Monday, October 17, 2011

Thanks for the Casserole, Biotch

My last five birthdays I've been rather preoccupied with the imminent act of actually giving birth, or with recovering from a birth or with someone's 1st or 2nd birthday which is, in modern parlance, not just a birthday but a "milestone."

Turning 32 or 34 or even 35 felt very un-milestoney. My birthdays flitted by like sparrows -- they were non-events.

But this year, I've been thinking about my birthday. I've been thinking about myself.

37 I am turning.

That's the point at which you've been an adult for longer than you've been a child.


It's got me pondering my adult life and the way I've constructed it and the way I'm living it and I've been, you know, evaluating things.

Now my plan is to unleash a maelstrom of self-relective rambling into the internets. It's my birthday, and I'm going to write like it's 1999.

I was browsing the adult non-fiction shelf at the library the other day and this caught my eye:

I like to read about happiness, and the pursuit of happiness, and women and happiness, and the scientific study of happiness. But I do try not to think about it too much because surely that is the quickest way to rid yourself of the stuff that happy is. I saw this book on a shelf of staff picks at the library, though, and I couldn't resist, and sure enough it has got me a-think-a-dinking and ouching in some places I tend to ouch.

I've been carrying some grievances around with me for quite some now. They're quite well bundled up in toques and down vests and they are huddled up in my mommy heart and I've asked them to leave several times but they haven't. They just sit around smoking cigarettes, drinking low-quality beer from cans and playing Asshole. They are tree planters stuck on a bad contract in one of the shamefully deforested landscapes of my heart. (Go 1999!)

These grievances of mine have to do with girlfriends. With BFFs. With my big sisters. With my sister-in-law. With craving the affection and companionship and intimacy of female relationships.

Sometimes I feel kind of friendless. Sometimes I feel somewhat adrift, unloved, even kinda loathed by the women closest to me. I'm unsure where this fits on the spectrum of self-inflicted vs. just plain old inflicted. I'm also unsure of how much of what I'm feeling is genuine re-action to real injury and how much is self-indulgent, hormone-fueled lady-wank.

I've heard from many sources in my readings up on women and happiness that women need female friendships to be happy.

Meg Meeker, in her book, "The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers" urges mothers to "Maintain Key Friendships." You need, she says, an inner circle of friends and an outer circle of friends.

"Your inner circle are usually few in number--three or four. These are the friends who can step into our kitchens at dinnertime and take over feeding our kids, put them to bed, and clean up the peanut butter on the floor and the jelly on the chairs when we suddenly fall apart from tragic news. They feel like our right arm or our left leg, whichever we need on a certain day (Meeker, 40)."

Our outer-circle friends, Meeker goes on to describe, "while no less valuable, are nonetheless different. These are the friends who bring casseroles when we are sick, who run our kids to school and soccer games, and who are always up for a brisk walk after dinner. They are companions who bring laughter and comfort and uplift us when we are down. Usually there are more outer-circle friends in a mother's life--about ten or so (41)."

Which brings me on around to today's point:

I spend far far far too much time thinking about the women in my life and inserting their names into the end of the sentence, "Thanks for the casserole, ___________."

It's not that I crave tuna and macaroni together but don't know how to combine them. It's that there was a  time in my life when I could really have used a freaking casserole, and none arrived.

I had three children 4 and under and a scary medical crises that I didn't actually tell anybody about. I pretended everything was fine because I didn't trust anybody to be there for me. I imagined they'd gossip about my problems over glasses of Merlot at dinner-parties I wasn't invited to instead of providing emotional support in casserole or casserole-like form.

I imagined they'd rub their hands together gleefully thinking about how lonely, scared, sleep-deprived, and milk-stained I must be with all those babies crawling all over me, instead of acting like an extra limb for me, helping to scrape the applesauce out of my hair or pull a toddler off a wall for me so I could string together a coherent sentence about how I was feeling. 

I didn't trust anybody to act like an outer-circle friend as Meeker describes them, never mind an inner-circle friend, so I didn't tell a soul who wasn't on a need-to-know basis.

Now I'm mad at those people for the way I imagined they'd act. And when I tell myself that isn't fair to them, I think of the hundred ways they weren't there for me when I had babies and I stay mad.

I wonder if other moms experience the same sense of isolation in those early years? I wonder if I'm particularly unlovable, or whiny, or perhaps maybe extremely normal?

I was watching Parenthood the other day and one of the final scenes was a very well-attended baby shower for the character of Christina who was expecting her third baby. There was friends and family and balloons and cake and gifts stacked to the sky and I couldn't help but compare my life to that TV-life and feel inadequate.

