afternoons; I had to find new people and discover what I really wanted to do with what little free time exists for mothers of small needy children.

For whatever reason, I was no longer worthy of Greta’s free time. And while it took me far too long to accept it, I realized, standing there with my old friend I hardly recognized, that despite all these years of missing her big heart and her laughter, maybe she was no longer worthy of mine.

We stood there chatting, me feeling a little awkward about my weight loss success, she with a couple of caftans in hand, while bright tropical shirts flew over our heads and frantic women kicked their boxes and said, “Do you mind?” to get us out of the way.

And we ran out of things to say.

We looked at our watches, and I realized I felt trapped standing there with my three little shirts. Greta had a full box at her feet, more shopping to do, and I suddenly needed to go outside in the pounding rain just to breathe. I asked her to call me sometime, as I always do. We both knew she wouldn’t.

Reading this now, it’s tempting to drum up patchwork answers. Some- thing that would give reason or neatly explain how someone who stood by you through the best and worst days of motherhood could walk away with barely a word. But now I’ve got another way of looking at it.

Maybe motherhood and friendship is like a big, 2,000-word jigsaw puzzle. There’s a picture there, a beautiful one, and together you work on it, piece by piece, bending over the table, celebrating each time you find a match, a piece that deliciously clicks into place, the big picture growing more clear. But in our case, maybe Greta and I got to the end of that beautiful picture and a key piece was missing. There’s nothing much to do then, but take a photo before you crumble it up and put it away. And be glad for the time spent, the memories of muddling through, happy for the pieces you shared.

Author’s Note:  I wrote this piece eight years ago, but, thanks to Facebook, I found out Greta was divorcing her husband, selling her lovely house, and moving across the country. One night before she left, I took a deep breath, grabbed my husband and knocked on her door to say goodbye. She greeted us with a huge surprised smile, poured us a glass of wine, and caught us up on the last ten years—at least the high points. We didn’t bring up what happened but we did laugh a lot. It felt a bit like old times. And despite everything, it was pretty great.

L. Bo Roth is a Seattle writer, editorial consultant, and pitch coach. This is her second piece for Brain, Child.

Art: Oliver Weiss

Die Job

Die Job

By Krista Genevieve Farris


There was a mother bear incident, her blaming my child for biting her son; then accusations that I’m too soft on my kids, incompetent as a mom. 


I noticed the black of her hair turned blue at her scalp and wondered how much of that was intentional. I don’t know much about these things, whether it’s staged, a mistake, or something she hasn’t yet noticed. I like her a lot, so I don’t say anything and understand I’ll probably get it in time. I hope she comes around because I’ve missed her.

She’s big eyed and skinny, simultaneously genuine and put on. She’s not trying to look young. And she doesn’t. But, she doesn’t look old either. She just looks like her. And I love that. I’m caught off guard by her candor when I asked her that question about her life and thought she’d dodge it like a squirrel on a leaf slick sidewalk. I’m anxious and waiting for her to ask me a question. Is she nervous? Is she curious? But I can’t remember if she’s a question asker. I don’t think she is. I don’t recall. Is it up to me to insert myself? To ask about the blue, blue roots?

I realize it’s not my place. Not yet. And doubt if it ever will be. I grieved like someone died when we had our falling out. Not like she died, but like I did. And, indeed, a part of me that believed in friendship, in non-sanguine sisterhood died a sudden death in those few weeks when our relationship decayed.

There was a mother bear incident, her blaming my child for biting her son; then accusations that I’m too soft on my kids, incompetent as a mom. Then an answering machine apology that I missed while my bruised ego was busy sliding a tidbit of criticism or two into our unfriendly circle of friends who loitered like piranha around us waiting to chomp, to tear us down to floating bone flotsam. It was easy and quick, too facile, to cut out someone I knew so well. Every weakness I knew would destroy her; I shared, planting an idea here, asking a leading question there. She threw a few big parties and left me off her list. We made a good demolition team.

Here I sit 10 years later, having climbed the quiet stairs to her studio. It’s just me and her again. Our kids are all in school. Her nails that were crusted with baby blue frosting when she made the cake for my baby shower are short and clean. Her hands that held my sons hours after they were born look a little more worn, but nimble. Oh, our children have grown so much. But us?

I marvel at her art on paper. It’s framed on the walls, nude still shots of herself taken by herself—flying over fences, jumping off bridges, flipping in air—perfectly self-timed. I marvel at her. She is a kinetic sculpture as she sits here almost still. Her skin fidgits on its own; it can’t contain her liveliness When she bends over to scratch her ankle, just above her Converse, just below her the roll of her jeans, I fantasize for a second she wants me to know, wants me to not have to ask if those blue roots are intentional, a tribute, a yen.

