Adequate mom, less-than-adequate gal pal

My best friend Kim dubbed me a film snob years ago, and she’s right. Much as I love movies, I won’t watch just anything; and if I dislike a film, I feel angry while the credits are rolling, because the movie wasted time I could have spent watching something good.

My friends and I wear cheaper clothes and less expensive hairstyles, but you get the idea.

So why would such a film snob be planning to dial up pay-per-view and order one of the most abysmally awful-looking, worst-reviewed movies of this past year (“Sex and the City 2”) the next time Joe is out of town for work, or has a nighttime obligation? Because no matter how terrible it is, the movie will allow me to enjoy, vicariously and for a little while, the feeling of being surrounded by girlfriends.

For most of my closest girlfriends are currently scattered across the country – Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Minnesota, Ohio – and although we e-mail fabulously dishy updates to each other now and then, the act of visiting each other has grown more difficult (which is to say, nearly impossible) as we’ve started families of our own.

Fortunately, we’re each pretty happy in our lives, and harbor no regrets about our choices; yet we’re all, I think, mourning the inevitable loss of the lovely, warm closeness that results from spending lots and lots of time together sharing meals, watching guilty pleasure TV shows and movies, celebrating accomplishments, and, of course, shopping.

I’ll confess that I was more than fashionably late in coming to the gal pal party. I lost sight of the value of girlfriends in high school while obsessing about my first forays into adolescent romance; and while I had girlfriends in college, I lost touch with many of them shortly after graduation.

Years later, though, when I was in grad school, I enrolled in an evening nonfiction writing workshop with a teacher who was both terrific, in terms of the lessons I retained, and profoundly toxic. She handed out bluntly harsh critiques of not only our essays, but also, oftentimes, the beliefs and confessions espoused within.

There were only seven of us, and many of us went out together after each class meeting to collectively lick our wounds. The ultimate consequence of this ritual was a relationship with three women who became the dearest friends I’d ever had.

I got to bask in the glow and enjoy that for two years, but our time together ended when we all completed the program, and home called two of us back to different parts of the Midwest.

Even so, I considered these women to be a second family – one I’d chosen for myself. And for a while, though scattered, we managed to meet at least once a year at a writing conference that was mostly about sharing a hotel room, gabbing non-stop, going out to quirky local restaurants, and – well – shopping. (Along the way, we were lucky enough to get two fabulous new additions to our pack, too.) We stood up in each other’s weddings; offered words of love and support when one marriage came apart; celebrated engagements, pregnancies, new jobs, and publications; and provided a collective shoulder when bad news arrived.

We still try to do these things for each other, of course. Two of my girlfriends traveled to spend a few days with me when I returned home from my mother’s memorial services in January 2009; another, just a few weeks ago, sent me a card for no other reason than to remind me that she’s thinking of me and loves me. But as several of us venture into parenthood – and thus create yet another chosen family to call our own – we’ve butted up against logistic hurdles that prevent us from even having a nice, long chat by phone (let alone an in-person visit). For even if you clear some time on your end, the likelihood is that the person you want to talk to about nothing in particular can’t spare an hour just then. And at times, I’ve worried that if/when my girlfriends need me in the future, my ability to respond as I’d like to will be severely curtailed.

I suppose this is inevitable, particularly when your friends are geographically scattered. But I still grieve the loss a little. My friends always made me feel like the wittiest, strongest, smartest version of myself, because that’s how they saw me. We took care of each other and, more than anything, we listened. Carefully. And that’s something that’s hard to come by.

After I’d earned my degree and moved back to Michigan, there were many times when I thought, how do adults get to be friends with each other, anyway? The workplace? Common interests? All my life, school had been the conduit for friendship; it was the only gateway I knew of – the only one most of us know. And because, upon reaching adulthood, many of us are consumed by our ever-more demanding jobs, our families, and the general responsibilities that come with being an adult, friendship ends up seeming like a luxury of youth.

For instance, I like many of the people I work with very much. But there’s a difference between breezily chatting with someone over lunch and asking that same person to see a movie with you, or to go on a mall run for some new shoes. Even if you were tempted to try to make that leap, you think, “I can’t squeeze that into my life just now, anyway.”

Which is why I, in this one way, envy young girls walking past me on the sidewalk in a pack. I know better than to envy them too much. Adolescence was hard enough to go through once; I have no desire to do it again. But these girls have time to provide each other with a safe, warm haven. And I know firsthand that that was a wonderful place to be.

So you bet I’ll be watching that crappy “Sex and the City” movie soon. Or maybe I’ll just watch some old episodes of the TV show instead. If it’s the latter, I’ll make sure to take in the one about Miranda’s mother’s death. On the day of the funeral, Carrie holds Miranda’s hand and spontaneously, lovingly kisses it; and although Samantha’s tried to keep her cancer diagnosis a secret for the moment, she’s pressed to reveal it at the end, and her friends instantly rally around her.

Call it girlfriend porn. The pure, unadulterated fantasy that various choices and obligations never intervene to separate you from your friends. And I certainly hold out hope for maintaining the friendships I have, and for making new ones down the road. But it’s hard to cram everything we want into what now seems the too-short days of a too-short life.

9 thoughts on “Adequate mom, less-than-adequate gal pal

  1. Sheila says:

    Awkward hugs to you, Jennio Turkey! xox

  2. Heather says:

    In this blog, it seems like you constantly focus on what you don’t have or what you aren’t doing with your time instead of what you do have or what you have accomplished. Why do you do that? Every one has bad days, but those are the times when I make a conscious effort to appreciate what I do have and to not take things for granted. That was a really important lesson I learned from mom.