Needless to say, there was no baby-shower that had to be kept secret because everyone knew I'd object to all the fuss but they just couldn't help coming together in a large group to lavish love and adoration on me in a flowering backyard when I had my third baby.

I know much better than to be hurt about that. TV-life I scoff at you -- you are just not real.

But what about these oodles of reliable female-friends Meeker insists should be always "up for a brisk walk after dinner" or on-the-ready when life gets tough to step into my kitchen and tuck my kids in bed. Is that TV-life or for realsies she's talking about?

In one way Meeker's advice to tend your key friendships is, of course, excellent. In another way her waxing on about female relationships just makes me feel like such a complete failure when, I could come up with plenty ways I'm failing without her help, thanks.

I've considered hurling that book across the room. But instead I've just left it on a side-table. I'm refusing to read further. I'm also not taking it back to the library, even though it's overdue.

It's a subtle game this taking responsibility for the shape of your life, for the condition of your relationships.

I want to get to the bottom of it. I need to.

So if any dear soul out there has actually read to the bottom of this post, welcome to "Thanks for the Casserole, Biotch" week here at Honest2Betsy. I'll be here all month.

Love & Tuna/Macaroni with breadcrumbs on top,


  1. Except for the fact that I "only" have two kids under 3 (18 months apart) and also that I haven't actually read that book - your post could have been written by me. I long for the inner and outer circle of friends. Too bad I am fiercly independant - to the point of self destruction - and I feel guilty for any help bestowed upon me so I always turn it down (desperately wishing someone will just do it anyways). Still I am seriously resentful towards the people who didn't offer an ounce of help when I soooo desperately needed it.


  2. Hi
    I think I can relate to what you are saying. I don't necessarily feel bitter towards people I know that could help me and aren't or not offering help. I feel tired of the thought of asking for help. My major issue is not having my mother helping me. She died last year, but even before that we didn't have a good relationship so I couln't trust her with my kids anyway. I 'm still dealing with forgiving her for not being able to be a mother that I need and a grandma to my kids and making peace with that. I look at other cultures and community. Everyone helps each other. Ther are upside to this and a down side I don't think you guies feelings
    are abnormal or uncommon we as a society just don't talk about it. Our culture is a very isolating one. I think it takes courage to ask for help or even to make

  3. I think that this is a major problem with lots of women today. I think that we have so much access to each other (blogs, e-mail, social media) that we forget to connect in real tangible ways. Then we all can say we have friends, but they are not the close, intimate friends that truly enrich our lives.

    I feel lonely most of the time and that makes it very hard to be a stay-at-home Mom. At least when I was working, I had interaction everyday, even if it was superficial. Now, I am just alone and feel like everyone (including myself) has been trained to be very "introverted".

    I feel like we all have domesticated ourselves to be isolated. I don't know that I could ask for the kind of help this author describes from anyone, even though it sounds amazing and like the kind of friendships I would love to have.

    I often think that in "the good old days" when you had to mail letters, call on a house phone and interact with neighbors, and when every family had one parent at home to raise the kids, that that life supports the intimacy and community necessary for positive socialization.

    Hopefully, this will serve as a good incentive to grow our inner and outer circles and try to encourage these types of relationships in our lives. Thanks

  4. I know that I don't really 'know' you, despite the fact that I kind of love you, so I don't really know your situation. I think everything you're describing feeling is normal, even the sorta crazy stuff. I think female relationships are important, but just as crazy-making as male-female (or gay) sexual ones. I have some very close friends, and at one time or another I have thought I would be dead without them, and at one time or another every one of them has made me wish I had more friends so I could cut this one loose and not be bereft. I did feel very isolated and not terribly helped with my first baby especially, but I was only the second one in the group who had had a baby, so I realize that they just didn't know how hard it is - I retaliated by being extra nice to them so they felt REALLY BAD about how unhelpful they had been (and they did - and I gloried in it). I think it does get better as your kids get a bit older - no one with babies is EVER able to just pop out for a walk after dinner no matter what. But if you ARE the 'fiercely independent' type, you might have to work on being easier to help - it's a skill like anything else. You're not unlovable though - quite the opposite.

  5. Sigh. Yep, you've reached into my head and extracted my thoughts again, Betsy.

    I was never very good at making friends, but I was really good at keeping the ones I had. I was the social glue in my college group. When I got tired of being everyone's mama, I stopped organizing and we stopped being a group. I was sad, but also newly engaged and about to move out of state. I reveled in the memories.