She hugs me and says she’s glad I came by. And that she’s moving in three weeks, give or take. She shows me a picture of the island beach, the crystal waters where she’ll dive. And I know the yearning is mine. Her roots are ceylon sapphire, mine an unseen blue.

Krista Genevieve Farris lives in Winchester, Virginia with her husband and three sons. Her recent work has appeared in Right Hand Pointing, Cactus Heart, Tribeca Poetry Review, Literary Mama, The Literary Bohemian, The Piedmont Virginian, The Rain, Party and Disaster Society and elsewhere.

Calling Ida

Calling Ida

Family in forestBy K.G. Wright

Ida—a soft, round, raven-haired woman so different from my petite, blonde mother—broke up my parents’ marriage. An Inuit from Canada’s Northwest Territories, Ida was forced to leave home to attend a government residential school in Yellowknife when she was seven. She returned, pregnant, at 17. Her parents dead, her siblings scattered and her finances precarious, Ida gave up the baby girl for adoption and set out to Toronto seeking a better life.

When Dad left Mom to live with Ida, my older sister, Laura, followed. A rebellious teenager, Laura (with the help of a family therapist) convinced my reluctant mother that she’d be better off at my dad’s. I was 10, so a judge decided I would stay with my mom. Laura and I were divided like the spoils of war—each parent’s household a separate side of the battle line.

Their side set up, to me at least, the perfect Hippy family. Ida, then 27, played guitar and made dinners of brown rice and tofu. Laura smoked dope and went to Neil Young concerts. Dad grew a mustache and kept a little pot plant on the windowsill of the guest room. The same room where I slept on a futon during my one-night-per-week custody visit.

The rest of the time I lived with my mother and her gun-in-the-mouth depression. She drank whiskey out of coffee cups and took an overdose of sleeping pills that, once she was released from the hospital, miraculously triggered her latent, yet powerful, Protestant work ethic.

At the age of 35, my mother finished college, earned a business degree and became a high-powered career woman. She ran marathons, sewed her own suits and made tiny, designer throw pillows from the remaining scraps of material. She gave lavish dinner parties replete with five-course meals and me at the piano— her charming daughter— entertaining the guests. One evening, after a fabulous meal, her admiring friends raised a glass of expensive wine and dubbed their hostess “Supermom.” The name stuck.

Supermom’s perfectionism was, of course, time-consuming. When she wasn’t working, running, sewing or fighting the forces of evil (a burned soufflé), she was hosting a party or attending one.  Martha Stewart would have knelt before my mother’s extraordinary domestic powers (spice rack alphabetized; color-coded sweaters folded with military precision).  Ironically, her way of parenting by the time I was twelve was to prepare a nutritious, microwaveable meal for me to eat, alone, while she worked late, or attended a fundraiser for orphaned children. A handwritten set of instructions, in the form of my “to do” list, would be attached under a magnet on the fridge:

walk dog

eat dinner

wash dishes

do homework

one hour of T.V.

practice piano

brush teeth

lights out

These lists became her way of raising me in absentia.

I lived for the liberation of Thursdays, my night at Dad and Ida’s, where my biggest to-do was to shred the vegan cheese for taco night. Dad was a book salesman and when he wasn’t traveling, he liked to stay home, stroke his mustache and read. His social life was Ida, and after a time, so was mine.

Because of her longing for the baby girl she’d given away, Ida doted on me. She didn’t have much money, but she loved to buy me gifts: used items from flea markets and yard sales. No amount of expensive piano lessons or back-to-school clothing from my mother could compare to the rusted harmonica or the garbage bag full of old rag dolls that Ida gave me. I played with those dolls for hours, made up names and stories for them— made them the family I longed to have.

More than gifts, Ida gave me attention: she braided my hair, read my Tarot Cards, and strummed her guitar along with my wailing harmonica. She told me stories about her childhood at the residential school. How the children had to eat frozen cow beef and boiled Arctic Char—a diet that put her off meat-eating for the rest of her life. When she first arrived at the school, one of the Grey Nuns, younger than the rest, was told to cut Ida’s hair. But the young woman took pity on the little girl whose dark eyes glowed with tears as her braid slid silently to the floor. Though it was against the rules, the nun let Ida keep the braid. Which she hid, coiled like a snake, in a hollow place she cut inside the pages of her Bible.