    Sure, I have close friends from college that I don’t get to see every day, but that’s because they live all over the US and world. We make the effort to stay connected, even if it’s only a phone call every six months. I enjoy the limited time I do get with them, rather than obsess over what it’s not.

    And it’s not like you don’t have friends and family local to you guys here. Why don’t you take the time to develop those relationships further instead of fantasizing about something that can no longer exist?

    • Jenn McKee says:

      “Constantly focus on what (I) don’t have”? I disagree. Yes, I sometimes talk about losses and sacrifices. To not address those things in the context of a mom/parenting blog would be dishonest. But I’ve also talked about enjoying the absurdity and fun that Lily brings into our life; my triathlon experiences; dealing with choices like screen time for a little one; how having her has altered my priorities (I wasn’t saying that I “lost” my book manuscript, but that it became less important to me as a form of personal validation after she was born); how I try to listen to my own instincts above all others; how we’re dealing with Lily’s eating issues and discipline; my fish-out-of-water experience covering a hiphop concert; my thoughts on kids’ books; etc. There’s a lot more here than a discussion of losses, and to suggest otherwise is reductive.

      Plus, I’m not sitting around our house all the time, mooning over my friends being gone. I’m simply acknowledging that people who once played a significant role in my life can’t do so quite as easily, and vice versa, by virtue of where we’ve each arrived in our lives.

      Does the fact that I admit to missing the extra bit of fun and support these women brought to my life mean I don’t value the friends and family we have here? Of course not. That’s ridiculous. Joe and I value everyone we have around us – great neighbors, great family, great co-workers, great friends. We’re ludicrously lucky, and we remark on this quite often. But I can appreciate and love all these folks while also missing my faraway gal pals, too. This isn’t an either/or proposition.

  3. Sophie says:

    I must say, that I too recently downloaded Sex and the City 2 off iTunes PRECISELY for the reasons mentioned in your post. I love and miss you, dahling, (or gorgeous as another person would say:), and I cherish every second I get to spend with you. And, don’t worry….I honestly think that if we’ve all managed to stay as close as we are through everything that’s already happened, it’s only going to get easier from here on in as the kids and marriages get older/stronger. MWAH!!!!!! Beeg hug, leetle hug, beeg kees.

  4. Danielle says:

    Jenn, I was just telling Eirik this morning about your latest blog post about Lily’s picking eating and how much I admire your unflinching devotion to telling the hard truth. Most of us, myself included, would try to paint things a little rosier as we allow readers a glimpse into our lives. But you are such a good writer because you share the moments that most of us hoard off in the corner and never tell anyone. You are a true writer who offers something fascinating to read—by turns hilarious, distressing, sad, goofy, painful. To hear Joe say, “I used to love coming home and having dinner. And now, I hate it” is excruciating, but REAL. Most readers can identify. And can understand that it was a tough moment for him, and you. In “less-than-adequate gal pal,” I appreciate your homage to us grad school gal pals. I, too, mourn the weekly lunches and ER-watching sessions and shopping trips and closeness that we experienced at PSU. I, too, recently wrote an essay trying to capture the beauty and difficulties of making and maintaining women friendships. I, too, watched (the truly horrendous) SATC2 and unabashedly imagined us all into the plotline. We are fortunate to have connected so deeply, and to have been able to maintain that connection from our separate corners of the world. Thank you for being such a great friend! Mwah!

  5. Kim says:

    I thought this was lovely and an echo of what I am feeling. Whether we want them to or not, prioties change over time, and by simple virtue of biology, our little ones need to come first. Having said that, my women friends are a touchstone and every talk reminds me of how multiple are our positions in the world and in people’s lives. I appreciate frank talk about what motherhood is about, both good and bad, and what being an adult woman is about. We can’t go back to Temptation Island and chinese food or that terrific weekend in Canada, but we can feel nostalgic for it and know that there is more to come, that our friends do know and love us and make us feel understood and appreciated (as I felt after reading this post!).

  6. Sheila says:

    Jenn, I have been thinking about this all day and I want to give you more than the awkward hugs, I offered before.

    But let’s start with “awkward hugs,” shall we? Because this is not only a frisky term of affection you coined to let us know, at the end of one of those long Friday Update emails, that you loved and missed us, but it’s also a touchstone phrase (along with Danielle’s “slurrrp,” and Kim’s “whores!”) , a kind of Pavlovian switch that instantly connects me with the power of the connection we formed, even here, years out from that evening classroom, in a part of my life I could never have imagined then.

    Further, it’s a phrase born out of your unflinchingly honest self-analysis. Jenn the Serious. Jenn the Driven. Jenn the Awkward, meet Sheila the Ultra-sensitive. Sheila the Vulnerable. Sheila the Walking Nipple. (didn’t someone call me that? Kim?) It’s a shorthand that we all get, even though we are all so many other things to ourselves and to each other.

    And it’s worth emphasizing that the class in which our friendship was born was one in creative nonfiction. We learned there how to tell the important truths of our lives with art and reflection and a firm grip on our own complicity. Sometimes with humor and often with incredible, painful bravery.

    Which is precisely what this blog does.

    The work you do here, the writing, achieves exactly what that toxic (if wise) professor taught us: it begins in the personal but extends beyond the self, offering your readers something real and honest and, potentially, life-changing. It takes the crazy, chaotic, painful, joyous, confusing, angering raw material of parenthood (and womanhood) and strives to make useful sense of them.

    Few people have the talent to do that as well as you do here, Jenn, but many, many people will benefit from it.

    And by the way, there is absolutely nothing less-than-adequate about your or your friendship.

    I love you. We love you.

  7. [...] been desperately longing to spend some quality time with my far-flung girlfriends (check out this previous post on the topic). Distance makes it hard enough for adults to maintain close friendships, but throw [...]

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