That’s MY Mom!
The first time it happened, I was taken aback. I was grocery shopping with my mother. This dark-haired woman I didn’t know practically ran down the aisle, a broad smile on her face, yelling, “Hi, Mom!” As she got closer, I thought that surely she was talking to someone behind us. But as I turned to see who it was she was greeting with such exuberance, she finally reached us and threw her arms around my mother.
“Mom!” She yelled.
My mom greeted her with a long embrace.
“How are you?” My mother asked her.
“I’m doing good, Mom,” she said.
I felt a pang of…what…jealousy? Ridiculous as it was, I was jealous of this woman who was claiming my mother as her own. How dare she.
The woman turned to me, “You’re Karen, right? Bettye’s daughter?”
She hugged me.
“We have the best mom ever, don’t we?” She asked.
We? I thought.
I knew my mother. I knew she loved deeply. She understood people. She cared to the point of exhaustion. But what did this person mean?
“Oh,” the woman continued. “You’re so lucky to have your mom. You don’t mind sharing though, do you?”
She didn’t wait for an answer. Her laughter and joy was thick. She chatted with my mom for a few more minutes and then left.
We finished our shopping – grabbing a few things for the BBQ at my house. On the way home, I asked my mother about the woman. Mom acted as if she didn’t know what the big deal was – why this woman loved her so much, or why she even called her Mom.
“Oh, they all do,” she said, waving me off.
They? I thought. How many sisters do I have? Over the course of many years that followed, I would find an answer to that question.
In the months following my divorce, I was very busy. I had to buy a house, move, set up utilities, separate financial issues, and so forth. I was still mom to three, and Nana to one. There were holidays to navigate and classes to teach. My professional life as an author/writer demanded attention. There were contracts to sign and interviews to conduct. Things began to settle down after the holidays and I slowly came to the realization that over the last ten or so years of my marriage, I’d let several friendships die on the vine. It’s not that my ex was controlling or kept me isolated. No, this was all my doing.
One day I was talking to my mom about this.
“Friendships take work,” she said. “As you get older, you just don’t happen to spend time with your friends, especially your female ones, you have to make it happen.”
For years, I’d left my friendships without care and attention. When I became single after 30-years of marriage, I could see this so clearly. Even my new friendships were put on a shelf. But as I navigate midlife singleness, something is happening within me. Instead of being stuck in that mode of looking for a friend that has everything in common and can do things at the drop of a hat, I see my friendships differently. Some friends love going to the movies, others like to frequent thrift stores, and still others just want to sit and chat. Whatever the case, each friendship deserves water, sunshine, and care. Each one needs nurturing in a different way. We women need each other. Culturally, it’s not something that is viewed as significantly as it should be. “Girls night” and “Chick flick” don’t even come close to the meaning our lives take on when we are close to the women in our lives.
Prevention Magazine has a fascinating article, 8 Friends Every Woman Needs. The list includes; a childhood friend, a spiritual friend, and a new friend. As I read through the list, I realize I already have most of them. I’m rich in friendships. But do I nurture them? Not enough. It took the death of my marriage to make me really step back and look at the other relationships in my life. And as my mother said, friendships are work. Time goes by. A month turns into two or three, and soon a whole year has passed. Part of being a healthy person – single or not, is having close relationships with your female friends. If you do a search on the internet about divorce, invariably a million sites on how to start dating again will come up. But what about the value of reconnecting with friends? It’s just not something you see. It has no value in media. But we’re women and we know better.
As a woman, your female friends hold the puzzle pieces of your life for you, then, when the time is right, they hand them back to you – making sense out of what seemed so broken. They empower you to find the answers and to find joy in what was there all along. That’s what we do for each other. Women reflect each other’s trials, tribulations, hopes and joys, as no other can.
In that Prevention Magazine article, one of the friendships that is listed is the friendship with your mother. The closest female relationship most of us will ever have is with our mother. But because of that closeness, they can also be the most painful relationships. And that brings me back to that women in the store.
Women Need Other Women
Years have passed since that woman ran into my mother’s arms, yelling, “Mom!” I’ve since learned something about my mom. She is a mother to the motherless. She steps into women’s lives as a nurturer. No matter the reason that a woman’s own mother was unavailable to her, my mother somehow was able to reach out and touch them. She stood in the gap. Some would never be reconciled with their mothers. But many were.
A few months ago, I ran into a 40-ish woman who knows my mother. She asked me how “mom” was. I laughed, telling her that over the years, probably a dozen women have told me that my mom is their mom too.
“That’s who she is,” she said. “Some people are blessed with a biological mother. And some of us are blessed with a spiritual one. That’s your mom.”
“Our mom,” I said.
Having friendships with women isn’t one sided. It’s reaching out to a friend with one hand, while reaching back to another one. Somebody needs you, just as you need them. Together, women are powerful beyond measure. That’s what friendship is about. It’s not about taking a pill, or talking to a counselor, or reading a self-help book. Women heal each other just by being who they are.
So, as I enter mid-life, I am keenly aware of relationships. I have many multi-generational friendships. I have friends from all different walks of life. I have friends far younger than I, and friends who are older. I treasure them all. They all have something to offer, and likewise, I have something to offer them. We are worthy of each other’s time and effort.
I just need to make it a priority to see them on a regular basis – even if the regular basis is once a month or even once a quarter. If it’s more than I’m doing now, then I’ve met my goal!
I dropped by my mom’s house the other day. She was excited. She was having a friend over. She’d bought treats from a local bakery and planned to serve them with tea or coffee. She happily moved about the house, preparing for her friend’s arrival. My mother has Macular Degeneration.She is legally blind and can no longer drive. She has also lost 85% of her hearing, and though a recent Cochlear Implant has improved her hearing immensely, public settings like restaurants are terribly challenging because of the background noise. So, she regularly has friends over to her house. Friendships are important to her. It’s a connection she places a high value on. After all, isn’t that what friends do?
What are your biggest challenges to maintaining friendships? How do you overcome them?
Start Over at Midlife