I would call Ida when I was alone in my mother’s big, empty house.
“I’m scared,” I’d tell her.
“Don’t be scared little one,” she’d whisper. “You have no idea how lucky you are.”
“How am I lucky?” I’d sniffle.
“Your father loves you so much.”
“Why can’t I live with him?”
“When parents don’t live with their children, they love them even more for missing them.”

Ida’s kindness awakened in me a ferocious desire for attention. Supermom eventually noticed my increasing interest in spending time at my ordinary Dad’s house.  Our conversations became a power struggle over Ida—though we never spoke of her directly.

“I’ll be home late tonight,” she’d tell me at breakfast.

“Maybe I could go to Dad’s.” This was meant to sound like a nonchalant suggestion, though I’d hold my breath until she’d answer.

“Not tonight. You have piano lessons and a whole list of things to do.” Then she’d lace up her running shoes and bolt out the door.

The profound hurt my mother must have felt about the woman who’d taken away her husband and daughter—and won her younger child’s heart with a bag of dolls— did not resonate with me until years later when my own husband left me to live with the “other” woman: a childless, 40-year-old academic, to whose tiny apartment he took our four-year-old son every other weekend. The woman gifted my boy a necklace: a black onyx half-moon hanging on a tight string of rawhide.  Obviously, she didn’t see the choking hazards that gift represented—or did she? The sight of this ominous trinket, encircling my son’s delicate neck like a noose, penetrated a place in my heart’s deep core that I cannot accurately describe.

During my divorce, I spoke of this feeling to my mother over the phone while she was vacationing with her boyfriend in the Bahamas. The long distance connection kept breaking up, making her sound as if she were yelling from inside a rain storm. “My god, darling,” her words crackled far away, “don’t you think … I know … how that feels?”

Looking back, I believe the breaking point came for my mother the day she pulled into my father’s driveway and saw Ida and me walking up the street, hand-in-hand, fresh from a yard sale.  She marched toward us, high heels clicking rhythmically like my piano teacher’s metronome. My mother slammed the car door behind me with such force, the windows shook. As we drove away, I looked back and saw Ida standing on the sidewalk. Black-hair parted into two braids, red feather earrings, knee-high leather beaded moccasins. In her hands, broken pieces of a Madonna and child statue she’d bought at the yard sale. She’d planned to glue the pieces together and put it in the garden along with her growing collection of owls and gnomes.

One night, I ran away from home, arriving at my father’s house with my tiny black miniature poodle, Susie, her head sticking out of my backpack. It was a late summer night; even the crickets were silent. When my father saw me standing in the wan porch light, he sighed heavily. He turned the lock to let me in. I sat with Susie on the couch.

“Why can’t I live with you?” Tears formed like glue at the back of my throat.
“You can stay tonight,” he’d said, quietly. Then added, “But I can’t afford to have you live here all the time.”
“I won’t eat much, I promise.” Susie licked my hand.
“I’m sorry, honey. You need to stay with your mom. You’re all she has. Besides, I don’t have enough money to support you. Your sister already lives here.”

What remained unspoken that night, and forever afterward, was that he supported Ida: her yard sale habit and Saturday night Bingo games. That conversation blasted a hole of loneliness in my gut so wide that now, years later, I still feel its hollow ache. Like the hole that Ida’s missing baby girl must have left inside of her.

When Ida had the affair—a one-night stand—that broke up her relationship with my dad, I took it hard, though I never admitted it. I walked into his house one Thursday, and found her guitar was missing. My father stood at the kitchen counter vigorously chopping onions for beef stew—a rare carnivorous meal. His eyes were moist.

‘Where’s Ida?” I’d asked.
“Gone.” Chop, chop. The hole inside me widened.
“Gone where?”
“Just gone.”

I saw her only once more, a few months after she’d moved out. I was 15. Laura, with a shrug of her shoulders, gave me Ida’s new address scrawled across a piece of marijuana rolling paper. “Why do you care?” she’d asked. “You didn’t live with her.”