    Moving out of state sucked. I was lonely for female companionship, and I didn't know how to go about asking for or creating it. So I didn't. But then I got pregnant! And so did five other women at my workplace. Instant social group... yay! Until I got put on bed rest at 24 weeks. I was then truly isolated in many ways. After the babies were born, I struggled with everything. At one point I broke down and asked a co-worker if she could bring dinner over. She rallied some people and brought tons of stuff. Was I grateful? Nope, I was bitter and resentful that I had to ask. Couldn't they SEE how hard life was with premature colicky twins? Then we moved out of state again.

    Now that I'm putting down real roots I find that I'm struggling to make mommy friends. I find myself searching for someone with my exact same set of circumstances. I'm being waaaaay to picky. It's self-inflicted.

    That's why I'm online in forums and reading blogs. For the connection, for the smiles, for the affirmations...

    I would totally tuck your kids in and wipe the jelly off of them. Except the distance is rather insurmountable. So, take this comment as a pat on the back, a gentle hug, a reassurance that you're totally, wildly normal.

  6. I can completely relate to this, everything from turning 37 and feeling like that really is very different from turning 34 or 35 to wondering if there's something wrong with me for not being able to really let other women into my life now that I've got lots of kids running around my house. My close single girlfriends drifted away when I was the first to get married and have kids, and I've struggled with how to get back that level of closeness with other women, when the reality is that I now have a husband and children.

    You're normal - or at least, if you aren't normal, you aren't alone either...

  7. Holy shit I could have written this myself but I would be to chicken to do it. My heart aches for my friends who are lousy friends. I would do so many lovely things for them and not ever get that in return and it makes me so freaking sad. Sad that I think of these people as my good friends and sad that I don't really have any, or at least the ones that I have live too bloody far away to do anything like that for me. I planned my own wedding because my maid-of-honour just didn't want to help. Argh. I so want to share this post but now I am afraid of who would read my response. God. I've been there. I am there. Some friends really suck.

  8. Please move next door...We could be best friends, and I would never ever consider giving you a casserole. I'd skip right over to pizza and wine. :)

  9. Hey Betsy, I really love this post and resonate with it completely. I have really liked Meg Meeker's book on raising boys, and I really hope she is an old old woman to have the circles of friends she describes in this book you mention. I really agree with what The Richardson has to say about how modern life has made these basic necessary human connections more so many ways modern life is so unfriendly to humans, especially the oldest and youngest and those who care for them. In some ways I have been very lucky, I have a MIL and SIL who have stocked my freezer with casseroles but they live a few hours drive and my own family lives plane rides away. I do live in a small town, but far out in the country and not in a neighborhood so I have nobody I could call for a random walk in the evening or anything like that. I have a circle of friends and they are great, but nothing near as close as what Meeker describes as outer circle, and I often find myself feeling so lonely as frustrated as you describe. I recently had twins and had a lot of those friends said they wanted to help.....but when I woke up one morning with a horrible case of mastitits and needed either a friend or an ambulance, NONE of my friends were available, everyone had to get to work or get their kids to school or had no one to leave their baby was hard. I don't even have someone I can call to go to an impromptu movie or lunch! Everyone has to schedule something weeks in advance and so often those plans fall apart anyway, as much as I connect with people online I long for deeper and more meaningful personal friendships.

    The good news is we're so young right? My experience has made me passionate about giving as much as I can to the friends I have. When a friend has a baby I bring food and do as much laundry and dishes as I can get away with, as they protest. My current problem is that people won't let me help them! I'm a new doula, and am amazed at how help is resisted. There is such a feeling that we should be able to 'do it all' ourselves. I was horrified to learn that for one of my first postpartum visits a new mother stressed herself out cleaning up her house and showering to get ready for me, when what I was coming over for was to clean her house and draw her an herbal bath. I obviously added to her stress by my desire to frustrating! :(

    Anyway, I'm not giving up :) And I want to encourage EVERYONE to just give and give and give and not think about getting back. Just start paying it forward. Thanks for being so honest! <3

  10. I, too, have learned to never expect any help from women friends. Some, on occasion when it suits them, will take notice of me. But most of the time it is just assumed that I will take care of myself.

    I think that is how the world is now. No one knows their neighbors. Family is no where near to where you live. Roommates from college fade away. You are on your own.

    It's not that I don't long for female companionship, it's just that I've come to accept the times in which we live. To me, it sounds like Meeker is out of touch with reality-- and you know what is going on.

    Great post. Well said. Thanks for broaching this topic.


Tell Betsy...