On a frigid winter Saturday, I took a Toronto City bus across town to visit her, unannounced, at her new place: a nearly empty studio apartment she was renting, in part, with money borrowed from my dad. But mostly she lived on her modest salary as a switchboard operator at a local hospital. We sat at a little table in her kitchen. She spoke of her mother. One night, after Ida and her sisters and brothers had been sent away to learn the Qallunaat—non-Inuit—way of life at the white school, her distraught mother had wandered away from home without her coat on during a fierce snowstorm. She never came back. Ida rolled some tobacco into a filter-less cigarette as she spoke, and stared out of her kitchen window. It was snowing—a soft downy snow that concealed the hard ice beneath. She lit the cigarette; white smoke trailed upward toward the few grey hairs beginning to sprout at her temples. The smoke seemed to signal to me that this was the last time I should come here. Ida was not my mother—and I could not ask my parents to accept her as my friend. This wasn’t bitterness; it was truth. We drank some tea. The conversation turned to her new job: how anxious people calling Ida relied on her to connect them with the broken ones whom they loved.

K.G. Wright’s poetry has appeared in Midwest Quarterly, Cold Mountain Review, Sanskrit Literary Arts Journal, among others. Her most recent publication is an interview with poet Mark Pawlak in Amoskeag Literary Arts Journal. Currently she is at work on several writing projects, including a memoir essay collection entitled True North, and a scholarly article on multimedia composition.  An assistant professor of English, Wright is passionate about teaching literature and writing courses to college students. She lives outside of Boston with her adorable 7-year-old son.

Not Pregnant

Not Pregnant



When I got married, I was shocked at how quickly people started asking me when I was going to have a baby. And when I did have a baby a few years later, I expected a fairly lengthy reprieve from all the pregnancy speculation. But I soon discovered that the window between giving birth to a baby and when people expect you to start on another is vanishingly short.

Almost worse than the embarrassingly direct, “When are you having another baby?” are the little nods and nudges. “Is that water you’re drinking [WINK WINK]?” If I had a dollar for every time someone has accused me of being pregnant in the year since my son was born, I could buy a lot of negative pregnancy tests—and not just the cheap ones, the really nice digital kind.

The thing is, though, I’ve still got nearly a decade of fertility ahead of me and I’m already sick of telling people when I’m not pregnant. And I’m guessing I’m not alone. So, for you budding fertility detectives out there, here’s a handy list of things that non-pregnant women of child-bearing age also do:

1. Throw up. I blame the media for this one. While it’s true that every time a woman on television or in the movies vomits it’s because she’s pregnant, in real life, this is not quite the reliable pregnancy indicator it’s cracked up to be. Just like men, children and post-menopausal women, non-pregnant women of child-bearing age sometimes get the stomach flu. This is especially true for those of us who already have a kid or two. When I take my son to the library for story time, I have to weigh the amount of fun we’ll have against the possibility that he’ll bring home some infectious disease that I thought had been eradicated in developed nations. In any case, the appropriate response to your friend saying, “I was up all night puking my guts out,” is “That sucks,” not “ZOMG! Are you pregnant????”

2. Drink water. Let’s say you’re out to dinner with a group of girlfriends. The drink menu makes the rounds and your waiter comes to take orders. Instead of a grapefruiterita or a cosmotonic, your pal says she’ll just have water. Before you jump to the conclusion that she’s gestating, consider these possible alternatives. Perhaps she’s driving home later and doesn’t want to risk being mildly tipsy. Maybe she hit the hooch a little too hard the previous weekend and is still in recovery. It’s possible that she wants a fruity drink later, but doesn’t think orange juice will mix well with the beef bourguignon she ordered. Or maybe she just feels like having a glass of water. In any case, this is probably not good evidence that your pal is pregnant. Sorry.

3. Pass on the sushi. Although this may seem like airtight evidence that your friend is knocked up, it’s probably best to keep that speculation to yourself for now. Some people just don’t like the taste, texture, or even the idea of raw fish. I was once the subject of a pregnancy investigation because I passed up a tray of warm tuna tartar that had been sitting around for more than an hour. Spoiler: I wasn’t pregnant, I just didn’t want to end up with Anisakiasis. Trust me, you don’t either.

4. Choose decaf. I know that steam coming off her decaf latte makes it seem like a smoking gun, but non-pregnant women of child-bearing age do sometimes choose decaf for reasons that don’t involve her uterus. She may be worried about getting to sleep later, or already be wired up from the three cups she had before you met. In any case, treating her decaf latte like it’s an ultrasound photo on Facebook is likely to leave you swallowing your words.

5. Gain weight. Science has proven that you don’t have to be pregnant in order to put on a few pounds. In fact, the burrito I had for lunch weighs more than a fetus at 22 weeks. Just because your friend’s jeans are fitting a little tighter than the last time you saw her doesn’t mean there’s a bundle of joy on the way. And here’s a pro tip from one lady to another: most people don’t like to have their little weight fluctuations pointed out to them. If you can stand the suspense, keep your pregnancy conjecture to yourself.

Of course, this doesn’t even touch on the reality that we can’t always know what’s going on in the lives of our friends. Maybe the woman in question actually is pregnant, but worries about spreading the news too soon. She might even have a very valid reason to worry that her pregnancy might not be viable. Or she could be experiencing infertility or have suffered a recent miscarriage. For many women, constant reminders that they aren’t pregnant aren’t just annoying—they can be downright cruel.

These family-building years are fun and exciting and I know that the inferences and guesses most often come from a good place. But that doesn’t mean they are a good idea. The next time your friend passes on the beer and has a soda instead, try to ignore it. Just enjoy your time together and feel confident that if she ever does have news of a pregnancy to share with you, when she’s ready to talk about it, she will!

Aubrey Hirsch is the author of Why We Never Talk About Sugar. Her work has appeared widely in print and online You can learn more about her at or follow her on Twitter: @aubreyhirsch

Illustration by Christine Juneau

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Our Talking Cure

Our Talking Cure

Friends Walking with Baby and TalkingBy David E. McGlynn

When you move to a new town from out of state, you do what you must to make friends. You strike up conversations with strangers in the park and in supermarket aisles. You ask people you hardly know over for dinner. You accept invitations you would have once declined, to book clubs, parent-toddler support groups and church luncheons. The alternative is isolation, and Wisconsin winters, my wife and I learned quickly, are isolating enough.

We’d followed a job across the country, leaving behind our families and friends, the mountains and ocean, and my wife’s job in the emergency room of a large urban hospital, all so I could teach at a small college in a small city a hundred miles north of Milwaukee. Our son was two years old, our second baby on the way and we didn’t know a soul.

During our first few months, we grilled brats with our neighbors and went apple picking with the other professors who had small children. We welcomed our second child, another boy, and my wife landed a job as a social worker in a nearby hospital. We met people slowly, sporadically, but it wasn’t until our sons were five and three—the year they started school—that we finally found ourselves surrounded by friends.

My wife began volunteering at the school and was soon taken up by a group of women whose children were in our sons’ classes. The women were, like my wife, in their early thirties, educated and athletic. She was invited out for dinner and to their houses, to movies and yoga classes and drinks. Conversations begun outside of school continued at night on the phone, and over email and Facebook and text. The women were funny and sometimes brash, but kind. When a crisis arose at the hospital, they offered to pick up our sons. They were loyal to one other and, it seemed, to us. For the first time since we’d arrived, we had a village to rely on.

I had more in common with the men, husbands of my wife’s friends, than I expected. A few had grown up in town, but many had come from other places, as we had, pursuing careers as lawyers, engineers, teachers and counselors. One of the men invited me to race sailboats on Lake Winnebago with him and a friend. I went, and after the race, we drove to a tavern and talked about how we came to live in this place. We sailed and talked like this all summer.

In July, my wife and I hosted a party to celebrate the release of my second book. A dozen friends reclined in lawn chairs in our backyard, clinking margaritas and dancing in the starlight on a night so warm and filled with laughter that I could practically taste the joy. After the party ended, my wife and I raised one last glass, just the two of us. Our sons, now seven and five, were upstairs in bed; after six years in town, we had accomplished what had once seemed impossible. We’d found a community.

A month later, and with a single email, it all ended.

It happened at a party near the end of August, summer tilting toward autumn. The women were gathered at a friend’s house after running a 5K when a message came to my wife’s phone. She was surprised to discover she’d been added to a Facebook conversation full of gossip about her. Why, one woman asked, was she suddenly a part of everything? Why was she invited to so many parties? My wife, who had been friends with the women for almost three years, was stunned. It just didn’t make sense.

She took her phone into the bathroom and read through the messages again in private, more slowly this time. She tried calling me, but I didn’t answer. So she washed her face and went back to the party. She decided to confront the woman about it, telling her the messages must have come to her by mistake.

“I’m sorry if I did something to make you upset,” she said.

“How were you magically added to the conversation?” the woman wanted to know. “And why were you gone for so long?”

“I was in the bathroom,” my wife said. “I didn’t feel well.”

The next morning, the email arrived. The only way my wife could have been added to the conversation, the friend wrote, was if she’d stolen her phone and hacked into her messages.

A glitch, a bug, a typing mistake in the dark—none of these were accepted as possible. It was an outlandish accusation, almost laughable, except that the email concluded with the statement: “Our friendship is over. Our family’s friendship is over.”

We stood in the kitchen passing the phone back and forth, trying to make sense of it.

“I’ve never had anyone say something like this to me,” my wife said

“You’d better call her,” I said. She tried, but the call went straight to voicemail. “Go knock on her door,” I said. “Maybe if you show up in person, you can talk this out.”

The woman’s husband answered and said she wasn’t home, even though both cars were in the garage. My wife drove to another friend’s house to ask for her advice. That woman’s husband said she couldn’t come to the door. My wife sat in her car and tried calling her other friends, but none of them answered. Finally, she called home. “No one will talk to me,” she said, sobbing. “I don’t understand any of this.”

Fifteen years of teaching literature has shown me that humans are by nature illogical and impulsive. Betrayal is mankind’s oldest sin, and the Western canon is a catalogue of intimates transmogrified, suddenly and inexplicably, into enemies. Yet the plots of novels and plays usually arc toward justice, the accused exonerated and the Iagos led away in cuffs. So it wasn’t the accusation that surprised me, but rather how easily it took hold. At first, I thought our friends were giving the situation time to cool and were trying to stay out of the middle. Every afternoon I came home from work expecting to hear that someone had called my wife to reassure her, to say the piling on was unfair, even to ask whether or not the accusation was true. But no call came.

When school again started in September, we and the other families amassed on the playground to take pictures of our children in their new shoes and backpacks. Our friends acted as though they didn’t know us. The same people to whom we’d brought dinner after they’d had surgery, whom my wife had visited in the hospital when their children were sick, now turned and walked away when they saw us approaching.

One day soon after, I saw one of the men I’d sailed with having lunch in a cafe with his kids. After placing my order, I turned around to say hello. His table was empty. He’d hustled his sons out the door so quickly they’d left their jackets behind. I drove the jackets to his house, fantasizing that he’d answer the door with an apology for hurrying out, maybe even express regret for the way things had gone. I’d sat next to him on the boat every Tuesday for fourteen weeks, and at the bar and in my backyard on plenty of other nights. It was hard to believe we weren’t still, on some level, friends.

His wife answered when I rang the bell. She said little more than “Thank you” before retreating back inside and shutting the door in my face. For once, I felt the sting I’d watched my wife endure every day for the last two months, saw the way people she once counted as friends, treated her: as suspect, untrustworthy, someone to avoid.

Thrust back upon ourselves and with no one else to trust, we spent hours talking. At first we talked about what had happened, as though it was a puzzle we needed to solve. Surely something as trivial and as small as a wayward Facebook message couldn’t wreak so much damage on its own. Perhaps if we could construct a chronology of exchanges and events leading up to the accusation, then maybe we could pinpoint the moment our friends began to see us as no longer good. Maybe then we’d understand where we’d gone wrong.

But as the nights went on, the talk began to change. Our conversations grew more potent and private. We talked less about the accusation and instead about what it meant to be good, and whether being good was separable from doing good, and what it meant to forgive. The television sat dark in the corner, our books lay closed on the table, as we hung on each other’s every word. Some nights we talked until midnight and had to will ourselves to stop so we could sleep. We hadn’t talked this way in years, not since we were first together and spent most of our time imagining how our future would look.

Somewhere in the course of building that future—advancing in our jobs, overseeing homework and swim team and guitar lessons, making friends—this kind of talking had gotten lost, or at the very least set aside. Our efforts to establish connections with our townspeople had come at the cost of intimacy with the one person who mattered most. I hadn’t thought to miss it until I got it back. Now I couldn’t get enough. I realized that I—that we—didn’t need the friends we’d lost. We were our own village, smaller but more intense, more sustaining. After months of sad, sleepless nights listening to my wife cry softly in the dark beside me, we began to feel better. My wife jokingly called it “our talking cure.”

A few days after Christmas, we left our sons in the care of my in-laws and drove to Milwaukee. It was our gift to each other: a night on the town, twenty-four hours of uninterrupted conversation. On our way to dinner, we stopped in a tavern and ordered a beer.

The waiter returned with four mugs. “We only ordered two,” I said.

“They come in pairs,” the waiter said. “Order one, you get two.”

Outside, snow was starting to fall. It was still early, and besides the waiter and the two of us, the bar was empty. We lifted all four mugs and clinked them together. First, a toast to our old friends, and then a second toast to what their loss had given us. A new year was upon us, we were alone in the city, and we had everything—and everyone—we needed.

David E. McGlynn is the author of two books, A Door in the Ocean, a memoir, and a story collection, The End of the Straight and Narrow, which won the Utah Book Award for fiction. David’s work has appeared or are forthcoming in The Yale Review, The Missouri Review, The Southwest Review, The Huffington Post, Best American Sports Writing, The Morning News and elsewhere.   His most recent work appears in the March issue of Men’s Health and the April issue of Visit him online at

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Everything New is Old Again

Everything New is Old Again

By Alison B. Hart

WO Everything Old is New Again ArtWhen my daughter was 9 months old, my old friend came to town to meet her. Like me, he was nearing 40. I had bought an apartment, married, and had a baby in quick succession. He was single and ambitious and wondering when he might start a family of his own. To a certain extent we were both late bloomers, but that was hard to tell in New York, a city custom-built for extended adolescence.

On the last day of his trip, we had some time before he needed to leave for the airport, so we walked through Brooklyn while the baby slept. It was a sunny day in winter and I was enjoying being out and social, just strolling down the street on a Sunday afternoon, listening to my old friend talk in unhurried, uninterrupted sentences.

“Babies are nice,” he sighed.

I agreed.

“You make it look so fulfilling. I’m tempted to get one of my own.”

“You should. You’d be a great dad.”

But I knew he wasn’t seeing the whole truth of my life, that this was a picture-postcard moment due in large part to our reunion and the baby’s slumber.

We passed a bar on Smith Street and the sweet stink of beer enveloped us.

“What on earth?” I stammered. “It’s 2:00!”

I’d been up for what seemed like days already, but I was aware that most people had just finished breakfast. So many responsibilities loomed ahead that would require my active concentration: dinner, bath, bedtime stories, extracting myself from the baby’s room before Mad Men came on. Surely, other people also had things they wanted to accomplish? It was much too early in the day to jettison all my plans by getting tipsy.

My friend just smiled. “Oh, honey,” he said. He might as well have patted me on the head.

And suddenly I was transported back to my twenties, when he and I first arrived in New York. At 2:00 on a Sunday afternoon back then, I was either at a bar, on my way to a bar, or sweating through a soccer game after which I would lug my sweaty gear to a bar with my teammates. Bars were what weekends were made for.

What I would have given right then, all those years later with my daughter’s nap almost over, for a cold one and some hot wings and no particular place to be.

Then it hit me: this was another case of good old-fashioned nostalgia.

I had a lot of hit-and-runs with nostalgia in the days and weeks after my daughter was born. Whenever I encountered people doing things that seemed virtually impossible for me to do with a child, I remembered the freedom I once had to do whatever I pleased. I could sleep until 10:00 on a Saturday. Hell, I could sleep all day. Before I had a baby to get home to, I could make last-minute plans after work: to see a show or play a game of pick-up or get dinner with a friend who needed to talk. I could get that third drink at the bar without a thought to the cascade of events it might touch off—more drinking, possible loss of wallet in bar or cab, killer hangover the next day. Before I was a mom, I was free to make an ass of myself or waste time or both.

But it didn’t feel like freedom back then. Mostly the options that were available to me when I was younger felt like the wrong options. In my twenties, I wanted stability. It was hard to enjoy myself properly when I was running up credit card balances I couldn’t pay off. In my thirties, still single and living alone, I wanted a life. I could go out for tacos 3 nights in a row (and often did), but only because I didn’t have anyone else’s tastes to consult. I would far rather have been in a relationship and stayed in for the night, preferably with someone who could teach me the difference between red wine vinaigrette and red wine vinegar. When my friends started having babies, I felt left behind. Freedom was lonely.

And what was so great about it anyway? I didn’t want to sow my oats; I’d had plenty of time for that already. When I met my husband in our mid-thirties, the fact that he was Marriage Material (genuinely kind, in possession of and familiar with the deployment of household cleaning products) was a development that thrilled, not spooked, me. Still, we took things slowly at first. We kept separate apartments for 3 years, resisting the pressures of the market to move in together and save money. I took a solo vacation to Barcelona, because I’d never traveled abroad alone and wanted to prove to myself that I could. He built a flotilla of rafts to ride down the Mississippi River with his friends, and gave serious consideration to joining the circus.

Maybe freedom was as simple as wanting to leave room in life for the unexpected. It was easy, even logical, to defer certain responsibilities and take our time pursuing our interests. It may not be like this in every city, but in Brooklyn, New York, waiting until you are 37 to start a family is as natural as riding a bike, growing a beard, and keeping bees on your rooftop.

I was ready to become a mom when I did. But sometimes I missed my old life. I felt so blessed, but also overwhelmed. In fleeting moments that first year, the awesome responsibility of being my daughter’s entire world knocked the wind out of me. When my friend left for the airport, I missed him, and I missed the me that used to be.

Not long after his visit, while my daughter played peekaboo with her grandparents on Skype, I told them that I was thinking about nostalgia.

“What are you nostalgic about?” my parents asked.

“The time before she was born,” I said.

They both let out deep belly laughs, as only people of their generation can laugh at people of mine, even across technology they understand only minimally.

“But you just got started! You’ve got 35 years to go!”

They were right, of course. Intellectually I knew this.

Then a funny thing happened. Spring approached and, with it, my daughter’s first birthday. I don’t know if it was the seasons changing or the days getting longer, but now all I could remember about that chaotic, upside-down year was the week she was born. I remembered how tiny she was—on my chest, nursing for the first time; in the hospital bassinet, staring back at us with giant blue pools for eyes; asleep in my husband’s arms. I remembered how crazy it felt to have a baby in the car seat next to me on the ride home. The car seat itself seemed ludicrous, perhaps even stolen. It used to blow my mind when she fell asleep: to think that there were three, not two, of us in the apartment. Three heartbeats.

Even the hard times were transmuted by memory into something magical. Sure, those first few weeks were a riot of panic and exhaustion. And, yes, my body felt like it had been through a war. I barely left the house except for pediatrician appointments. But every single second was a complete surprise! I couldn’t appreciate it at the time. Not since my own childhood had so much been so new.

Looking back one year later, my vantage point lifted and tossed around by a rogue wave of nostalgia, I was awestruck by the adventure. All the mundane things—changing a diaper, shopping for rice cakes, commuting home from midtown—now felt incredibly special.

For days I felt tingly and alive just crossing the road. It was like that line in Adrienne Rich’s “Twenty-one Love Poems”: Did I ever walk the morning streets at twenty / my limbs streaming with purer joy?

I did not.

But why not? Why hadn’t I enjoyed what I had when I had it?

I don’t know. I wish I had, but it’s an impossible wish in any case.

The older I get, the more I suspect that wholeness isn’t a feeling that hits us all at once but something more like a long meal whose courses are spread out over years. You start with the hunger of youth. Savor the confusion of the lost years that follow. Pore over the delicacies that you can’t afford. Accept a bite off a rich friend’s plate. Drink a little, maybe too much. Expand in all directions. After some conversation and digestion, order more, this time maybe something to share.

For some of us, at least, maybe nostalgia isn’t a distraction from the present but a necessary experience of it. We get a second chance to appreciate now what we couldn’t the first time. Even when tinged darkly with regret or envy, nostalgia offers a path back to the pleasures hiding beneath. And when it’s connected to life’s purer joys—a long walk with an old friend, a sleeping infant, or a first birthday—we can be reborn.

We had a small party at home on the day my daughter turned 1. Her grandparents came, as well as a few friends and their children. It was still too cold to go outside, so after we stuffed ourselves with cake, we broke apart into predictable groupings. The men talked politics with the grandparents, the kids built towers around the baby, and the women snuck seconds (okay, thirds) in the kitchen. I told my girlfriends about the excitement I’d experienced over the last few days, reliving the birth of my daughter.

“Did it happen to you, too?” I asked.

Yes, they said, they were pretty sure it did.

“Will it happen every year?” I asked.

That part they weren’t so sure about. They couldn’t exactly remember. What parent can remember, years later, which solid food came second or which month the third tooth came in? Eventually rhythms establish themselves, and experiences come to us and flutter away, like the pages of a calendar, turning quickly.

The next year, I waited for it to happen again. There’d been many new developments in my daughter’s second year: walking, talking, talking a lot and in great detail. You could say she was bossing us around by that point, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But the newness of her was not something I registered anymore. The fact of our family was a given I’d long since accepted. I sat at the window in her bedroom, where I’d nursed so many days and nights but no longer did, and I looked out at the trees just beginning to bud and the quality of the sunlight altering. I waited for that tingly, just-fell-in-love feeling to take me. But it didn’t happen. I was in love already, had been for years. And I had been here before, on this block of Brooklyn, in this week of March, a mother remembering.

Alison B. Hart’s work has appeared in The Missouri Review and online for USA Today, HBO, Huffington Post, and elsewhere. She is the co-founder of the reading series at Pete’s Candy Store in Brooklyn and holds an MFA from The New School. She is currently at work on a novel-in-stories.

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